(Updated 27 Feb 18) A ‘supplies list’ is requested repeatedly by artists in our community – especially beginners who are struggling with where to start. So, here’s a list of the supplies and companies I use to paint both in the studio and plein air.
Now, what works for me might not be exactly what you need – experiment – after more than 30 years I still like to try out new tools, brushes and paint.
Use the highest quality materials you can – professional rather than student grade – it will greatly speed up the learning process. In case you’re concerned about cost, I’ll include some ‘budget’ friendly ideas as well.
For my easel, I use an old porcelain table I have had for more than 30 years. Every once in a while I hear of someone finding one of these babies in a thrift store or garage sale, but they are pretty rare.
My son built a handy cart for me for 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. It’s a very simple design that works so well and I can easily maneuver it around my palette.
This all requires a dedicated space – something that can be hard for an artist just starting out.
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. We had five children within five years of each other (twins helped with that) and there were more than a few times I had the ‘help’ of little ones.
Getting into my own space was a needed luxury.
My French Easel has been one of my faithful friends since I was 16.
A master wood craftsman in our community, Michael, designed a palette for me that works with both my French Easel and a camera tripod for a much lighter and faster setup. It is the only one I have found that feels large enough to be comfortable.
This awesome easel and palette will hopefully be available for our community within a couple months (sorry the shot isn’t better – I was preparing camera mounts for filming). Make sure you’re on our email list so that you can hear when it’s made available.
Many artists use pochade boxes like the Open M, and I’ve tried out several like the Craftech Sienna – I’m not a fan of such a small paint mixing area and I 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.
One of my favorite new plein air tools, something I think I’ve talked about on almost all my plein air training videos, is the PanelPak carriers. They are super convenient and well made, and I love that each one carries two panels that easily slip into my pack. I highly recommend using them!
Besides keeping my wet paintings safe, I can use the empty carrier as a visual frame for the scene when I’m deciding what to paint.
It’s worth pointing out that we have never accepted sponsorship from any suppliers, so these suggestions are simply because they have worked great for me and I think they might work well for you too.
A good hat is also a must have!
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 – which 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) – can be scrunched up and stuffed into a pocket of my plein air 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.
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 – and 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.
To keep my brushes in good shape I made a couple PVC carriers – one 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 – one of the ends is threaded so I can easily twist off the top and remove my brushes.
I place the carriers in my pack with the bristles facing up and they are fully protected.
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 turn and screw them into the toughest ground.
For those days when it’s a touch stormy, with a bit of rope or a few bungee cords, these will keep your easel from taking flight.
You’ve probably also seen some artists carry chairs with them – I don’t sit to paint – but it’s something to keep in mind. However, since I don’t have experience with them I will not be able to make any worthwhile recommendations on what chair to use.
If you have any suggestions that you wouldn’t mind sharing please leave them in the comments below!
Necessities for in studio or on location
For brushes I use a couple companies, although I am getting more and more brushes from Rosemary & Co. Choose whichever company is most convenient for you – they both make excellent brushes.
I would start with a brush or two from each suggestion to see if you like them. It’s good to experiment and see what works best for you.
Series 103 – size 6 – I like to have a couple on hand – these are fantastic for natural looking unpredictable loose foliage and ground cover.
Series 209 – sizes 6 & 10 (budget) – add sizes 4, 6, and 12 when you can – these are excellent hog bristle brushes at a great price – they will last for years (mine are going strong after 10 years of use).
If you are on a tighter budget you can get by with just the Series 209 brushes and skip everything else – when it’s possible, buy another brush here and there to experiment with. I know some top artists who only use hog bristles – William Hook uses only a size 12 for all his painting (at least he did a few years ago).
Series 207 – Utrecht stopped offering their 207’s in multiple sizes of Flats – fortunately you can still get a kit of 4 that comes with both a 6 & 10 Flat. That change was one of the big catalysts for me searching out new brushes and why I now use mostly Rosemary.
Rosemary & Co:
Ultimate Long Flat – This is their best hog bristle – and it’s a great brush! I use sizes 4–12, but like the Utrecht series 207, you can start with sizes 6 and 10.
Series 279 Masters Choice Long Flats – I use sizes 4 and 6 the most, but I have a variety up to size 12 – these replace the Langnickel 5590’s I used for decades – no more loose hairs in my paintings!
Series 272 Masters Choice Rounds – I use sizes 2 – 6 mostly – these replaced my old isabey mongoose rounds that I can no longer find. These are a bit thicker than the Isabey, so I will need to wear them down a bit, but they are beautifully made brushes.
Ivory Long Flats – a lot of artists love these. They don’t work as well for me because I tend to push and pull the brush which splays out the bristles. They would be a good experiment brush for you though.
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.
I did a comparison of the Utrecht 209 with the Rosemary Ultimate – while the Utrecht is a few cents cheaper and an excellent brush, the bristles are also about ¼ inch shorter – that extra length in the bristles adds some nice spring and fluidity to the strokes of the Ultimate.
