Artists in our community often ask what paints and brushes to buy – essentially they want an oil painting supply list. They also want to know what I use in my studio and what I use for plein air painting.
We put together a supplies list blog a couple of years ago. I thought it might be helpful to reorganize the blog, so you see the oil painting supplies in a quick list first. Then you can scroll down to see more details and discussion about specific art supplies.
Now don’t feel like you need to rush out and buy everything on the list. We are each unique, and what works for me might not be exactly what you need. Use what you find here as the groundwork – then experiment and discover what works best for you.
Some of this list applies equally to plein air and studio painting. I will let you know when materials are only for one or the other.
The Basic Supplies – Links to Oil Paints, Brushes, Mediums and More
Here’s what’s on my palette currently:
Titanium White (stay away from Titanium/Zinc)
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Alizarin Crimson Permanent
Cadmium Red Light
Cadmium Red Medium
Transparent Oxide Yellow
Transparent Oxide Orange
Transparent Oxide Red
For those on a tighter budget or wanting a lighter backpack, here is a list that will allow you to mix most of the other colors (35 ml is probably a good size as well):
Cadmium Red Light
Transparent Oxide Yellow
Transparent Oxide Red
Manganese Blue Hue
Oil Paint Brushes:
(for paintbrushes Rosemary & Co, but Wind River Arts is an excellent alternative for U.S. artists. Utrecht brushes are optional)
Hog Bristle Brushes:
Egbert Bristle Brushes:
Rosemary Masters Choice
Gamsol Mineral Spirits (occasionally)
Paper Towels or Rags:
Paint Tube Wringer:
Outdoor Plein Air Easel:
Outdoor Painting Palette:
Plein Air Painting Panel Carriers:
Leak Proof Container:
Now that we’ve shown you where to find your basic art supplies, let’s discuss those art supplies (and others that I use) in greater detail.
Indoor Studio Painting Supplies
I’ve used an old enamel topped table for more than 30 years. Every once in awhile, I hear of someone finding one of these babies in a thrift store or garage sale. If you see one, snag it – even if you don’t need it, a local artist guild member will sing your praises for a lifetime if you offer it to them!
My son built a handy cart on wheels for me to roll around my studio. It’s a convenient brush holder and it stores a large tote to throw my paint-spattered paper towels into. I love the simple design and how easily I can maneuver it around my palette.
A wall or hand-held mirror is essential. Mine is on a wall about 14 feet directly opposite my wall easel.
My neck stays quite limber from frequently turning to look behind me for a new perspective. This helps me make sure the composition, shapes, and values are working in my painting.
These materials require a dedicated space – something that can be hard for an artist just starting out. Remember, these are springboard ideas. You can make a successful career in painting even when your situation is not ideal.
In our early years of marriage, I had to set up my French easel at the end of our long kitchen beside the washing machine and the door to the backyard. Fortunately, there was a nice row of north-facing windows that gave me beautiful light to paint by. And yes, I was selling my work in Santa Fe and painting full-time.
Outdoor or Plein Air Painting Supplies
Easels and Palette:
My French Easel has been one of my faithful friends since I was 16. I would haul this back and forth from home to school for my art classes in high school and college.
This French easel has weathered almost 40 years of rain, below-zero winters, desert sun, windstorms, and mountain trails. Well-built French easels will last a lifetime!
A master wood craftsman in our community, Michael Schlee, designed a palette for me that works with both my French Easel and a camera tripod. I love that it is large enough for me to mix my paint the same way I do in the studio.
After two years of small adjustments he now has it available for our community (there is a blog post about it here). Each one is custom made by Michael. You can reach him to order one at email@example.com.
As much as I’ve loved the French easel, my new go-to easel is the LederEasel. It is inexpensive ($119), built solidly of steel and hardwood, and sets up in seconds. It also weighs a fraction of the French easel’s weight.
Many artists use pochade boxes like the Open M, and I’ve tried out several like the Craftech Sienna. For me though, I need a larger palette mixing area. I also like my palette at waist level, not crammed right under my painting at shoulder height.
Freedom of movement to paint with gusto is more important to me than a lighter backpack. Considering their popularity though, other artists must have found some way to enjoy painting with them.
