Working with good quality paint does not make you paint better and become rich and famous, does it? But choosing the right paint does make a difference and can make your painting life much easier.
Visit any online art materials shop and the choice of oil painting brands is enormous. What are the differences between all these different paint brands? In the past I have tried quite a few but nowhere near all of them of course. I love trying out new stuff!
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I must admit that I have been happy with a couple of brands for a few years and tend to stick with them for now. Maybe my experimenting days are over and I am growing old, or maybe I know I need to produce proper stuff for galleries and clients and will not take any risks anymore.
Anyway, my favourite brands at the moment are Vasari , Michael Harding and Schmincke Mussini. Vasari and Mussini are ‘long paints’, they are smooth and spread easily. They have beautiful subtle colours, grey and earth tones which I prefer. I also use Winsor & Newton, Blockx and Old Holland
Student versus Professional
Most brands divide their oil paint into professional and student quality paints. The student quality paint is cheaper but will also be of lesser quality. The pigment load is less or different, more ‘fillers’ (like oil) have been used, the lightfastness might not be as good and the manufacturing process different.Although a lot of student quality paints are perfectly fine to use I find the difference with professional paints quite big and would always recommend trying professional paints so you can make an informed decision which one would work better for you. Many professional artists who use a lot of paint use Winsor & Newton’s student range Winton to cut costs. Keeping in mind that most students paints are by far better than any paint used by 17th century old masters all this is very relative.
To illustrate the difference a 37ml tube of Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour Cadmium Red cost around £14, while their student range Winton would set you back only £3 for a Cadmium Red Hue (a hue is a synthetically made colour, instead of the original pigment. It is often cheaper and less intense but sometimes can come quite close to the original pigment). Another example is from Talens: while their Rembrandt Ultramarine cost around £6, their student range Van Gogh would only cost you £3 for the same colour.
Choosing paint is very personal and budget dependent. Buy the best you can afford seems to be the general advice. For me personally I find Winsor & Newton Artists Oil probably the best overall paint as the price is very reasonable and the paint of good quality. But I have opted for more expensive paint to use simply because I want to and really enjoy the superb quality of it. It actually adds a bit more joy to the process of painting for me.
A common way (I think) to organise paint brands is as below, based on price and quality (which admittedly is a debatable topic). I have based this on my own experience as well as what I’ve read online.
Feel free to disagree and let me know your thoughts. Of course there are more brands than listed here below. I would love to hear additions and in which category you think they would fit!
Most oil paint brands organise their colours by price. They give their colours series numbers. Most cadmiums are usually in the more expensive series, basic colours such as white and black are in the cheapest series 1. Series numbers refer to price range, not pigment load or quality and is brand specific so you cannot compare with other brands. Most brands provide paints in 37ml or 40ml tubes and some popular colours in large 200ml tubes as well.
Some brands have lots of colours, others a lot less. All brands will offer the main colour groups of whites, reds, yellows, blues, greens, greys, blacks and earth tones. Some brands excel in certain colour types and an artist might choose a brand because of it. For example Mussini is known for its great transparent earth tones and Old Holland for its extremely extensive range of colours.Most brands would list which pigments have been used in their paints, either on the tube or on their website. Generally a cadmium red from one brand will look the same as one from another brand. This applies to most well known, single pigment colours.With most other colours (the vast majority of most ranges) colours vary enormously between brands. Colours are often brand specific and unique, and colour names can refer to completely different things! A Raw Sienna from one brand might look and feel completely different from another brand. As a general rule each specific colour, from a specific brand will mix and work in its own specific way and experimenting is key to learning its characteristics.
Consistency and Lightfastness
All brands have a different consistency and artists choose whichever suits them best. Stiff paint (short paint) such as Old Holland might suit someone who would like to use impasto and leave visible brush marks. Long paint (fluid and smooth) such as Vasari would be more suitable for painters who work into small details and prefer a soft and smooth effect.
All normal oil paints can be mixed together, regardless of brand so there is no reason to stick to one brand. Each colour will have its own lightfastness rating, which is often provided on the tubes themselves or else online or can be requested.
Here are some of my thoughts on the brands I have tried:
Vasari: American brand. Handmade oil paints of beautiful quality. Superb subtle colours of great depth, spreads easily without losing colour. Not suitable for impasto or thick brush work. My favourite brand. Some favourites are Bice, Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale and Bluff is a great skin colour.
Old Holland: Dutch brand. Ancient brand (started in the 17th century) of fantastic quality paint. Thick and buttery, a huge range of beautiful colours (often with for me nostalgic place names like Scheveningen and Delft). Fabulous quality but very thick.
Michael Harding: British brand. Handmade paints. Great quality and a great story. Michael Harding is incredibly involved and full of knowledge he shares happily. Beautiful paint and very rich deep colours. Sometimes a tad grainy. I am currently loving the Alizarin Claret.
Winsor & Newton Artists Oils: British brand. All round wonderful quality and affordable pricing. Very consistent and reliable paint. Good quality and price balance. I use W&N for large tubes of white, burnt umber and black.
Schmincke Mussini: German brand. Wonderful quality paint, especially the earth and grey tones. Lovely transparent colours. Oils are manufactured with resin, linseed oil, safflower oil and poppy-seed oil through a sophisticated process which results in very beautiful and deep colours with excellent and consistent drying properties. One of my favourite paints. I love their greys, Mineral Brown, Brilliant Scarlet, Translucent Yellow, Indian Yellow and Indigo Tone.