I also bought a bunch of the Jack Richeson Grey Matter hog bristles – I was excited about their grey ferrules to help eliminate glare when I film my paintings – 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 Ultimate 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.
I like that they are thinner and come to a better point than the Rosemary 272 Series, but be aware – 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.
You get a lot more brush with Rosemary’s, but I will play with them more and let you know how they hold up.
Back in the late 80’s I started using Utrecht and Gamblin paints because I like the big 150 ml tubes – I still use them today – most people buy the smaller 35 ml tubes. I discuss how I fill paint tubes in-depth within the Master Oil Painting 6 Week Course.
The Blue Black I use comes from RGH paints, but it is not a necessity – it is one they sent me to try out for free when I made a large order. The bummer is that they don’t seem to make it now, or they changed the name of it.
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 and Phthalo Blue is cool because Ultramarine has more red in it and Phthalo has more yellow in it – some artists think yellow is warmer than red – it doesn’t matter who’s right, as long as you know what works for you).
Here is what’s on my palette currently:
Cadmium Lemon (cool)
Cadmium Yellow Medium (warm)
Cadmium Orange (optional)
Quinacridone Red (cool for a red – for clean lavenders in my flowers rather than dirtier (too much blue) Alizarin)
Alizarin Crimson Permanent (cool for a red – can’t do without it for my darkest dark shadows when mixed with Ultramarine Blue – make sure you get ‘Permanent’ – otherwise it will fade over time and is more likely to crack)
Cadmium Red Light (warm, but cooler than cad red med)
Cadmium Red Medium (warm)
Transparent Oxide Yellow (replaces yellow ochre)
Transparent Oxide Orange (optional – replaces raw sienna)
Transparent Oxide Red (replaces burnt sienna)
Ultramarine Blue (warm for a blue)
Blue Black (optional – cool – once it’s gone I probably won’t replace it)
Phthalo Blue (cool)
Manganese Blue (optional – cooler than ultra blue)
Phthalo Green (optional – cool)
Permanent Sap Green (optional – warm)
For those on a tighter budget here is a list that will allow you to mix most of the other colors without stocking as large of a selection:
Cadmium Red Light
Alizarin Crimson Permanent
Transparent Oxide Yellow and Red
Ultramarine and Phthalo Blue
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.
The Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red from Michael Harding paints I purchased are smooth and highly pigmented – they cost a bit more, but a little goes a long way since they don’t use fillers.
Experimentation is still very important to me, and I just ordered a full set of M Graham & Co paints with a walnut oil binder rather than linseed oil – I will let you know how they compare (unfortunately they do not have Cad Lemon).
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.
Here is a list I put together of paint prices by company – it may not be spot on since I did this 2 years ago, but it tells you the price difference proportionally by company:
M Graham & Co walnut oil is used for my initial painting washes and medium – although I mostly use paint straight from the tube – the walnut oil is normally for the beginning stages of the painting and I use small amounts to make the paint more fluid.
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, rather than a chemical, bond and needs plenty of tooth to catch hold – too much extra oil saturates the tooth and won’t grab 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 binder for oil painting compared to mineral spirits and dries glossy, not flat and sunken. Walnut oil is also better than linseed oil because it does not yellow like linseed, which is why it has been the preferred binder in paint for centuries – linseed is less expensive than walnut and that is the main reason it is used more today.
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.
Turpenoid Natural is what I use to clean my brushes – 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.
It leaves my brushes nicely conditioned, which helps them last a lot longer than if I used soap and water, and I can 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).
For my painting panels I use MDF ¼ inch boards – I would stay away from the 1/8 inch (not as stable). I buy the 2×4 foot 1/4 inch sheets from Home Depot because they are the best quality I’ve found – I’ve used them for about 20 years now. Larger sheets need to be special ordered and don’t tend to be as high of quality – they warp quickly.
I now prime the MDF panels with Ecos Passivating primer. It is completely VOC free – no toxic off-gassing (I don’t need ventilation or a gas mask to prime my panels) – and it will absorb the toxins from other products like the formaldehyde in MDF.
It seals the panels completely and it is wonderful to paint on – plus it usually only takes one coat – I do a second coat if I want a bit of brush texture added. Paint the sides as well to seal everything off from moisture.
If you prefer sticking with the traditional acrylic primer make sure you use a professional grade acrylic gesso like Utrecht:
A good palette knife is very helpful – I have had mine for years and I suspect the newer ones aren’t made as well, but I’m not sure. These look like they might be good to try out:
A good razor palette scraper is also a must – I recommend metal over plastic handles.
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 a cheap one that leaks all over your suitcase or paintings!
A good paint tube wringer will pay for itself in no time. I have used this one since the early or mid 90’s.
I also use Viva paper towels or old sheets/t-shirts for wiping brushes and paint off panels while painting, or for cleaning brushes.
The blue Scott Towels are better made than the Vivas and leave less fluff on my painting when I wipe off a wash, but they are almost too thick and stiff for some of the effects I use a paper towel for!
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 try.
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 that they share what works – and what doesn’t work, it can make the testing of products much less intense!
What are your favorite painting goods?