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Advice for people just getting started with oil paints.

Tips for Artists

Hello art-making friends! This is a compilation of some of your frequently-asked questions about my supplies and methods. I hope you find it helpful!

I buy almost all of my art supplies online from Blick Art Materials, because they have consistently lower prices and a better selection than the art stores near me. I'm linking a bunch of the products that I regularly use, in case you'd like to try them out! I am a Blick affiliate, so if you purchase anything using these affiliate links, I’ll receive a small kickback, which means you’ll also be helping me to continue creating art!

Q: What kind of paint do you use?

A: I use oil paints. They dry slowly, so they’re great for painting outdoors. I squeeze my paints into the tin before leaving home so that I don’t need to bring the tubes with me. I use essentially the same colors, whether I’m painting at home or in the studio. Do I drool over all the other colors? Yes, yes, I do. But for the most part, they aren’t necessary.

Here is my basic palette. I use Gamblin brand oil paints for almost all of these colors, with only a few exceptions, see below.

  • ivory black

  • ultramarine blue

  • cerulean blue (sometimes I use Williamsburg’s Sevres Blue instead)

  • alizarin crimson

  • cadmium red medium

  • cadmium orange

  • cadmium yellow medium

  • cadmium yellow light

  • titanium white (I often use Winton for this color because it’s inexpensive, and I like the texture)

Here are my bonus colors:

  • Gamblin’s pthalo turquoise (mostly for the ocean)

  • Holbein’s brilliant pink (nice for flowers…bright pinks can be hard to mix from other colors)

  • cadmium red light (the Williamsburg version of this color is blindingly bright, and sometimes I need that!)

  • Gamblin’s permanent green light (if the painting has a ton of bright greens and I’m tired of mixing)

Want cheaper options?

In my opinion, your best inexpensive option is Gamblin 1980 series oil colors. Still great pigments, just a smaller price tag. Blick’s studio line is also a good value. Save your money for the colors that need to be the brightest like yellows and reds, and spend less on basics like white and black.

Q: What surface do you paint on?

A: I paint on thin balsa wood panels that are roughly 2x3 inches. You can often find them in the woodworking section of craft stores. You can also cut out pieces of oil paper (like this one), or paint directly on the metal surface after priming it with white or clear acrylic gesso (sometimes gesso won’t stick to metal, but I have not encountered this problem when working with mint tins).

If you are painting on wood and are concerned about the longevity of your artwork, you might consider first sealing the surface with GAC-100, to prevent any contaminants from the wood from co-mingling with the paint over time and causing discoloration.

Q: What lines the bottom of the mint tin?

A: I don’t like mixing paint on the slippery, shiny surface of the bottom of the mint tin, so I cover it with a piece of palette paper. It makes a big difference!

Q: Do you use mediums or solvents?

A: I love using Gamsol when painting at home, but when painting mint tins outdoors, I find it easier to skip these substances. The risk of them leaking in a backpack isn’t worth the benefit to me, particularly when painting on such a small scale.

Q: Do you varnish your paintings?

A: Yes, this is important for protecting them from dust and sunlight over time. If you use a satin varnish like I do, it also makes your paints appear a bit more vibrant. I’m personally not a fan of spray varnishes. I prefer the very forgiving Gamvar.

Q: How do you clean your brushes when you paint outdoors?

A: I don’t clean my brushes immediately after painting. At the end of the day, or whenever I find a sink, I use Master’s Brush Cleaner. Their 1-oz size is perfect for trips. If I’m on trip where no sink is available for a few days, like when camping, I make sure to use the same brushes every day so that the paint in them stays wet, and I reserve some for darks and some for lights, to prevent the colors from becoming too murky after multiple uses. You can usually get away with this for at least a few days.

I don’t have a particular kind of brush to recommend at this time, because I’m still on the hunt for the perfect one myself! My only recommendation for now is don’t spend too much money on them unless you’re really committed to caring for them, and buy brightly colored ones so you’ll be less likely to lose them in the grass!

Q: How do you keep the painting from being damaged while hiking?

A: I tape the painting to the inside of the lid, and that keeps it far enough away from the paint to be safe even when jostled. If anything is going to move, it’s the paint, not the painting. A good precaution is to tap the tin down against a table or other surface a few times to help the paint settle inside the tin before you put it in your pocket or backpack.

Do you have a product recommendation for me, or a question I haven’t addressed here? Feel free to drop me a line.

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