Art in general is magic. One person takes a collection of pigments and rearranges them into something that can represent a real world item, or a flight of fantasy. All that is possible from a nondescript blob of colour on a palette. The biggest stumbling block for many people, especially when starting out is making the move from getting the paint out of the tube and on to the canvas.
We’ll start with the paint and worry about getting it on the support later (support is just a fancy word for what you’re painting on).
Not all oil paint is created equal. Like a lot of things in life, you mostly get what you pay for. With oil paint you’re paying for the pigment, the more expensive the more actual pigment your tube of paint will contain. The pigment is suspended in a medium which in the case of oil paint is…… oil, usually linseed oil.
Cheaper paints will have higher concentration of oil to pigment, and a cheaper quality of pigment (or a combination of both). At a more advanced level we’ll have a look at how to identify pigments. Cheaper paints will also use synthetic pigments, which in itself is not an issue, but those synthetic pigments may be weak and will not mix well with other colours. If you go cheap when starting out you’ll be disappointed in the colours you create – I can guarantee you that as it’s where I started. Save money on your supports (canvas/board/paper – we’ll get on to that later) and spend the money on some decent paints.
When you’re starting out, you really don’t need the top level expensive paints, but stay away from the bottom end of the market. They don’t cover well, they don’t mix well, and they don’t dry well. You’ll just end up frustrated and it’s a shame to be put off by poor results that can be avoided. I’m telling you this, because I’ve made that mistake. And when you do use good paints it’s like a revelation (but we’ll get to all that further on).
What paints would I recommend you start with? There are many brands out there and, admittedly, I’ve not used them all and there may be some geographic specific brands that I’m not aware of that might be great. So I’ll tell you about the main brands in my region which is the UK. If you want a quick trip down memory lane, my first set of oil paints (I’m not going to name the brand/shop as you’ll have an idea from the description of the type of set I’m on about) was about £1 for I think it was seven small tubes.
The tubes had the colour printed on the label, but no pigment information (a subject for another post) which I didn’t know was a thing because I was an oil painting beginner. It came from a shop that sold budget art supplies and discount books. For me, starting out, not knowing anything it would have been okay, and it was okay up until I was trying to mix colours.
I was watching youtube videos and trying different colour combinations, but what I was getting was just a muddy mess. It took me a while before I found info on why my colours weren’t vibrant and it came down to it being the case that my paints were never going to give the vibrancy I was looking for. From there I looked for a medium range of paints. I didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t want to be spending out on oil paints if I was going to suck at it, which is typical beginner angst. I searched around and the second set of paints I bought were from a French company called Pebeo. These were a stellar leap in difference in quality compared to the first cheap paints.
The next step up for me was to a set of Winsor and Newton Artists’ oils. Again there was a noticeable difference between the Pebeo and W&N paints. Some of it was not, in my opinion for the better. For example, the yellow ochre of the Pebeo paints was smooth and creamy, while the W&N version was gritty. That is something that is down to personal preference, and as you advance you may find that you have preferences of some colours across different brands.
The paints that I currently use are hand made artists’ oils from Michael Harding. An artist in his own right, Michael Harding began creating his own paints using techniques that date back to the time of the old masters. In terms of quality, I’d say that Michael Harding oil paints are a pinnacle brand. They’re also local to me which is important in these times of more environmental awareness.
So what paints should you get as a beginner? Paint is going to be the main thing you spend money on as you progress on your journey as an artist. If you skimp here, your work will not reach its potential. On the other hand, when you’re beginning you’re going to be getting to know the medium which will involve a certain amount of trial and error and waste.
If you’re sure that oil painting is your thing, and you intend to get serious from the off then I can definitely recommend the Winsor and Newton Artists’ Oil set. It’s at least double the price of the previously mentioned sets, but the pigment is much stronger which means that you’ll use less of it. However, as I said before, as a beginner you will have more waste which is why, until you’re more familiar with the medium it’s advisable to use a less expensive set of paints.
While the above paint manufacturers are what I would recommend, it’s always a good idea to ask others what they like to use. It will be trial and error, but you’ll come to use a certain combination of colours that will make up your palette (but that is for another post).
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