It is said that the tools make the craftsman and this is especially true when it comes to sketching and painting. The same as cooking in a good frying pan or oven makes all the difference to the end product, painting with a good grade watercolour brush can make or break your painting.
We all know that an excellent chef can turn out an excellent meal almost anywhere with almost no 'tools' at all, look at Floyd for instance, and yes, you can do a sketch or painting on any piece of paper with any pencil or brush, Picasso did it on restaurant walls, but where's the joy in seeing your masterpiece in it's full glory on an excellent piece of watercolour paper, painted with your favourite Sable hair brush?
Here are some tools of the trade you will be needing to create your extraordinary works of art. Some are necessities and some just make your life easier and enjoyment so much better!
Art Board - The art board is probably regarded as your first and foremost piece of equipment (besides your pencil, of course!) for stretching your paper and ensuring a beautiful painting. It mounts easily on an easel and is also easy to use on your lap or art table. I am still using the same board since 1975 and shows interesting wear and tear
Art Box - A handy all-in-one box for your paint tubes, oil mediums, palette, pencils and rubbers, with a pull-out tray for storing paper or finished art works. Ideal for storage and indispensable when sketching in the field.
Artist's Lamp - A lamp for providing good lighting is not totally essential, but it certainly helps to view your art in good lighting.
Paint Tubes - Your paint is, of course, utterly essential and the brand and make, and whether you use tubes or a paint box, is a matter of personal preference.
Watercolour brushes - Painting with a good quality watercolour brush brings not only joy, but excellence to the finished product.
When selecting a brush, you have to decide whether you want a natural hair, bristle, or synthetic hair. A short standard length handle or a long handled brush is a matter of preference for the type of painting you may want to do.
Brush Hair Choices
This is the finest Red Sable available. It is a finely pointed hair, which performs with great spring. The hair is ideal for watercolour and acrylics.
This hair is red in color and is sometimes mixed or passed off as Kolinsky. There are many different grades of Red Sable, depending on the region of the world from which the animal comes.
This hair is very absorbent and will carry a lot of medium. The very fine pointed hairs leave a smooth, streak-free stroke. Squirrel hair brushes are used by China and Sign Painters alike. They can be used in all media.
This hair is quite strong, easily dyed different shades of color, but lacks the fine tips of Red Sable or Squirrel. It is ideal hair for mops and mixing with other hair.
This is usually a very soft white hair used in blending or softening the appearance of your project. This hair is very fragile and has a tendency to break if abused too much.
Years ago a brush maker termed the name “camel hair” since no hair comes from a camel to manufacture. It was called “camel hair” since leftover hair of different types were mixed together so as not to waste any hair. This hair is good for school grade brushes.
This is a strong coarse natural hair that comes from the ear of a pig. It is used in heavy media such as oils, acrylics and lacquers. They are used on rough surfaces like canvas, porcelain, brick, concrete or unfinished wood.
This is generally referred to as Taklon. Most familiar gold in color but can be dyed in various colours. Taklon comes in different grades of quality and diameters just as it does in fishing lines.
This filament is not as soft as the above-mentioned Taklon. The stiffness of the filament is used for fabric painting on denim and other rough surfaces. This can also be used to make stencil brushes.
Hake - A hake brush is indispensable and is an oriental-style wash brush on a long flat handle. It is useful for laying in large areas of water or colour, for wetting the surface, and for absorbing excess media. It has a wood handle and the hair is bound with cotton. Make sure it says "HAKE" on the handle to ensure you get the real thing.
Flat brush - A flat brush is, as the name would suggest, one where the bristles are arranged so the brush is quite wide but not very thick. The length of the bristles can vary, with some flat brushes having short and some very long bristles. When buying a flat brush, look for one where the bristles have a spring to them, or snap back when you bend them gently.
Not only will a flat brush create a broad brushstroke, but if you turn it so you're leading with the narrow edge, it'll produce thin brushstrokes. A short flat brush is ideal for small, precise brush marks.
A flat brush's paint carrying capacity is determined by the bristles it has, and by the length of these. A short-haired, synthetic-bristle flat brush will hold less paint than a long-haired, mixed or natural-hair brush. The flat brush in the photo has got hog hair, which holds paint well and, being stiff, is ideal for leaving brush marks in paint should you wish to do this.
