A Few of my Favorite Things

“Approach to Lake Isabelle”
Oil on Panel
24×18″
2008

Every artist I know has a bit of an addiction to art supplies, and we all have our favorite paints, brushes, and surfaces. I’m probably not as knowledgable about art materials as I should be, but I get a lot of emails that ask specifics about the materials I use. I thought I might as well put my answers out here all at once, so that anyone who might be interested would have them… Sorry if this is long and boring!

1. Paint

I use Utrecht brand oil paint exclusively. I was lucky enough to receive a gift card to Utrecht as an award at last year’s OPA national show. I tried some paint as part of my first order, and I’ve been addicted ever since! The Utrecht paints are cheaper than most other artist quality paints, but extremely consistent and high quality. They have a great buttery consistency that I find workable without being too oily.

2. Palette

My palette consists of titanium white (or utrecht white, which is a bit less stiff), cadmium yellow light, cadmium lemon, cadmium orange, alizarin crimson, quinacridone red, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. I occasionally use a bit of thalo green to get the brightness I’m after in a sky, but otherwise I shy away from having green on my palette. My workhorse colors are the ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cad yellow light, and cad lemon. I keep the orange and sienna on my palette mainly as an easy way to grey down other mixtures. The quin red is only there for when I need to mix a brighter purple or orange. I lay all of these out in the same order every time I paint. I use a glass palette because I have problem with letting paint dry and it’s easy to clean with a razor blade!

3. Medium

I typically start a painting using paint thinned with mineral spirits (I use Gamsol odorless mineral spirits), then work the rest with paint straight from the tube. If my paint is stiff and I want to loosen it up and maintain the texture of my brushstrokes, I use Weber Res-n-gel as a medium. It’s thicker than liquin, less smelly, and as far as I can tell doesn’t yellow. I like it because it makes the paint flow while maintaing thickness and texture. When I’m reworking a painting, I’ll occasionally use liquin to get a wet-on-wet look when I’m working over dry paint (I paint a thin layer of liquin over the area that I’m correcting, then paint into it, allowing for softer edges). When I was pregnant, I pretty much worked with paint straight from the tube and used walnut oil for cleanup. It wasn’t ideal, but it eliminated all the stinky mediums from my studio!

4. Brushes

I’m not much of a brush snob. I’m hard on brushes, so I don’t like to spend a lot of money on them. I paint exclusively with flat bristle brushes, and I usually just order Blick or Utrecht brand brushes. I order Utrecht size 1 sabeline rounds specifically for signing my name on paintings, and use those occasionally for tree branches or detail. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $10 on a brush, so I’m probably no help if you’re looking for a great brush recommendation!

5. Surface

I’ve been painting on Ampersand Gessobord for most of this year. I don’t particularily love the texture of canvas showing through my paint, so I prefer to work on a smooth surface. I like the smooth finish on gessobord, and I have yet to see one warp (I’ve used up to 24×36″ panels), so it’s become my preference when working on hard panel. For anything larger than 24×36″, panels get heavy, so I still use canvas. I usually buy Utrecht pre-stretched cotton canvas (their stretchers are extremely sturdy, and the canvas is always stretched tighter than other vendors), and add a couple coats of gesso to fill in the weave a bit before painting. I don’t have the time to stretch my own canvases or do a lot of panel prep, so I buy things ready-made. Gives me more time to paint!

6. Varnish

I’m often sending paintings out the door within a week or two of finishing them, so I don’t have the luxury of waiting six months to put on a good coat of varnish. However, I like my paintings to have that “still wet” look so that all of the colors and values are as I intended, so I put a coat of retouch varnish on every painting before it goes anywhere. I like both Grumbacher and Winsor and Newton brand retouch varnish – they both brush on easily, dry quickly, and put a nice lasting finish on the painting without being over-the-top glossy.

I think that just about covers it – I can’t think of anything else I use when I paint – if I forgot anything, let me know! Anyhow, hope that was helpful to someone out there. I’d love to hear from others about their favorite things!

Surface

“From a Distance”
Oil on Canvas
16×20″
2007

Brushwork is an important part of my paintings. It’s something that I’m always working to improve, and an area where I still have a lot to learn.

I’m not a slave to detail, and in real life my paintings are somewhat painterly. I believe that each brushstroke should be carefully placed, and that once placed on the canvas it should pretty much remain untouched (believing this doesn’t mean that I am a master at adhering to it, of course – that’s another matter).

One of my instructors was always on my case to spend more time looking and thinking, and less time actually putting paint on the canvas. He was right – whether painting plein air or in the studio, the more thought you put into each stroke, the less likely that you’ll end up reworking things, or “noodling” on the canvas.

I’ve been really working on getting the texture of my paintings to have a certain quality, and I feel like I’m slowly making some progress. Lately, however, I’ve been getting annoyed at the way my support can affect the presentation of my brushwork. I typically paint on cotton canvas, and I’m getting more and more annoyed at the way the texture interferes with the look of my paintings. I know a lot of well known landscape artists only paint on linen, because they like the texture more, but my problem is I’m finding that I don’t like texture at ALL.

In the detail below, you can see what I’m talking about. See how the brushtrokes on the mountain are thick and speak for themselves, but the sky above has canvas texture showing through? I know I’m being picky, but it drives me nuts! There’s a lot of paint on that canvas, and I don’t want to see that texture there.


I buy preprimed canvas, and I’ve started to put two extra coats of gesso on each canvas in order to take some of the tooth out of the canvas texture. It’s time consuming, but it seems to be doing the trick. I’m thinking of switching to some type of smooth panel for smaller paintings, but I’m not sure what to do for large paintings. A 30×40″ framed painting is heavy enough as is – I don’t want to deal with the extra weight of a panel that size. Any suggestions?

Surface

“From a Distance”
Oil on Canvas
16×20″
2007

Brushwork is an important part of my paintings. It’s something that I’m always working to improve, and an area where I still have a lot to learn.

I’m not a slave to detail, and in real life my paintings are somewhat painterly. I believe that each brushstroke should be carefully placed, and that once placed on the canvas it should pretty much remain untouched (believing this doesn’t mean that I am a master at adhering to it, of course – that’s another matter).

One of my instructors was always on my case to spend more time looking and thinking, and less time actually putting paint on the canvas. He was right – whether painting plein air or in the studio, the more thought you put into each stroke, the less likely that you’ll end up reworking things, or “noodling” on the canvas.

I’ve been really working on getting the texture of my paintings to have a certain quality, and I feel like I’m slowly making some progress. Lately, however, I’ve been getting annoyed at the way my support can affect the presentation of my brushwork. I typically paint on cotton canvas, and I’m getting more and more annoyed at the way the texture interferes with the look of my paintings. I know a lot of well known landscape artists only paint on linen, because they like the texture more, but my problem is I’m finding that I don’t like texture at ALL.

In the detail below, you can see what I’m talking about. See how the brushtrokes on the mountain are thick and speak for themselves, but the sky above has canvas texture showing through? I know I’m being picky, but it drives me nuts! There’s a lot of paint on that canvas, and I don’t want to see that texture there.


I buy preprimed canvas, and I’ve started to put two extra coats of gesso on each canvas in order to take some of the tooth out of the canvas texture. It’s time consuming, but it seems to be doing the trick. I’m thinking of switching to some type of smooth panel for smaller paintings, but I’m not sure what to do for large paintings. A 30×40″ framed painting is heavy enough as is – I don’t want to deal with the extra weight of a panel that size. Any suggestions?