An oil painter’s 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 art supplies 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 art tools, paintbrushes, and paint.
Use the highest quality materials you can – professional rather than student grade. Good quality painting supplies will greatly speed up the learning process.
In case you’re concerned about cost, I’ll include some ‘budget’ friendly ideas as well.
Indoor Studio Painting Supplies
For my studio paint palette, 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 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.
Outdoor or Plein Air Painting Supplies
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, wind storms, 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 way I do in the studio.
Michael has made this awesome palette available for our community (there is a blog post about it here). Each one is custom made by Michael.
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 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 using 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.
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 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 – 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.
These screws are fantastic 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. So, since I don’t have experience with chairs, I don’t have any worthwhile recommendations for you.
If you have any suggestions please share your ideas in the comments below!
Oil Painting Supplies Necessities for Studio or Plein Air
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.
Utrecht oil painting brushes:
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 oil painting brushes:
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.
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 – I consider red to be warmer than yellow. Ultramarine and Phthalo Blue are both considered warm by Gamblin but Ultramarine has more red in it and Phthalo tends more toward the yellow/green side of the spectrum). I use a mix of Rublev Lead White #2 made with walnut oil and titanium white from Gamblin.
Here is what’s on my palette currently:
Lead & Titanium White Mix 50/50
Cadmium Lemon (cooler)
Cadmium Yellow Medium (warmer)
Cadmium Orange (optional – Cad Orange cannot be mixed from any other colors)
Quinacridone Red (cool for a red – for clean lavenders in my flowers rather than the dirtier (too much blue) Alizarin)
Quinacridone Magenta (makes beautiful lavenders and is convenient for toning down the saturation of yellows)
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 or more toward yellow than cad red med)
Cadmium Red Medium (warm)
Venetian Red (optional)
Raw Sienna (optional)
Yellow Ochre (optional)
Transparent Oxide Yellow (replaces yellow ochre)
Transparent Oxide Orange (optional – replaces raw sienna)
Transparent Oxide Red (replaces burnt sienna)
Ultramarine Blue (warm or more towards red for a blue)
Phthalo Blue (optional – cool)
Manganese Blue (cooler or more towards green than Ultramarine)
Phthalo Green (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 Manganese 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.
A while back I tried out RGH and Michael Harding. Michael Harding’s paints are incredible – I probably won’t use RGH in the future for many colors though.
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 the company – it may not be spot on since I did this a few 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 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 because it does not yellow as much.
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 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 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).
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). The Ecos primer 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 use a second coat if I want a bit of brush texture added. I suggest you 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 cheap ones that leak 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!
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.
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 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?
Excellent read Bill – thank you so much for sharing! Thank you also for creating this community, all the encouragement and especially the inspiration you provide. Kay from North Carolina
I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the post and our community Kay – our community of artists is amazing!
Thank you Bill for helping us! Ruth from Tennessee
You’re welcome Ruth!
Have you ever used oleogel as a medium. If you read what some artists have written, they use it throughout the painting pricess. Oiling out. Varnishing. Everything but putting it on their morning toast!
And THANK YOU so much for information that is invaluable! I am moving into oil from watercolor and pastel, though I still love them both.
Great question Avery – I have not used it because most mediums are more of a hassle than a help for me, but the Oleogel sounds like it can be pretty helpful for some artists, especially as a glaze vehicle if they use thin layers of paint and have trouble with the paint becoming too matte looking. I would love to see a painting after a decade or two kept half in the light and half blocked so we can see the long term affects. The reports by artists are positive, but even professional artists are notorious for trusting manufacturers and not really knowing if a product is good long term – not a criticism against artists – we only have one life and I would definitely rather be painting than researching materials, especially since reliable information is tough to come by. My suggestion – if you are painting and trying to achieve a specific effect, like transparency in a hue, and can’t get what you want with straight paint from the tube, then buy a tube of Oleogel and give it a try. I find that keeping things simple for me works better, but I am open to anything that will help me improve the quality of my work. I am a bit leery of adding more linseed oil to my paint (which is what Oleogel is mostly made of with some very fine silica) because it yellows and I don’t know how that increase in linseed will affect my paint colors over time. For the most part, paint is formulated today with a fairly optimal balance of oil to pigment which is why I mostly use extra walnut oil only in the initial washes, and even then I use it sparingly – just enough to make it more fluid, without getting it soupy.