Rigger - A rigger or liner brush is a thin brush extremely long bristles. These may come to a sharp point, have a flat or square tip, or be angled. Rigger brushes are great for producing fine lines with a consistent width, making them ideal for painting thin branches on trees, boat masts, or cat's whiskers. They're also good for signing your name on a painting.
Oil Paint brush
Brushes and other tools
Pencil - Art pencils are one of the most exciting and flexible tools in the art world. There is a lot more to a pencil than the number 2 pencils you used on your school tests!
Many pencils across the world, and almost all in Europe, are graded on the European system using a continuum from “H” (for hardness) to “B” (for blackness), as well as “F” (for fine point). The standard writing pencil is graded HB. According to Petroski, this system might have been developed in the early 1900s by Brookman, an English pencil maker. It used “B” for black and “H” for hard; a pencil’s grade was described by a sequence or successive Hs or Bs such as BB and BBB for successively softer leads, and HH and HHH for successively harder ones.
As of 2009, a set of pencils ranging from a very hard, light-marking pencil to a very soft, black-marking pencil usually ranges from hardest to softest as follows.
9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H
H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B
7B, 8B, 9B
TYPES OF PENCILS
These are the most common types of pencils. They are made of a mixture of clay and graphite and their darkness varies from light grey to black. Their composition allows for the smoothest strokes.
They are made of charcoal and provide fuller blacks than graphite pencils, but tend to smudge easily and are more abrasive than graphite. Sepia-toned and white pencils are also available for duotone techniques.
They generally are made of a mixture of clay and lamp black, but are sometimes blended with charcoal or graphite depending on the darkness and manufacturer. They produce a fuller black than graphite pencils, but are smoother than charcoal.
Commonly known as pencil crayons, these have wax-like cores with pigment and other fillers. Multiple colours are often blended together. The versatility of a set of crayon pencils can be determined by the number of unique colours it contains.
Also known as china markers. They write on virtually any surface (including glass, plastic, metal and photographs). The most commonly found grease pencils are encased in paper (Berol and Sanford Peel-off), but they can also be encased in wood (Staedtler Omnichrom).
These are designed for use with watercolour techniques. The pencils can be used by themselves for sharp, bold lines. Strokes made by the pencil can also be saturated with water and spread with brushes.
Tri-pod Artists' EaselMany artists do not use an easel, but I have found that, viewing your work in progress head-on instead of from above, gives you a much clearer view of the sketch or painting. I also allows you to control the amount of water and paint you put on the paper, as you can see any excess when it starts running down. Find an easel that's light-weight and easy to set up and transport and you're well on your way to an enjoyable painting experience.
H-Frame Artists' Easels are not really for transport, but more suited to a permanent spot in your studio.
Aluminium Tri-pod Artists' Easel - light-weight and easy to transport
Cabinet with flat drawers for storing art paper and completed art works.
Draughtsman's chair - a comfortable chair, preferably with adjustable height, is a must if you work regularly in your studio.
Brush storage - This canvass roll-up brush storage bag comes in very useful if you do sketching and painting out in the field as it is portable, easy to pack and, above all, provides protection for your brushes.
A Taboret is useful in your studio for various items like water bottles, paints, brushes, etc, as it can easily be rolled to any place in the room.
Draughtsman's table - a draughtsman's table is a useful, albeit expensive, item for your studio. It can be used for new sketches while you are waiting for your painting to dry on the easel. I can also replace the easel, as you can tilt it to any degree you find comfortable.
Sponge - sponges are used to dab up excess paint or water and are also used in certain paint techniques.
Print rack - useful for stacking magazines or art books.
Primed cotton canvass - for oil painting
Pre-stretched frame - buying a pre-stretched from saves a lot of work in preparing your canvass and allows you to have a painting ready for immediate sale.
Portfolio bag - I find my portfolio bag indispensable for storing watercolour paper, note books and sketch pads when travelling.
Paint palettes - indispensable for mixing your watercolours, usually made of plastic and easy to clean. Even paint that has dried over-night can be revived by adding some water.
Palette knives - used in oil painting
Oil mediums - various oil mediums like turpentine, oil, etc.
Watercolour pencils - easy to work with and gives almost the same effect as watercolour paints.
Full range of equipment
Enjoy and find inspiration in setting up your art studio with all your 'tools of the trade' and may you have many happy painting hours!