10 Art Supplies For The Beginner Painter
When I started painting, I’d been given an old box of oil paints that my brother had found in his garage. I’m not sure who they belonged to, but I was encouraged to try them, having never touched an oil paint tube before.
The results weren’t excellent, but with just one canvas and a few rather knackered paints, I’d discovered a new direction. Thirteen years later, I’m still painting.
Painting supplies and art supplies in general can be expensive and knowing what you need and what is a fancy extra can be confusing. I’ve put together a list of my art supplies must-haves, if you’re just getting started, based on my tried and tested favourites.
This list is for painting related supplies, and I’ve included lists based on three main paint types that I use: oils, acrylics and watercolour. If you’re just starting out, I don’t suggest trying all three media at once, but if you’re up to the challenge, why not!
If you’ve read similar blog posts, or have been doing research online, you might have heard that you can start off with cheaper, generic items. While I wouldn’t recommend getting fancy with super expensive brands and a single paintbrush that costs double digits, I do recommend investing in quality supplies. Quality of brushes, surfaces and even colours can vary greatly, as can the results they achieve. Cheap supplies equals cheap-looking work.
The first supply you’ll need, and one of my favourites to shop for: colours!
So much choice! Go into any art supplies store and you’ll no doubt be greeted by walls of paint tubes in so many hues you’ve never heard of. From ten different shades of green to ‘light’ ‘deep’ and other variations, it can be tempting to just grab the ones you like the look of. But certain colours work well together, and others will not. Other colours look wonderful but might be useful only for a specific purpose.
Where do you start?
For acrylics or oils, I recommend that you start off with six basic colours. These would be: Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red Medium, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Pthalo Green (works wonderfully with Cadmium Yellow to mix a wide range of green tones) and Titanium White. A large tube of white is recommended, as you’ll need white to mix colours more effectively and create tonal variations.
Why You Don’t Need To Buy Black Paint
You’ll notice I didn’t include black on my list, even though most beginner painting sets have black in them. Monet never used black in his paintings, even in the darkest shadows, and I very rarely use it either. You can mix a deep, beautiful dark tone using a mix of blue, red and green shades, or my favourite method is to mix Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue. A mixed ‘black’ looks more natural.
When it comes to watercolour, you can buy tubes, sticks or half pans. I’ve always preferred pan watercolours as they are easy to use and come in their own handy case. Watercolour pan sets are perfect for beginners and advanced artists, are great for travel and offer a wide variety and number of colours. Don’t go crazy. I have three pan sets with between 10 and 14 colours each. My favourite is a set of 14 Cotman Watercolours by Winsor and Newton. It includes all your basic primary and secondary colours, is compact and affordable.
Heaven in a box!
2. A Set Of Brushes
As a general rule of thumb, the tougher the bristle, the tougher the medium. Reserve the softest bristles for watercolour work and keep stiff hog hair or synthetic bristles for oil painting. A good starter pack of brushes should include the different shapes of brushes – round (pointy at the end) and flat (square ended), in several sizes. Additional brushes like filberts (an oval flat end) can be great for blending, and fan brushes are super for creating realistic tree-like texture. I’ve been painting for over a decade, and I don’t think I’ve ever needed to purchase a filbert brush, so I don’t consider this as an essential for a beginner artist.
Some cheaper brushes that I would recommend include a soft, round makeup brush to help you create smooth blends over large areas, a couple of house painting brushes for wide washes, and perhaps even a sponge roller to blend or create texture.
If you’re going to use oils, I recommend buying a bottle of brush cleaner, too. Oil paint can ruin brushes very quickly if you don’t wash them thoroughly after every painting session.
Left and bottom: oil and acrylic brushes, top right: watercolour brushes. You definitely don’t need to start with this many!
Assorted round, flat and specialty brushes
Which Hair Type?
