My Essentials

Every artist has their favourite materials and ways of doing things, their own essential gear. And every artist has figured out their (often unique) way of using and storing them. Online artists communities often feature threads with ideas for how to store pastels, which paint brands they favour, or which is the best palette. And it becomes clear that ‘each to their own’ is a golden rule. But sharing your favourite materials might introduce others to them and gives a little insider peek into the artist’s studio.

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This is my top 10 of essential gear!

1. Easel

Of course on number one it has to be my brand-new Hughes easel. It is such a joy to use, so easy to move up, down and around and my canvas does not move a millimetre when painting. A good easel is a number one essential for most artists.

2. Mahl-stick

For fine detail work I use a mahlstick to steady my hand. It has so far been a bamboo stick from the garden, and many artists use creative options (a walking stick to hang over the canvas, a pole attached to the easel) but I am eyeing up a purpose made one with a nice leather top….

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3. Palette

I use a disposable paper palette. Recently Jackson’s started stocking a grey one by New Wave without a thumbhole which is perfect for me. Because I am often using both hands (for a brush and a mahlstick or a rag) I prefer not to hold my palette. My palette is next to me, on a trolley. I use a disposable paper version as it saves time and is just incredibly practical. I paint if and when I can. In between dinner time and children’s bedtime, while the kids are at school, when I have a spare hour. Because I never stop, but paint continuously thoughout the day a disposable palette is ideal. I simply throw it away when it becomes too heavily loaded with dried up paint, which is usually only a few times a year. The rest of the time I can use the paint whenever I need to.

4. Palette box

Because I paint on and off throughout the day (and night) there is never a moment where I pack up for the day and clean up. After all I might be able to get back to the easel in an hour or two. So to keep my paint fresh and wet for as long as possible I use a palette box. When I have to stop painting, I put my brushes in (my palette lives in the box) and simply close the lid. This will keep the air out and keep the paint wet for well over a week. This box I got from a kids art set. I applied some draft excluders around the edges to make it more airtight.

5.  Sable Brush

After trying out a lot of different brands for the fine detail work of painting lace and portraits I keep on coming back to the same brush: Winsor & Newton series 7, size 1 sable brush. It was commissioned by watercolour enthusiast Queen Victoria in 1866 and is still made to the same standards (well, I think they have replaced the silver ferrule with a plainer metal by now). I paint all fine details with this brush and often very large areas of paintings as well. Nothing can beat it…

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6. Computer

I use my computer a lot. I use software like Photoshop and Lightroom to compose and adjust compositions and I often paint from my large monitor which allows me to see details in incredible close-up. Of course my computer is also vital to keep my website, blog and social media accounts up to date and to stay in touch with fellow artists, collectors and hopefully you on Facebook and Twitter.

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7. Mirror

A mirror can help me see my painting with ‘fresh eyes’. After working on a painting for a long time I tend to not be able to see mistakes anymore as I got so used to staring at it. Looking at my painting in a mirror really helps to see things that are wrong. I can see my painting ‘in reverse’ and therefore in a whole new way! I always have a mirror hanging across the easel.

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8. Canvas

I like to experiment with different supports to paint on but linen canvas is definitely one of my favourites. I am currently using a french linen with a very fine texture.9. Paint
Obvious one, really. Can’t paint without paint. I will write a blog post some time soon about my favourite colours and brands. Let me know if you have any questions you want me to answer! The paint I use most is the American Vasari and the German Schmincke Mussini. I love how these brands suit my thin painting style.

10. Books

Who can live without books. Whether they are books about art techniques or (and these feature in the book case much more) art history, I cannot get enough of them. Full of inspiration and ideas! Recent purchases include exhibition catalogues (the Late Rembrandt, Liotard) and a book on the 16th century miniaturist Hilliard.

In fact a lot of these ‘essentials’ could justify a blog post on its own. Do let me know if you are interested in anything in particular or have any questions about my supports, paints or other materials.

More from my Blog:

  • Hughes EaselHughes Easel As you might have read in an earlier post I have been on the hunt for a new easel for a […]
  • The World of Easels….The World of Easels…. The World of Easels… … is fairly small in the UK. For years I have been working on […]
  • Top 10 Best Books on PaintingTop 10 Best Books on Painting Well, maybe a top 11 or 12. And that's not counting the ones I don't know about and […]

12 thoughts on “My Essentials

  1. Also someone who sneaks in painting time around work and kids, often suddenly dropping everything and hoping to return in a bit, I’m hugely inspired by your airtight palette box … Will start search now .., many thanks!

    1. Thank you! Glad I can inspire some. Good luck finding the perfect palette box, let me know if you find a good one!

  2. Such beautiful work and so generous with your information about techniques and materials. Could I ask you, how do you finish your paintings. Do you varnish if so what do you use.

    1. Hi Joan, I am so sorry for the late reply! Life (kids, family) just took over for a bit. Thank you for reading my blog and commenting. Really great to have you here.
      I do like to varnish my paintings. It not only protects them in the future but it also evens out any shiny or dull areas, it lifts up the dark colours and makes the bright colours sing. If the painting has not dried for at least 6 months, I use a retouch varnish. After 6 months I use a gloss final varnish. Recently I have started to use Gamvar which is a final varnish that does not require you to wait 6-12 months and it seems to work great. Hope this helps, but do let me know if you have any other questions. I promise I won’t take so long to answer next time! 🙂

  3. Such beautiful work and so generous with your information about techniques and materials. Could I ask you, how do you finish your paintings. Do you varnish if so what do you use.

  4. Such beautiful work and so generous with your information about techniques and materials. Could I ask you, how do you finish your paintings. Do you varnish if so what do you use.

  5. Hi, glad I stumbled across your website! Wonderful information 🙂
    Can I ask, do you put anything else in your palette box to keep your paint fresh for a week? Many put Oil of Clove inside the box lid. I can’t use it as I find the smell overpowering. I have a Masterson Paint Palette box.

    1. Hi Veronica, thanks so much for stopping by! No, I do not put anything else in my paint box. I have heard the Oil of Clove suggestion as well but never tried it. If indeed it smells really strong I might not like it either. I have a Masterson palette box as well but must admit I replaced with a wooden box as I found the wood more airtight than the plastic box. The more airtight the box, the longer the paint stays wet, after all!
      I have heard others are covering their paint in cling film and putting in the freezer, some in the fridge. That will keep it wet as well. Happy Painting!

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