Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Few of my Favorite Things

"Approach to Lake Isabelle"
Oil on Panel

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 24x36" panels), so it's become my preference when working on hard panel. For anything larger than 24x36", 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!


  1. Thank you, Stacey! It's always interesting to hear what other artists use. I keep hearing good things about Utrecht paints, so I might just have to try them now!

  2. I am so glad you right a blog, stacy!!

    Great info. I have been using M. Graham & Co. paints. I find them to be less toxic than other oils (they are walnut oil based) but still have that great texture you describe.

    I might try Gamsol now. I love to play with washes in my under painting, but the fumes of most mineral spirits make me pretty sick unless I have lots of fresh air.

    I think I will also try the Ampersand Gesso boards, now. I like texture but not always a canvas texture, so building up a textured base on gesso board is cool. I usually make my own boards but time is just too precious to do what Ampersand can probably do better.

    Thanks, again.

  3. Funny that you posted about your favorite things...I did, too, but it wasn't based on painting but instead on items of a personal interest. Love your list and your recommendations.

    And regarding your post on why I paint - my children tell me I get grumpy when I don't. It's my meditation and soul-filler.

  4. Susan - yes, you HAVE to try the Utrecht paints. They're a great buy!

    Michael - Gamsol is the only brand of mineral spirits I've used that don't make me feel lightheaded and nauseous if I paint in an enclosed are, fwiw. I used M. Graham paints for a while, but I did a lot of research (it's the chemistry background in me!) and came to the conclusion that the walnut oil base is really not much different than a linseed oil base (after all, a lot of people take flaxseed oil for their health - same thing!). The pigments themselves are what concern me in the paint itself (heavy metals like cadmium, etc), so I wear gloves to alleviate any absorption into my skin. The big advantage of the walnut oil paints is that they yellow and crack less, and the use of walnut oil as a brush cleaner etc. minimizes the use of dangerous solvents and mediums. I decided I could still paint with traditional oils (which I buy in bigger cheaper tubes than I can get the M. Grahams in), and minimize my use of solvents and mediums for my health. Compromise, I guess...

    Veronica - I'll have to check out your post on you other favorite things - I must have missed it!

  5. stacey, love that you shared your supplies. i, too, find it interesting to see what different artist's work with. we all have our favorites for sure. if i remember correctly, you and i share a viva papertowel addiction!

    is it just me, or do i notice lately that your brushstrokes are taking on a more angular appearance? there is a look about your recent paintings that i am really liking...i feel a different energy in them...all good!

  6. Very cool to read about what you use all in one post. May have to follow your lead on that.
    I will look for that medium you mention. I have gotten into using liquin for the flow it gives my paints, but I hear it is not too healthy. Luckily I paint outside a lot.
    I am a winsor newton slave myself.
    I almost always buy flats too. I scrub a lot and they turn into filberts fast :-) But I use both bristol and white nylon.
    I use baby wipes a lot to keep the paint off my hands.

  7. Christine - it's funny that you mention the angular appearance of my brushstrokes - I would actually consider that to be a main part of what makes my painting style MINE. It doesn't seem to show well in photos, but I do use flat brushes, and usually leave the brushtrokes as they go down, so you get those recangular strokes. Seems to be more obvious in my recent paintings - maybe becuase I'm photographing in different light now!

    Frank - my flats turn to filberts quickly too, so I'm always buying new brushes. I also use the baby wipes - I have so many around the house, they come in handy for keeping my hands clean!

  8. Hello Stacey,
    I like very much this work. You have perfectly "translated" the austerity and the coldness of the mineral and at the same time the solitude and peace of these landscapes. Very poetic indeed !
    Hélène from France