Essential Equipment for Oil Painting
|February 7, 2012||Posted by admin under Oil Painting|
When painting quickly, a few essentials are far more help than lots of unnecessary equipment that will clutter up your working area or weigh you down when working outdoors. In fact, all you need to get started are a limited selection of colors, just three brushes, a sketchbook and pencil or pen, and a few other useful bits and pieces.
Limiting your materials is especially important when working outdoors, but you can easily carry all your requirements in a small rucksack.
Oil paints come in tubes of varying sizes and are available in different grades, either students’ or artists’ quality. Buy the best you can afford as artists’ quality paints tend to contain more pigment, making the colors more vibrant and longer-lasting. However, students’ quality paints represent excellent value for money and are fine when you are first starting out.
Being mean with the amount of paint you use generally results in a poor painting, so if cost is an issue, choose students’ quality paints and be generous with the amounts you use.
Alongside traditional oil paints, there are other modified paints now on the market. Two of the best-known types are alkyd oils and water-mixable oils, and both offer the artist specific advantages.
Alkyd oil paints dry faster than traditional ones. They are still an oil paint, but contain a modified and faster-drying oil binder. This makes them very practical when painting abroad, because unless you apply the paint extremely thickly it will usually dry overnight. For this reason, however, take care not to leave large blobs of unused paint on your working palette as these too may dry overnight, leading to a waste of paint. Alkyd oils are classified as nonflammable, making them particularly useful for the traveling artist.
These can be thinned with a special medium and some water. Because the paints are in a modified oil base, any added water should be mixed thoroughly into the paint. Be careful to avoid overthinning with water: this can cause problems as it may affect the molecular structure of the paint, resulting in a grainy wash effect. After all, oil and water do not generally mix!
Water-mixable oils are ideal for anyone with an allergy to turpentine or white spirit as brushes are cleaned in water, rather than these products.
Traditionally, oil paints are thinned with a combination of turpentine and linseed oil. To keep things simple when working in just one 30-minute session I use a small pot of Winsor & Newton’s liquin Original. This is an alkyd medium (a commercial painting medium containing a spirit, oil and resin). It not only speeds up the drying time but also thins the paint to a sticky glaze, rather than a slippery wash, making it easier to apply two or three layers wet-in-wet and therefore finish a painting within one session.
You will need some white spirit for cleaning the brushes you use with oil paints and alkyd oils. Keep the lid on the jar when not in use to contain my strong fumes. You can also use a soap brush cleaner. If you are working with water-mixable oils, use water to clean your brushes.
As oil paint dries, certain colors ‘sink’ and can look flat and dull. Varnishing your painting will bring these dead patches back to life. Retouching varnish is ideal for this and is the only varnish I recommend. Unlike full-gloss varnish it can be overpainted, so if after varnishing your finished painting you change your mind and add more oil paint on top, there is no need to remove the layer of varnish first.
When you begin painting in oils there is no need for lots of different brushes. Start with just three synthetic brushes, preferably long-handled, rather than ones made with traditional hog hair. Modern nylon brushes are an excellent choice as they have a springy feel and will keep their shape much better than hog-hair brushes. Choose a No. 7 long flat, a No. 4 round, and a No. 4 synthetic watercolor-style soft round brush for the fine details.
Flat brushes are particularly useful for working quickly: they are ideal for blocking in large areas with just a few strokes, yet if turned on to its edge a flat brush can also create a fairly fine line, such as for tree trunks or larger branches. Alternatively, you can use the edge of a painting knife to put in fine lines, such as for telegraph poles or masts and rigging.
Oil palettes come in all shapes and sizes, so choose one that suits you; but remember that it needs to be big enough to hold all your colors and still leave plenty of space for mixing them. Traditionally, palettes are made of wood, but you may find it easier to judge your color mixes on a white plastic version. Disposable tear-off palettes can also be useful. It is a question of experimenting with various types of palette to find out which you prefer.
There are several different surfaces that are suitable for oil painting, ranging from traditional canvas to more economic alternatives that you may find more convenient for quick oil studies.
Stretched canvas will flex as you paint on it, making it a lively and responsive surface to work on. Buy ready-stretched canvases at your local art shop, rather than trying to prepare your own as this can be time-consuming. Canvases are fairly expensive, however, and for 30-minute paintings a painting panel or canvas board is just as suitable.
Canvas boards and panels
Primed boards covered in a thin layer of canvas are known as canvas boards and are widely available at art shops in a range of standard sizes. They are perfect for the first-time or inexperienced oil painter. Relatively cheap, yet with a good “grippy’ surface, they are my recommended surface for 30-minute paintings.
Oil painting paper
A pad of oil painting paper is ideal for quick studies and color-mixing exercises. Unlike watercolor paper, the surface is textured to simulate canvas and coated with a special layer which prevents the oil paint sinking into it.
Although not strictly designed for use with oil paints, acrylic paper also has a textured surface and will accept them. As it is more absorbent than oil painting paper, the paint usually dries in a few minutes, making it easier to control the flow of paint when you are starting out. However, acrylic paper should be used only for quick studies as it is unlikely to remain stable over a long period of time.
Other useful items
There are A few other items that you will need or find useful. These include a sketchbook and a selection of pencils (2B, 4B and 6B), or a drawing pen if you prefer; a palette knife, which is useful both for mixing colors before you start painting and as a tool for making marks; a roll of kitchen paper or plenty of rags for cleaning brushes and wiping off paint (as well as a rubbish bag for disposing of them); and a camera for taking reference photographs. If you are painting outside in hot sunshine you might also include a sun hat and a cover-up shirt.
Painting outdoors can be an absolute joy, but if you are weighed down with lots of heavy equipment, it can become something of a nightmare. Given that you will have a wet palette, at least one wet painting, various brushes and several tubes of color, having the right painting box is essential if you are going to enjoy the experience.
The pochade box is the ideal solution. Named after the French word for ‘sketch’, this is a small painting box which will hold up to three wet painting panels, tubes of paint, brushes and a wet palette – fantastic for the 30-minute artist. Pochade boxes come in various sizes from around 15 x 20 cm (6×8 in) up to 30.5 x 40.5 cm (12 x 16 in). Each pochade box is designed to carry canvas boards of a particular size – I find a box that takes boards sized 20 x 25.5 cm (8 x 10 in) ideal. Any larger and the box tends to be too heavy or big to fit into a standard rucksack.
A good alternative to the pochade box, especially if you wish to work on a slightly larger scale, is the box easel. Again, this has been designed to carry all your essentials, and the legs unfold to a standard easel height, enabling you to stand up and paint outdoors in comfort. There is even a sliding drawer to pull out and balance your palette on.
A full-sized box easel can be fairly heavy, weighing around 7 kg (151/2 Ib) when full. I use a half-sized version, which is lighter, but the palette has to be folded in half when not in use. I have adapted mine with a couple of cut-down wine corks so that when the palette is folded there is still some space between the two halves for blobs of unused paint.