Here are some of the art supplies I use as well as few explanations as to why I prefer some thing over others. I will add photos and expand this page with more commentary and samples in the near future.
A thing to keep in mind: When setting up your palette and trying new colors note pigments, light-fastness, transparency, granulation and staining rating as all of the above attributes may vary greatly from brand to brand.
★ PAINT ★
Few words about my paint sets
I’m very picky about my color selection, therefore for the exception of a couple of vintage paint boxes that still have original colors in them, all of my paint sets are custom and I like combining different brands in one box. I prefer transparent, granulating and non staining colors and light-fastness is a must. I also prefer tubes and for the exception of handmade paints I never buy pans.
*I will ad photos of my palettes and information on my color choices in the near future 🙂
I’m a huge stickler for permanence/light-fastness of my paint. I both can’t bare the thought of my work fading, as well as I could never bring myself to sell a fugitive paintings to my clients and collectors. That being said, ALL of the paint mention below is Artist grade and therefore is quite pricey.
Brands I use the most are Daniel Smith, Holbein, Schmincke. Russian ZK/White Nights and Sennelier as well as selective colors from Windsor & Newton, M. Graham & Co., Daler Rowney and Da Vinci. At the moment I am not familiar with Old Holland, Mijello or QOR, however I do plan on giving them a try for curiosity’s sake. I’m also very curious about many small handmade brands and Tokyo’s Pigment Shop’s home brand.
Daniel Smith (DS) is the brand I presently use the most. Their colors are vibrant, light-fast and highly granulating. They offer a huge range of colors, including PrimaTek® mineral pigments made of semi-precious gemstones, as well as a line of pearlescent, metallic and iridescent colors. DS doesn’t use any real cadmium and all of their Cad colors are beautiful HUE versions of otherwise toxic and carcinogenic pigments. A bonus for me personally, is that DS is widely sold in Canada and I cant pick up DS paints for a really good price form a local art shop within five minute drive from our home.
Holbein (HW) has a large range of beautiful, transparent, light-fast colors as well as “white mix” colors (which may appear like gouache at first glance, however still behave like watercolor and are much more transparent than gouache). Another great bonus of HW watercolors is that they manage to produce some notoriously staining colors in a way that makes them very easy to lift! The only downside is that they are often more difficult to acquire and are slightly higher in price since they are imported from Japan.
Schmincke Hordam (SH) The quality of these paints is incredible! They are very vibrant, transparent and buttery smooth as Schmincke grinds their pigments extremely fine! plus in 2017 they expended their color selection adding 35 new colors! In addition to paint, SH paint boxes are my absolute favourite! Aside of course from the tiny tins I make myself 😉 and a large Holbine’s heavy weight 1130-500 palette. The only drawback with SH is the same as HW – they are a lot more difficult to get a hold off and cost quite a bit more (mostly due to the importers unreasonably bumping up the price). That being said, if you love SH as much as I do, wish to give it a try or consider buying a large set, you may want to consider ordering from Jackson’s Art Supplies in UK. Even after paying for shipping it will still cost significantly less than buying from North American importers including American seller on Amazon). Another place worth checking out is WetPaint.com – every year they get a unique SH set for sale, it usually gets sold out very fast but when it is available it comes at a steal price!
Sennelier (SN) is a lovely honey based paint from France. Bright, beautiful and extremely transparent. This paint is formulated for glazing and therefore may appear disappointing and unpigmented (for a lack of a better word) to an unfamiliar and unexpecting user. I often use it in my studio glaze style paintings, and since it serves a special purpose, I like to keep it as a separate set. I love how translucent it is and I enjoy playing with the way honey binder behaves in wet in wet washes. Sometimes I intentionally place honey based paints next to gum arabic ones for a cool effect *(don’t quote me on this, since it’s a very experimental thing and as with any wet medium it’s quite unpredictable – but in my opinion well worth the “risk”) 🙂 One think I’d really like to mention about SN is that it is very vibrant and bright. It’s not a weakly paint with low pigmentation and by no means do i consider it secondary to my other favorite brands. However, since I do a lot of “heavy handed” painting, alla prima style work, paint on weird surfaces and mix watercolor with sumi inks, gouaches, metallic powders etc. – I find using SN for those protects a waste. That’s why it lives in its own box and rarely makes it into my main palette. In addition, same problem as above (SH & HW) applies, as due to import it often costs more and is harder to get than DS.
