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Basic Art Supplies for Success

Stephen Lursen free Painting basics stephen lursen

What art supplies do I need to get started making art? 

1.) Once you figure out what you want to make based on your inspirational set of images. Ask yourself, "What medium do I need to use to achieve a like result?" To answer this check the material/media list from the artist's painting. Typically when you find a painting on a gallery - even online- it will include the material and media used. That starts your shopping list. Sometimes you see they use a mix of media such as acrylics, collage, ink, watercolor, or oil. Many of these can be used within the same painting but its important to use them in the right order for successful art making. Oil can go on top of anything, but nothing water based (watercolor, acrylics, etc) can go on top of oil as it won't properly adhere. So if you want to include oils with acrylics, then use acrylics first as your underpainting, then break out the oils when you know you don't need any more acrylics beyond that point.

2.) Can you draw the imagery you want to achieve on your own? If so, great! Go for it. Pro tip: Pencils have an oiled graphite that resists water based media like acrylics and watercolor paint. If you want to be able to paint over your drawing without needing to paint 4 coats to cover up the drawing, then use a watercolor pencil or water soluble drawing tool. There is even water soluble graphite pencils that dissolve when you paint over them, however expect that the gray of the pencil mark will blur into your paint like a shadow. A similar effect will come form charcoal too. I recommend using the lightest watercolor pencils that you can still see when drawing a layout under a future painting. This way if you make a mistake in the drawing phase and have to redraw multiple times, it doesn't matter! Just keep redrawing and none of it will show through your paint and you never need to erase because it will melt into your paint as you paint over it. 

If the answer to the question "Can you draw your imagery on your own?" is "NO" its okay! Use what skills and technology you have available. Be creative! For instance, stencils are a great option, do you already own a stencil that looks like what you're going to make? Or can you buy one? ***Pro Tip: If you are using a stencil and you want to achieve a sharp detailed image from your stencil, you have to use a medium that has volume and body to it. An example would include Light Molding (modeling) Paste. Using media that can hold a peak like meringue ensures that it will maintain the detail from being pushed across the stencil (with a palette knife) without bleeding and puddling into a blurred version of your stencil, like if you use a wet/runny paint or ink.

If stencils aren't your thing, consider collaging imagery! ***Beware! Don't use supplies that are commonly used in an elementary classroom. Glue sticks are not sufficient for art you hope will both look good and last.*** What you need, at a minimum, is a bottle of mod-podge or collage podge, but a good artist brand acrylic gel medium is way better. Why is it better? you ask? Well it really boils down to water. When you collage a printed off image (on printer paper) using mod-podge, the water in the Mod-Podge fluid hydrates the paper, making it soft and vulnerable to folding, tearing, and buckling. If you're careful and gentle you can achieve great results despite this risk. The higher end gels, such as Golden Brand acrylic matte medium, don't have the water that other options have. Less water, means less hydration, less hydration means you don't saturate and attack the integrity of the paper allowing you to achieve better, smoother, results & with less effort. 

If you happen to own or have access to a projector (class room? Home theater? etc?), use that to project imagery onto your canvas or surface, then trace it out and paint over it! Voila! I've done this many times to accelerate the layout stage so that I can get right to painting and having fun!

Another way to achieve excellent drawings on paper without years of practice include using a light table, a sunny window and some tape, or even transfer paper (carbon paper). 

3.) You need a substrate that is designed to support your project. If you don't have what you need, then you need to know how to set yourself up for the best possible success. Here is a "best substrate" list for your given media.

Watercolor painting - Use a heavy weight watercolor paper [cold pressed or hot pressed paper depending on whether you want textured or smooth paper]. (Your substrate has to be absorbent for watercolor to fulfill its intended purpose. Watercolor is designed to be absorbed into the fibers of your surface like a stain. Normally you don't use white paint because the lightest part of your watercolor painting is the white of the paper left raw and clean. Pro tip: you can use masking fluid to protect areas of a watercolor paper surface and preserve them from ever getting painted.)

Acrylic Painting - Heavy paper, stretched canvas, or a cradled panel. Your substrate's surface must be primed with gesso to enable the paint to sit on top and shine as intended. You don't want to spend a lot on good acrylic paint only for your substrate to absorb the color like a stain. Acrylics are designed to sit on top and adhere to the surface. However you can emulate inks with acrylic by painting on unprimed surfaces but thats a different blog article. 

Oil Painting - Heavy paper, stretched canvas, or a cradled panel will all work well. Your substrate's surface must be primed with gesso to enable the paint to sit on top and shine as intended. Many oil paints are not acid free so priming your substrate (or purchasing one already primed) is important to help your painting last indefinitely. Painting with acidic paint onto a raw surface, be it paper, canvas, or wood will inevitably lead to the paint eating through the substrate and then the painting will crumble (this could take decades). We know this now after countless paintings from history have fallen apart for this very reason. Oil paint is generally more transparent than acrylics if painted in tis glazes, and always has an extremely longer drying time (unless you incorporate chemicals to accelerate drying). Speaking of drying time, if you paint with a palette knife and thick oil paint, your work could take up to 6 months to dry completely. This is normal, so you just have to make preparations to store your work in this vulnerable state. Sprays can be used to accelerate drying, but typically that only works on the outer skin of the paint, so if you work with fat layers, then the under paint will stay wet for a long time. - If you're wondering "Why do people use oil paint if it is so difficult/slow to dry?" the answer is that a slow drying time gives the artist so much more freedom to perfect the image with smooth seamless blends and flawless rendering that cannot be achieved with other media. There truly are countless benefits of using oils but that is a different blog post. :) 

Encaustic Painting - Cradled Panel. Encaustics are painting with wax. Wax is fragile and can be carved into and melted away, days, months and years after a painting is finished. This vulnerability is why encaustics have to be painted on a firm rigid substrate. Imagine dripping wax onto a drum head (stretched canvas) now tap the drum head so that it vibrates across the surface. Int his hypothetical situation of encaustics painted onto a canvas, the wax would shatter across the surface and break apart and fall to the floor. Don't learn this the hard way... OH! The difference between a panel and a cradled panel is the wooden frame behind the panel. It is very normal to find panels, even artist grade panels, that are warped beyond belief! Make them wet through your process of production and the warping intensifies. Don't waste your time. Spend a little more on cradled panels for the benefit of a long term support structure to uphold the integrity of the flat surface and then work with confidence knowing it will last.

Drawing - You can use anything really. ***Just make sure it is ACID FREE*** Why so much freedom? Because drawing doesn't hydrate the surface to tear apart the fibers. Its all a dry process. So as long as you aren't ripping through your substrate by erasing too hard, then your drawing should last indefinitely, no matter if its on paper, canvas, wood, or found objects. The craziest threat to a drawing over time - even drawings stored in museums is acid within the substrate itself. Many drawings made over centuries of time have been eaten away from within and deteriorate from acid within. Thats why acid-free is on almost everything sold from the art store. So avoid cardboard and inexpensive papers and packages. But in a pinch, you can always still draw or paint on acidic surfaces as long as you prime them multiple times with an acid free gesso. This should extend the life of the substrate and artwork on top but this method typically is used only in practice work not intended to last.

Thank you so much for reading! If you like my art content please check out my online workshops to see if you would like to learn step by step how to paint any of my options. As a big thank you for reading my blog, use the discount code: 30%OFFWORKSHOPS for 30% off any of my online workshops! Please comment below any thoughts or questions you may have regarding art production and I would love to have the opportunity to respond!

Happy Painting!


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