Panel Carriers for Plein Air
One of my favorite Plein Air painting tools is the PanelPak carriers. They are super convenient and incredibly well made.
I love that each one carries two panels that easily slip into my pack. I highly recommend them!
Besides keeping my wet paintings safe, I can use the empty carrier as a visual frame for composing my painting design when I’m deciding what to paint.
A Good Hat
I don’t know how many times I’ve gone off and forgotten my hat. My head does not appreciate that at all.
Fortunately, the Tilley AirFlo comes with a lifetime warranty (I mean lifetime – if an orangutan swings off into the trees with it or it fends off a bolt of lightning for me, they will replace it).
It can be scrunched up and stuffed into a pocket of my backpack, and when I pull it out it’s good to go.
It’s an amazing accessory. I’ve had mine for about 5 years and by the looks of it, the hat might even outlive me.
Backpack for Plein Air Painting Gear
Speaking of packs for my Tilley, the Kelty Redcloud 90 holds every bit of my equipment, some sustaining snacks, and still has room to spare.
It is the most comfortable pack I’ve found. I remember too many years of hauling my French easel hither and dale with just the handle.
If you just have a small pochade box, the Redwing 50 is a popular option.
Plein Air Paintbrush Holder
To keep my brushes in good shape I made a couple of PVC carriers.
One is made with 1 1/2-inch pipe for thinner handled brushes and the other with 2-inch pipe for my larger bristle brushes. The end caps are rounded, and they attach firmly to the pipe without glue.
The top end is threaded so I can easily twist off the cap and remove my brushes.
I place the carriers in my pack with the bristles facing up and they are fully protected. They are also heavy. If you’re traveling by plane or just want a light load you might want a fabric brush carrier.
When I want to travel light I use the Heritage Arts HC515 for longer handled brushes. It’s a clever design and holds 10 large brushes safely.
Those canvas roll-up brush holders I’ve seen some artists using look convenient. The problem is, most I find barely fit my longest 14″ bristle brushes. And since they are soft canvas the bristles don’t seem well protected if my suitcase gets turned upside down. I may have to make one that will hold 15 full-sized bristle brushes.
High Wind Plein Air Helpers
Another handy tool for outdoor painting is a pack of Orange Screws. They come with a clear plastic tube that slips into the handle to easily screw them into the toughest ground.
These screws are fantastic for those days when it’s stormy. With a bit of rope or a few bungee cords, these will keep your easel from taking flight.
When I was at the Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe they kept my French easel secure while I painted right out in the open through a major wind storm.
Oil Painting Supplies – Necessities for Studio or Plein Air
For brushes, I used Utrecht for many years. Unfortunately, they didn’t make every style of brush I liked to use. That was okay when the Isabey and Langnickel mongoose brushes were easy to find. Now they are not.
That problem and questions from artists in our community prompted me to search for a one-stop-shop.
Rosemary & Co was the answer. I can find every style of brush I use to paint with and they are beautifully made.
Choose whichever company is most convenient for you. There are a lot of excellent paintbrush companies to choose from today.
You might start with a brush or two from different brands to see if you like them. It’s good to experiment and see what works best for you.
Rosemary and Utrecht Oil Painting Brushes:
The Utrecht series 103’s were my favorite brushes for several years to make tree foliage and unpredictable marks with. They are still handy brushes, but the Rosemary Egberts have replaced them on my brush caddy.
With the 103 series filberts, for some reason, I only used size 6. It seemed to be all I needed at the time.
Once I started using the Rosemary Egberts I found they were excellent for small careful lines and brushstrokes as well as for larger vigorous scrubby leaf work. Now I use several sizes.
The Utrecht 209 series are excellent bristle brushes. They keep their shape and last for years. The Rosemary Classics have a slight edge on them because of the synthetic/hog combo, but both are top-notch brushes.
Utrecht’s synthetic/hog bristle blend 207’s used to be some of my favorite brushes. Then they stopped offering the Flats in individual multiple sizes. That change was one of the big catalysts for me searching out new brushes and why I now use mostly Rosemary.
Similar to the Utrecht 207’s, the synthetic bristles in the Rosemary Classics can sometimes splay out. That usually happens because of my back and forth brush technique. They make such wonderful dry-brush texture though that it’s worth an occasional bent bristle.