Thank you so very much. Maybe, I have read too much. Lol. It would seem if I just stick with the tube paint only all will be well. At least with the stability of materials! That leaves my head free to create. You are a generous soul. Bless you!
Thank you so much Bill!
This is exactly what I needed.
You’re very welcome Amadou!
What is the most basic book you know for the use/technique of oil materials? I keep reading comments made by artists about fat over lean, mediums, etc….I am not sure i am absorbing as much technique as I am becoming confused. Help!!! And thank you for all you do to offer encouragement for new oil painters.
Hi Avery, I just answered this question for you on the Art Books I Love post before I saw your question here – I thought I should paste the same response here for those who might not see it there:
There are a lot of books about materials, but if I had to choose just one it would probably be Alla Prima II: Companion – it is Richard Schmid’s art materials, tools and techniques book that was co-written with Katie Swatland. My hesitation in recommending it is that he paints on lead primed linen which I have a roll of, but do not use because lead primer yellows (which isn’t really a drawback since the yellowing tends to work with colors more than detract and it will lighten when exposed to light) and priming canvas myself with lead primer is a hassle because it takes months to dry enough to use – he also talks about using turpentine which is highly toxic and which I stay far away from (although I believe most of his references to Turpentine are actually meant to refer to Gamsol mineral spirits – he just says Turpentine out of habit). Turpentine is wonderful to paint with, but horrible for our brains and bodies. Another book I purchased a few weeks ago by Simon Fletcher titled The Painter’s Handbook is better informed than most I have read about pigments and their permanence and he covers well what materials to use and what to avoid – the book covers several other media as well like watercolor and acrylic, but the information is easy to understand and more accurate than most others I am familiar with. James Gurney’s Imaginative Realism is a fantastic resource for out of the ordinary techniques like creating models out of clay and other materials to simulate shadows and reflected light for painting purposes when you don’t have the building/s right in front of you.
Also Avery, the important part to know about fat over lean – don’t use mineral spirit washes on top of other paint, only in the initial stages on a fresh canvas or panel – other than that, if you are using paint straight from the tube without mediums you will not need to worry. If one layer dries and you want to add another, you may want to brush a very thin film of oil like walnut oil on it to bring back any paint that has that sunken look – so your values are correct – but you can paint on top of other oil paint without any worry because it will chemically bond to the previous layer. Never use too much extra oil because the oil needs the pigment – like gravel in cement – to give it strength. That’s the reason I don’t use mediums – I don’t trust that I will keep my mixtures in good ratios – also, I just haven’t found them to make my painting experience better than paint as it comes from the tube!
Thanks Bill! I’m in your 6-week course and you were just trying out some of these products. I love having a list as I can use this list to replace things as needed. You’re the best!
So great to hear Linda! I am generally experimenting, so I will update this post periodically as I learn new things.
Thanks Bill for all of the good info. I bought your 6 week course a few months ago and am looking forward to diving into it in a few weeks. Unfortunately a total knee replacement for my husband and arthroscopic meniscus repair on my knee have prevented me from painting very much for the better part of 2017. But, it’s a new year and a new attitude for me. So…..a trip to care for my mother for a week, then taxes get done and then painting!!!! Hope to join the monthly group soon, also. Again, thank you for all of your guidance and encouragement. Cindy Harris
Yikes Cindy, so sorry to hear about the life struggles – I hope 2018 is a stellar year for you, your family and your painting pursuits!
HI Bill. Thank you for the info. Which outdoor umbrella do you use for Plein Aire
I have two – one I purchased about 20 years ago from an art supply store that does not have the brand listed anywhere on the umbrella – it is about 4 feet in diameter and comes in a black canvas carrying case with a heavy duty clamp for attaching to my easel or a wood handle for holding by hand. The other I bought last fall to help with filming the plein air course – I had gotten out of the habit of using an umbrella because I generally turn my painting and palette so the light source is right on both, rather than shading my painting – especially since even a small gust of wind can cause problems when an umbrella is attached to the easel. The one I just purchased is a photography umbrella and I quickly discovered the post is not strong in even a small breeze – but the umbrella itself is wonderful – it is 7 feet in diameter and diffuses the light beautifully. You can find it here – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AE1M1G6/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 – I attach it to a separate tripod with a photography attachment, so it is not convenient for most artists. If I wanted to use a smaller umbrella on a regular basis I would probably buy a simple windproof golf umbrella (http://www.umbrellaheaven.com/product/budget-storm-golf-umbrella-white/) and attach it to a tripod that I could stake into the ground using the Orange Screws listed above and a photography clamp like this – https://www.amazon.com/Neewer-Studio-Practical-Durable-Umbrella/dp/B00QRRVX3I/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1519930736&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=photo+umbrella+clamp. Thank you for asking about umbrellas – I need to add some info to the blog about this because most art umbrellas are overpriced and many don’t know of other alternatives or they think the art umbrellas are ‘special’ for painting. I prefer the light diffusing white to the light blocking art umbrellas.
