One of the things that has been so enjoyable about the 100 meadows project, is how it’s pushed me to learn a medium that, quite honestly, intimidated me. Oil painting seemed so serious, technical, and with strict rules. It’s for the real artists, not the aspiring ones. And if you can even get beyond all of those notions and put brush to canvas, how do you clean up the palette, paints, oil mediums, and solvents?
I stuck my toe in the oil painting waters when I was back in PA and my “art friend”, Katie, who is a trained artist (and a very talented one), walked me through some of the basics. When I moved, though, I was nervous about picking it back up again on my own. I figured it would be one of those things I got excited about for a brief time, but didn’t continue to pursue.
When Michelle Wooderson announced her 100 meadows project on Instagram, it was just the push I needed and I tentatively committed to join her along with another Instagram friend, Page. The three of us started a text group and have been encouraging one another, sharing sources and information, and tips with each other. The three of us are learning together and it’s reminded me what value can be found in learning from fellow students.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of the blind leading the blind, but we can share those lightbulb moments with each other, share what we discover in our research and trial and error, and see improvement in each other’s work.
So, I’ve been asked to share more details about the products I’m using and the things I’ve learned so far, so here it is.
Take it with a grain of salt.
I have been asked a lot about my color palette and what paints I would suggest for someone starting out. Let’s talk about colors first. There are so many to pick from that it can be overwhelming! I have fallen in love with a bunch of colors, but if I had to really narrow it down, I would pick these colors for landscapes…
Paynes Gray, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Sap Green, Cadmium Yellow, and Alizarin.
My “second tier” colors (ones that I would suggest adding when money allows) are…
Mars Black, Indigo, Cobalt Blue, Winsor Lemon, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, and Cadmium Red.
And colors that have become my favorite frivolous colors are Bice, King’s Blue Extra Pale, Brilliant Yellow Pale, and Lead Tin Yellow. You could find a pretty close match to these colors by mixing colors mentioned above, but I love the softness that comes right out of these tubes.
And, of course, you need a huge tube of white. (I show it next to a “regular tube”, so you can see how big it is.) There are many different whites, but I’ve been using Titanium White. I am look forward to trying out some different whites, though. I just picked up Flake White and Radiant White.)
As far as the brand of paint, I am still testing out different brands and learning my preferences. I will say, and it’s a very common suggestion, that you buy the best paints you can afford. Pure pigments make a big difference when it comes to mixing. If the paints have a lot of fillers in them, the colors will be muddy and dull when mixed and that will be discouraging for you.
Here’s a comparison of the student grade Cerulean Blue (Winton) and artist grade Cerulean (Utrecht). You can see how much bluer the artist grade is!
The nice thing about quality pigments is that you can make hundreds of custom-mixed colors with just a few tubes of paint.
Oh, and something I learned from Katie and have seen elsewhere…many professional artists do not even buy green tubes of paint. They mix all of their own greens. I like having some tube greens, but I always mix them to tone them down and make them look more natural. I’m still working on that, though!
If your budget is really tight, just buy one tube at a time from a craft store that takes 40% off coupons, like Hobby Lobby and Michaels. Katie is the one who originally suggested Utrecht paints, because they are artist grade, but are a bit more economical than some other brands. And I have liked their body and color.
For a painting surface, you can use pretty much anything that has been prepared with gesso! You can use watercolor paper, pieces of luan or MDF, etc. Canvases, canvas boards, etc. aren’t that expensive, though, and I always look for craft store sales and then pick up a few.
For the 100 meadows project, I have been using sheets of gessoed canvas that come in a pad. I can cut down one piece into eight 4 x 6 canvases, so it’s very economical and low pressure.
For brushes, I am still figuring out my favorites, but I’ve been using a #12 Bright with synthetic bristles. (It’s the one in the middle.) I find there is a lot of variety of shapes that can be made with just that one brush. I need to branch out a bit more, though, and get some of those other brushes dirty!
I’ve been purchasing synthetic and boar-bristle Master’s Touch brushes from Hobby Lobby when they are 50% off. I’m sure I’ll pick up more brushes as I go, but clearly I have enough to choose from to keep me going for now!
I have a problem.
Down to some more of the practical stuff, I found an old metal tackle box to keep my frequently used colors in, so they are right by my palette.
I also keep rolls of Viva paper towels in a crate by my work table. In the beginning, I was using a rag, but I realized those would need to be thrown away (which would get expensive) or washed (which might not be worth the trouble.) Michelle told me Viva towels were the artist’s choice for “disposable studio rags”, because they don’t leave lint. So, of course, that’s what I bought. I wouldn’t want my Bounty Basics paper towels giving me away as a novice artist!
I keep Gamsol (solvent) in a metal container with a clamped lid near my palette, along with an old ironstone plate to hold the paper towel I’m using to clean my brushes during a painting session. (I linked to the metal container on Amazon, but there is a similar one about half the price at Hobby Lobby.)
At first, I was swishing my brush in the solvent between each color, as if it were water, but I learned that doing so will fill the studio with fumes. Now, I keep the lid on and only use it when I really need it. Otherwise, I just wipe the color off onto a paper towel.
Since the paper towels have oil paint in them (that could dry and spontaneously combust if not disposed of properly), I put them in a ziplock bag, submerge them in water (in the bag), seal it, and then dispose of it in the trash.
You can find a great article on studio safety HERE.
Baby wipes are also good for cleaning up, so I have a pack of those in my tackle box, too.
…and I’ve realized this post is getting really long and I’m still going to share about my palette, easel, inspiration books & websites and more, so I’m going to write about those in part two.
I hope this information doesn’t overwhelm you, but it encourages you. Many people have sent me messages, comments, or e-mails sharing that they’ve always wanted to try oil painting. Some even used the word “dream”. Don’t let your life go by with unfulfilled, possible dreams. You can go buy a few tubes of paint and explore that dream this week.
And we can be art students together.