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Starting with Arting - what do you need?

So you've had a go at painting and realised that you're not rubbish at it and that it was actually weirdly relaxing to lay paint on a canvas and every time you look at the painting you did and didn't think you could do, you get a happy feeling. So now you want more of that right?

It's time to go out and get some art supplies! You already know you can get art supplies at cheap shops, art shops, good newsagents, department stores, online... How much do you actually need to spend? What's a crap product, what's good and what do you need for what you want to do?

I'm going to share my thoughts on a getting started kit. I'll keep it simple here and talk about painting with acrylics onto canvas, which is what we do mostly in our Paint and Sip with Netty parites. But I'll write about other mediums another time.


The differences between an expensive canvas and a cheap one can be many. The density of the fabric weave is one pretty clear one. You can get canvases with a smooth tight weave and a more open one. It's usually the more open weave you find in the cheap shops and pay much less for. But that's no biggie for me. I don't paint to create archival art that will last centuries, so there's some aspects of quality that don't matter to me. If the canvas is neat and well stretched, isn't warped or flimsy, it'll work, so I buy the cheaper ones.

For big paintings I will always choose the deep edged canvases over the thin edged ones just because I feel that it gives the canvas more stability at size. But I prefer the deep edged canvases anyway as I don't frame my paintings and I like the look of them with a wider side. Although it might be good start with little wee canvases so you don't waste loads of paint with your experiments, it can be very freeing to paint large. For one thing, there's more room for details and for splashing about. Do try with little ones and big ones if you can. It'll bring out different things in how you paint, which might surprise you.


Brushes are important but again, you don't need a pure sable brush to make art.

Bristle brushes - stiff and rough. These brushes are good at pushing firm paint around and making interesting brush strokes and textures. I use them when I'm being very painterly and "impressionistic" (rough) because they force me to be less detailed than I'm inclined to be (when I don't want a detailed result). I don't use bristle brushes in my paint and sip kits because they're not the best ones for the paintings we do. But get some and experiment. Even the good ones don't cost a lot. Bristle brushes are the ones that most commonly lose hairs. It's so annoying! But it's often only in the first few uses. If it persists, chuck it out.

Watercolour brushes look the same as most brushes for acrylic painting as they come in the same sort of shapes and sizes. The difference is that they're softer and have less "snap", which is what you want when you're doing watercolour. It's usually not what you want with acrylics. Acrylic paints are a lot heavier than watercolour and need firmer brushes. Having said that, when you use acrylics in a more runny state, watercolour brushes work well. I have one big one in my paint and sip kit because we often do large areas with watery blends of colour.

When it comes to quality - again, happily the cheap ones are pretty good. Have a look at them and if they look well shaped and not stiff like a toothbrush, they're probably okay. I have a zillion brushes and all the different brands vary with snap and how well the brushes hold together in their shape - especially with the round brushes. But as a painter, you want options, so all sorts of brushes, even the frizzy ones, can have their place.

So what could you get as a starter kit? Get a few sizes of flat brushes and a few of round. The flats are good at covering an area with paint and filling in colour. They also have so many ways to dab and drag. Round brushes do expressive lines of varying widths and details and shapes - but they suck at filling in areas of colour because they don't lay paint smoothly. But you'll want a few sizes of both types and you're good to go.

Acrylic Paints

Paint quality is really important with acrylic paints. The cheap stuff - almost all of what's on offer at cheap shops - is rubbish. It's all filler and no body or pigment. That means they're usually very transparent, don't move well with a brush and don't dry firmly so when you paint the next layer, that layer comes off. Aaaahhh! Cheap paints have made me nuts every time I've given them another go. Don't buy cheap paints, you won't be able to do anything good with them and you'll think it's you, but it's the rubbish paint. Avoid cheap sets too. The sets are usually not good paints.

Having said that, you also don't need to always buy the best. Buy your acrylic paints from an art store or an arty newsagent and you'll know that their cheaper range of paints will still be pretty good. The more expensive paint lines are, the more pigment and body the paint probably has. I mostly use the paints I buy for my paint and sip classes, which is smack in the mid range of pretty good paint. But I also do buy the high quality expensive ones now and then. You'll pay upward of $15 for a smallish tube, but it's worthwhile to have some high quality paints to experiment with because for some paintings, they'll be just the thing.

Acrylic paints come in everything from quite thick, to the pouring style of paint, they can be flat or dimensional, shiny or matt, pearlescent or metallic. They have bonding agents and body agents added to varying degrees and it's a good idea to visit an art store and explore the tubes and read the back. It's SO inspiring to see all the many sorts of paints and inks and markers and brushes and oh my I just loose it in art supplies shops!

And a note on Paint Pens. These are different from ink markers like the sort of texta we're used to that has a solvent based fast drying ink. Paint pens have actual paint in them and they come in every colour and a huge range of nib sizes and shapes. They are amazing! Posca is the big brand. I've found that cheap ones are okay for black paint markers, but for colours and most especially white, so far I've only found Posca paint pens to have nice creamy opaque (not watery and transparent) paint in them and they last a bit longer too I think. I use a lot of them in my doodle painting/doodling classes. If you want to do fine details or a more graphic style or linework that you can't yet manage with a brush, it's great to have a few Posca Paint Pens.

Paint pens have become an artform in their own right. They deliver matt and solid areas of colour and obviously, good lines. Ink markers and felt pens have transparent colours, so the results are very different. Paint pens are a relatively new thing and I love them for paintings in a partly drawn style.

Just quickly on colours. As a newbie, it's better to buy the colours you want to use than to expect you can mix them. You'll learn to mix well over time, but you'll waste a lot of paint sometimes trying to get the colour you want. You'll need black, twice as much white and then as many colours as you can afford.

So that's it really for a simple rundown. You might want an easle, but you can prop a canvas up somehow if you don't have one. You'll want some water rinse jars. Here's a tip - avoid paper cups. They tip over too easily. As a pallet, you can use just about anything. If you use a plastic pallet, be aware that if the paint drys on the plastic (if you choose not to wash it clean each time), it'll eventually loosen and put bits and lumps in your new paint when you reuse it. This won't happen on glass or ceramic, but plastic sort of pushes the paint off it. Disposable things are pretty good as palettes.

You don't have to paint on canvas, experiment with boards and papers too. Next time I'll talk about how to keep your brushes in good nick.

Have fun and may you surprise yourself!

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