Utrecht 207 Flat – a synthetic & hog bristle blend paintbrush for oil and acrylic
I find with both the 209’s and the Classics I use the larger sizes most often – sizes 8-12. When I need smaller brushstrokes I tend to reach for the Egberts or the Masters Series brushes.
If you are on a tighter budget you can get by with just a size or two of each brush. High-quality brushes can last for years, so just pick up another brush here and there as you can.
I know some top artists who only use hog bristles. William Hook is known for using only 1 or 2 size 12 brushes for all of his outdoor painting (at least he did a few years ago).
It’s a close race between the Rosemary Classic Long Flat and the Ultimate Long Flat for me. They are both great hog bristle brushes and hold their razor edge beautifully.
What I like about the Classic is the slight blend of synthetic in with the hog bristles. The synthetic bristles allow the brush to be thinner. They also seem to keep tighter corners over time.
The synthetic bristles also work amazingly for dry-brush texture effects.
Masters Choice – Mongoose Replacements
The Masters Choice brushes are wonderful.
Sable brushes are way too soft to get the textures I love in landscape painting. Then again, bristle brushes are sometimes too stiff and rough. That’s why I loved the Isabey and Langnickel Mongoose hair brushes like the 6158’s and the 5590’s which I used for more than 20 years.
The Mongoose hair is a perfect balance between the softer sable and the stiff hog bristles.
Then Mongoose hair became illegal and the Langnickel and Isabey brushes mostly disappeared.
When I found Rosemary’s Masters series brushes I said a prayer of thanks. They are made with badger hair but act just like the Mongoose. I now use brushes from each of the 279, 274 and 272 lines.
One of the major weaknesses of the Langnickels was the tendency for the bristles to fall out. Rosemary’s do not have that problem – no more loose hairs in my paintings!
The longer bristled 279 flats are fun for scruffy foliage, similar to what the long Egbert bristles do. The difference is that the bristles on the 279’s are spaced farther apart which allows for some wonderful broken-edged brushstrokes.
The 274 flats are fantastic for softening a small edge or creating branches and twigs on a tree.
When you go to Rosemary’s sight you will probably notice the great reviews the Ivory series brushes get. I know a lot of artists that love them.
They don’t work as well for me because I tend to push and pull the brush while I paint which splays out the bristles. They would be a good experiment brush for you though.
Final Thoughts About Brushes
If you want to shop with just one company, I would go with Rosemary. If you live in the U.S. Wind River Arts is a great place to buy Rosemary brushes because you save on shipping from England. Wind River Arts is also run by a wonderful couple who love to help artists find high-quality art supplies.
I bought a bunch of the Jack Richeson Grey Matter hog bristles. I was excited about their grey ferrules to help eliminate glare during my painting videos. The brushes are made well and the handles are nice and long, but the bristles are grouped thicker and don’t come to as sharp an edge as the Classic or the 209.
Another strong contender for the ‘Mongoose’ replacement brush is the Raphael Kevrin 867 Round. They are very well made brushes that I picked up at the Plein Air Convention in San Diego last year. They are pricey though and the sizes are smaller than the number suggests.
I like that the Kevrin Round series brushes come to a sharper point than the Rosemary 272 Series. Be aware though that the bristles of the size 12 I purchased are almost 1/4 inch shorter than Rosemary’s Series 272 size 6 and the handle is about that much shorter as well.
Occasionally, I tube my own paints (I teach how to fill paint tubes in-depth within the Master Oil Painting 6 Week Course). When I’m painting every day it’s a great way to save money on paint. With my teaching schedule now I prefer to buy my paint ready to go so I can save that time for painting.
My palette contains a warm and cool version of each of the major hues plus some earth colors.
Warm for me means the color tends toward red and cool is more yellow. Ultramarine is warm because it is redder and Phthalo Blue is cool because it is more yellow.
Some artists think yellow is warmer than red – it doesn’t matter who’s right, as long as you know what works for you.
I have a blog post that delves deeper into the ‘why’ of the paints I use. Overall, stick with professional or ‘artists’ grade paints rather than student grade. The student grade paints use a lot of unnecessary fillers to compensate for the lower pigment content.
Gamblin is my go-to oil paint brand. They have all the colors I like and they are of exceptional quality. Robert Gamblin is an artist who is consistently searching for the best performing paints possible.