Hey Bill. Where does one buy the Eco primer for oil canva?
Pamela, if you click on the words in the blog you will find that they are a link to the website for each product. Click on ‘Ecos Passivating Primer’ and it will go to the site I purchase from.
Thank you for this excellent supply list. I find that I have mot of the items and jut need to purchase a few. Can’t wait until your video course is available on DVD. Best regards, Cat
Glad to hear you’ve got the supplies you need to create some beautiful artwork Cat. We hope to have the DVD’s available soon – will let you know.
Thank you Bill – I am hoping to change to oil. It’s a process finishing the bulk of ones acrylics. But I have taken the info from your notes and will plod on adding one or two oils at a time.
I am also enjoying your 6week course.
I am mighty slow – that’s all I can say!
There’s nothing wrong with being slow Belinda – it’s not a race, it’s a journey! George Carlson, who’s paintings sell quickly for upwards of $90,000, produces only about 7 a year. He doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. I’m glad to hear the course is helping. Happy Painting Belinda 🙂
Hi Bill, Thank you so much for the valuable information you share with us. I wanted to let you know that when I click on the link to the ECOS Passivating Primer it goes to ECOS Interior Atmosphere Purifying Primer. When I search their site for Passivating Primer, it says “no results found”. I just wanted to be sure I am looking at the right product that has possibly suffered a name change. lol I do say that the one it takes me to says good for MDF board but sometimes I know when a name change takes place, it will occur with a change in formula.
Thank you for letting me know about that Julie! I happened to go to the site yesterday and saw the same thing. I have not had a chance to research whether the formula is different or not. Maybe they changed the name because ‘Passivating’ is harder to understand for so many. Hopefully everything else is the same or better.
I just want to clear up a question that has been driving me nuts. If I use a walnut/paint wash for an initial wash/underpainting, won’t that be breaking the fat over lean rule when I apply the next layer of paint?
Thanks for clearing this up.
Great question Kathy! I rarely think about fat over lean because I paint mostly alla prima and everything mixes as I go. The fat over lean idea is much more important to think about when someone is using something like mineral spirits which reduces the ‘fat’ or oil content of the paints. Since I use straight paint without any medium or mineral spirits through most of my painting it is already fat right out of the tube (although some colors are more fat than others). It is also something to think about when painting over dried layers – some paint, like umber, may possibly crack if scumbled over thick impasto paint. When I use walnut oil for my washes I am using only a small amount so the oil doesn’t fill up the tooth of my primer – that said, at least one historical artist used oil washes that were soupy and his paintings have not had any problems 100 years later. If someone uses ‘lean’ paint over fat the lean paint will crack – I have not had that problem ever that I am aware of.
Thanks for posting this great info. Gamblin also offers a better selection of transparent color, ie Sap Green, in my opinion.
You have great information and helpful hints here. I’ve learned a lot just reading it. My question is there one Walnut Oil that you
recommend that’s superior over another. Some are more expensive than others but I know that doesn’t necessarily mean better quality.
What are your thoughts please?
Hi Lyndy, I am referring you to a blog I wrote about using Walnut Oil. It has the brand I use in it. Let me know if this doesn’t answer your question! https://www.masteroilpainting.com/is-walnut-oil-really-a-substitute-for-mineral-spirits/
I’m so glad I found your site. I’m stunned by how beautiful your works is, and I so appreciate all the helpful tips and insights. I’ve heard and seen lots of instruction on composition, in particular, but you’ve broken it down in such an understandable way! Lastly, thank you for the link to Wind River and Rosemary & Co. I’m always put off of buying directly because the shipping can cost more than the item I want to buy!