I’m not going to get into any ethical debates on animal hairs, harvesting or synthetic bristles. Do your own research and choose the brushes that work for you. Most of my brushes are synthetic, but I have a few sable and hog bristles that were gifted to me or brought for a specific painting. However, I will list the most common types of brushes and the media they are traditionally used with.BristleMediumHogAcrylics, OilsKolinsky SableWatercolour, OilsOxWatercolourPonyWatercolourSynthetic/TaklonAcrylics, Oils, Watercolour
Synthetic, or Taklon brushes – just as soft!
Long Or Short Handles?
A long-handled brush typically gives you greater wrist flexibility, keeps your hands well clear of any painting surface, and held loosely at the tip can produce expressive marks. Short-handled brushes are great for more refined detail.
Brands I Use: Winsor and Newton, Boldmere
3. Canvas or Boards
If you’re going to use acrylics or oils, you’ll need stretched canvases or boards. Boards are great as they’re flat and can take up a lot less storage space but will need framing or supports if you plan to hang them up. You can also buy pads of paper suitable for these two paint media.
Brands I Use: Winsor and Newton
Standard sketching paper, sketchbooks or printer paper isn’t thick enough and won’t support wet media, so choose paper pads specifically for oil, acrylic or watercolour painting.
Which Watercolour Paper Is Best? Hot Or Cold Pressed?
Hot pressed paper is smooth and ideal for detailed work and realism. Cold pressed paper has more ‘tooth’ or texture that you can see, and this texture will show through in your paintings. I’ve always been a fan of cold pressed paper as I love seeing the texture peek through the layers and add interest to my works. Hot pressed has worked well for me too. It depends on the style you want to paint.
Brands I Love: Flying Tiger Copenhagen does the most brilliant inexpensive watercolour paper, but my go-to for larger works and commissions (and always out of stock locally) is St Cuthberts Mill ‘Bockingford’ Cold Pressed.
5. A Mixing Palette
You can be traditional and buy yourself a wooden or plastic palette, however, once your paint has dried on it can be tough to remove, and even tougher to maintain an organised paint surface. You can also buy tear-off paper palettes. If you look around your house, there are plenty of everyday surfaces and items that make great palettes too. An old glass chopping board (you can simply wipe, scrape the paint right off after each use) or ice cream tub lids can work perfectly.
I love sketchbooks. Preferably hard-bound and no larger than A4. If I could I’d buy sketchbooks all the time, but I’ve had to exercise some serious self-control. Sketchbooks are a must-have art supply for you to study your subjects, sketch out different compositions and to explore ideas before you paint them.
Brands I Love: Silvine
7. Sketching Pencils
No artist’s sketchbook can function without a decent set of pencils. You can buy a basic set of sketching pencils with different lead firmness for soft or hard lines and tones.
Don’t forget to include a kneaded eraser (an eraser that can be shaped for precision) and an artist’s grade pencil sharpener, too. Avoid cheap stationery shop items as these can damage pencils.
8. Art Storage Solutions
Now that you’ve brought some paints, paper, etc, it’s a good idea to have somewhere to store it. If you want more portable options, you can keep your smaller items in storage baskets or boxes. Simply fill will the supplies you need for the day, and you’ll be much more organised than if you had to empty out your entire art space.
Brands I Love: Any home accessories or DIY shop is likely to have a range of baskets and boxes. Amazon, Home Bargains and The Works are all great options if you’re in the UK.
9. A Colour Wheel
A colour wheel can show you which colours you need to mix to create a new one as well as show you colour relationships. You can also use online tools like Adobe Colour to explore colour themes, test and save colour palettes and more.
I always save a ‘swatch’ of a colour once I’ve mixed it labelling the colour and rough quantity (1 part cadmium yellow, 2 parts white for example) so I can re-mix that colour weeks, months, even years later.
Whether you simply want to list down the supplies you need to buy from this blog, your day’s inspiration or tips from your favourite painting tutorials, notebooks are a must-have. I have several on the go at a time. Some I use for jotting down ideas or taking notes while I’m in the middle of a painting. Others I use to create thumbnail sketches in ink, or to take some art marketing study notes. It’s up to you!
I hope this list of supplies has inspired you to pop to the shops (or, if you’re in lockdown, stay safe and shop online!)
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