All of the colors I use are perfectly lightfast and permanent paints. I stay away from any fugitive or questionable materials. I don’t want my paintings peeling off the panel or severely cracking after they’ve been purchased by a collector.
Titanium White is a good example. Many manufacturers make a Titanium/Zinc mixture. Zinc has a tendency to become brittle and crack. It can also delaminate (peel off) over time.
Right now I have 3 ‘cool’ reds on my palette – Quinacridone Red, Quinacridone Magenta, and Alizarin Crimson. Why. That’s a bit of a story.
The short of it is that I tried to make a clean specific lavender with Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue and it didn’t work. When I mixed some old Rose Madder Genuine with the Ultramarine Blue it was beautiful. Problem is, Rose Madder is fugitive.
After a bunch of research and experimenting, I found Quinacridone Red. I thought I would just replace the Alizarin with the Quin Red, but the Quin Red is not dark enough. Alizarin mixed with Ultramarine Blue makes a fantastic shadow base – rich and dark.
Recently I tried out Quin Magenta. It is cooler than Quin Red, makes beautiful lavenders, and it’s darker in mixtures. It may just replace both Alizarin and Quin Red.
When looking for Alizarin Crimson, get a ‘permanent’ formula. The original Alizarin is will crack and fade – just ask Richard Schmid about his Nancy in a Velvet Dress painting.
The Transparent Oxide colors I use are also called Transparent Earth – depends on the manufacturer.
Transparent Oxide Yellow is a transparent substitute for Yellow Ochre. Trans Oxide Orange replaces Raw Sienna and Trans Red replaces Burnt Sienna. I’ve been using them since the mid 90’s – they are some of my staple colors.
Phthalo Green is powerful – use it sparingly. The reason it’s on my palette is it makes incredible mixtures with all the primary colors.
Sap Green is one of my crutch colors. It’s a warm green that I can mix from other colors, but I use it so often it’s more convenient to keep it on my palette.
For a while I used a Blue Black from RGH paints but they either changed the name or no longer make it. So, if you see that color in my older videos, it is not on my palette now.
Oil Paint Brands
Gamblin has the most complete selection of the colors I use – if you want to go with just one company, that’s who I recommend.
Stapleton Kearns loves RGH so they may be a good option for you. Some of their colors are overly oily for me and their white takes 2-3 times longer to dry than Gamblin’s. Who knows, I may give them a try again sometime in the future.
The Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red from Michael Harding paints I purchased are smooth and highly pigmented. They cost a bit more, but the oil content is spot on which makes the paints flow beautifully right out of the tube.
M Graham & Co paints are also excellent. They are made with a walnut oil binder rather than linseed oil which is a big plus for me. Unfortunately, they do not make Cad Lemon which is one of my essential colors. Watch their Titanium White – it’s made with zinc.
Experimentation is important to me so I will continue to try out other brands and colors.
Keep in mind that colors and values of paint can vary quite a bit by brand. Gamblin and Utrecht both make Sap Green – but as you can see they don’t look like the same color. I use Gamblin’s because it’s much darker and I use it to create some of my shadow colors.
Oil Paint Prices
Here is a list I put together of paint prices by brand. Prices have changed since this was compiled in 2015, but it gives you an idea of the cost differences per ounce.
Other Art Supplies I Use
Mediums and Brush Cleaners
M Graham & Co walnut oil is used for my initial painting washes and medium – although I mostly use paint straight from the tube.
If you are painting on a water-based ground like acrylic gesso, be careful how much walnut oil you add for your washes. If it beads up – you used too much.
Oil on acrylic forms a mechanical bond, rather than a chemical bond. It needs plenty of tooth to catch hold. Too much extra oil saturates the tooth and doesn’t adhere well. In that case, just wipe it off and start over or add more pigment and paint into the area.
Walnut oil is a superior medium or wash for oil painting compared to mineral spirits and dries glossy, not flat and sunken. Walnut oil is also better than linseed oil to make the paint more fluid because it does not yellow as much.
Just make sure to use it in small amounts. Most professional paints are already formulated with the optimal pigment to binder (oil) ratio.
Walnut oil has been the preferred binder in oil paint for centuries. Linseed is less expensive than walnut oil and that is the main reason it is used more often.
If you are like most artists and like to use mineral spirits for your initial paint washes – I did for most of my career – the best one to use is Gamsol. Why don’t I use mineral spirits now? I’m trying to stay away from solvents or anything that’s toxic to my health.
You may want to try out Spike Oil from Rublev instead of mineral spirits. Spike Oil is a lavender oil similar to what they use in aromatherapy. It smells wonderful and in small amounts seems to work out great. It is supposedly non-toxic. Of course, they haven’t done any real studies with amounts artists use for paint washes. I tried it recently and got a headache.
Turpenoid Natural is what I use to clean my paintbrushes. It gets all the paint, including dried on paint, out of my brushes. It is non-toxic and the little left in my brushes after squeezing with a paper towel won’t harm my paintings at all.
Turpenoid Natural leaves my brushes nicely conditioned which helps them last a lot longer than if I used soap and water. It also helps me easily get a razor-sharp edge with my brushes (I haven’t washed my brushes with any type of soap and water in more than a decade).
Of course, walnut oil and mineral spirits are also handy for cleaning brushes. Actually, walnut oil is wonderful for soaking brushes if you can’t wash them right away.
For my painting panels I now use ABS plastic sheets. There is a blog post that explains why I switched from MDF to ABS.
I used MDF ¼ inch boards from Home Depot for about 20 years. If you buy MDF get the 2×4-foot, 1/4 inch sheets because they are the best quality I’ve found. Larger sheets need to be special ordered and don’t tend to be good quality – they warp quickly.
I prime the MDF panels with Ecos Air Purifying primer (it used to be called Passivating). It is completely VOC free – no toxic off-gassing (I don’t need ventilation or a gas mask to prime my panels). The Ecos primer absorbs toxins like the formaldehyde in MDF so they don’t leak into my studio.
It seals the panels completely and it is wonderful to paint on – plus it usually only takes one coat. I use a second coat if I want a bit of brush texture added. I suggest you paint the sides as well to seal the panels completely.
If you prefer sticking with the traditional acrylic primer make sure you use a professional grade acrylic gesso like Utrecht:
Palette Knives and Scrapers
A good palette knife is very helpful – I have had some of mine since art school. It’s tough to find palette knives that are high quality like the older ones. I bought some 15 years ago that bent easily.
RGM Stainless Steel Italian Palette Knife #050 looks like a good one. I haven’t purchased it yet, but the reviews are excellent.
Good razor blade palette scrapers are tough to find as well. Reviews mentioned how difficult it is to replace the razor blade in the ones I found online.
You might consider the Werxrite RetraGuard Razor Blade Scraper – it’s plastic but it had the best reviews of any I could find. Reviewers said it is easy to change the blade and works great.
Leak-Proof Containers for Mediums
You don’t want to forget a well-made leak-proof container to carry your walnut oil and Turpenoid Natural in while you travel. The good ones will cost you – but not as much as cheap ones that leak all over your suitcase or paintings!
Paint tube Wringer
A good paint tube wringer will pay for itself in no time. I started using this plastic one in the early or mid 90’s.
Then I found a metal one by the same company – Gill – that gets even more paint out of the tubes. It should last the rest of my life by the looks of it.
For 30 years I used Viva paper towels. Then they changed and the towels started leaving fluff on my paintings when I wiped off washes.
So, I switched to the blue Scott Shop Original paper towels. They are so much better made than the Vivas. They are almost too thick and stiff for some of the effects I use a paper towel for, but they don’t leave behind any lint!
Hopefully, this oil painter’s supplies list will be helpful for you.
Experimentation is the key. With time and lots of trial-and-error, we each find art supplies that work well for our particular style and personality. What works for me might not be exactly what you need – experiment. After more than 30 years of painting professionally, I still try out new art tools, paint brushes, and paints.
I’m always on the lookout for good quality products that will make an artist’s life easier. When I hear of something promising I usually give it a shot. My goal is to have the best quality possible without breaking the bank.
My paintings have stood the test of time so far, and I feel confident that they will continue to do so.
One of the things I love about our community is your generosity. You share what works with the rest of us (and what doesn’t work). That saves each of us a lot of time and expense!
What are your favorite oil painting supplies and what are some we should avoid?