M Graham & Co. (MG), Daler Rowney (DR) and Da Vinci (DV)
M Graham’s is wonderful, honey based paint that never gets chalky and dry. It is vibrant and highly pigmented – an absolute pleasure to work with, especially considering that I love honey based paints! However, it may not be your best friend for a travel palette since they stay very moist for months and even years after being squeezed from their tubes! That being said, they quite like to go for a walk all over your palette,.. and bag,.. and all that may get in their way… – bottom line, – they are awesome in the studio but can be very leaky in a paint box. I love my MGs and use them regularly but they stay at home in my large desktop palette. Da Vinvi is another brand I quite enjoy, but unlike MGs I find it to be quite dry and crackly in the palette, especially in the winter months when the heaters are on and humidity in the house is very low, but fear not! they re-wet VERY WELL and are no trouble at all. Once moist, DV paints are very smooth and pigmented, and drum-roll they are available in giant 37ml tubes! You can tell I do love them, because that is the size I buy! I think I should also mention that I’ve come across many artists who do not have this crackly dryness in the palette experience with DVs so it may just be unique to my extremely dry conditions. If you are interested – get a couple of small tubes and try. They are great paints and well worth the money. Daler Rowney artist quality watercolors (not to be confused with their student grade) almost feel like paint world’s best kept secret. I’ve honestly met very few artist that are even aware of their existence! The cobalt’s and the granulating colors they have are amazing. Smooth buttery paints from the tube that remain quite moist (but not runny) on the palette – I quite enjoy this brand!
*I use several selective colors from these brands and I’m planning to make a video and blog post comparing some of these colors with same colors produced by different brands and explaining their differences and the reasons for my preference.
**I’ve mentioned quite a few times in this article my observation on paint’s behavior (being moist, runny, never drying or drying too fast and getting crackly and chalky in the palette). I would like to emphasize that these are my experiences, effected by the climate, heat, AC and other conditions present in my environment. Your experience with these paints may be very different and I by no means wish to discourage you from trying these brands. As you can see I love and use them all. I’m simply very well aware of their behavior in my environment and I adjust their use accordingly. And most importantly NONE of these things effect their quality, permanence, transparency, performance or appearance.
Windsor & Newton (WN) is a great quality paint with good granulation and pigment load, and it is readily available at any art supplies store. However, – it is very expensive. Actually, forget expensive – where I am, it is Hideously Overpriced! In Canada I find WN to be way more pricey than DS & HW and I see no reason to purchase these unless they are on a really big sale (like a ‘damaged tube’ sale in my local art supplies shop). Don’t get me wrong, I do quite like their tubes and I love their extra large ceramic pans, but I won’t buy WN unless the price is right. That being said, if the price was more on par with DS, I would probably use them more.
Russian ZK/White Nights (ZK) these are honey based paints, very smooth and highly pigmented, with many of the colors using singe pigment. Great quality and easy to re-wet, for many years these paints have only been available in large semi-moist pans. drum roll In 2018 ZK is finally introducing tube version to the international market and I can’t wait to give them a try! In general ZK paints behave slightly different from other watercolors brands – there is just some magic to their binder’s pigment dispersion. That being said however, they do play well paints of other brands and are very inexpensive compared to other artist quality brands. Some of their colors are fugitive, but every brand has them. One thing to keep in mind though, many of the yellows and cadmiums are very opaque and will easily create mud, so if you prefer glazing technique, and you get one of the basic sets, you may have to buy a couple of selective colors to add.
★ BRUSHES ★
Natural squirrel, sable and various sumi brushes. I prefer natural hair for watercolor, but there are few synthetic exceptions I use and absolutely adore. I also use cheap synthetic brushes when I paint on wood and other surfaces that may ruin pricey natural brushes.
★ PALETTES ★
I mostly use palettes such as Miller’s Workhorse Traditional Palette, Mijello Perfect Color, Mijello FUSION 18 and Holbein 500 as vessels and organizers for my large studio use sets. I also have a few metal travel palettes from Schmincke and Daler Rowney as well as wide variety of travel boxes and small pocket palettes I’ve made myself. Most of my mixing is done on ceramic and porcelain tiles, as well as small condiment plates and sushi trays I’ve picked up from our local building supplies shop and a near by dollar store.
OIL & ACRYLICS
★ ACRYLICS ★
I primarily use TriArt, – our local, Canadian brand, obsessed with archival artist quality, science, high tech approach and eco-friendliness, – they keep their standards high and prices low for the local market. I also use some Golden acrylics and very occasionally Liquitex. I’d love to try Schmincke and Holbine as well but there goes that “hard to get + expensive” thing again 🙁
★ ACRYLIC MEDIUMS ★
Again TriArt and Golden – More details later 🙂
★ OILS ★
I use (using the word use sparingly, since I haven’t done much work with oils lately) Holbein oils as well as their Water Soluble Duo Aqua Oils, Gamblin, M Graham & Co. and Russian ZK.
★ MEDIUMS ★
I always use fast drying mediums with oils, keep my studio well ventilated and try to keep my work flow (all mediums included) as non toxic as possible. This really deserves a separate post so I will write more about this and studio safety at a later date.
★ BRUSHES ★
For both oils and acrylics I use a variety of synthetic and natural hair brushes. I like having some good quality hog bristle brushes, however I’m not at all picky when it comes to the quality of synthetics. I have a couple of kolisnly sables set aside for use only with oils – these are used for some last layer detailing. Variety of palette knives, – different kinds and brands. Plus anything goes for texturing and other effects 🙂
★ OIL & ACRYLIC PALETTES ★
Mijello Artelier Airtight PEEL-OFF is a great air-tight palette which doesn’t let your acrylics dry out between use.
Fredi Weber Peel-able Tray Palette (formerly knows as Multi Palette) and TriArt peelable acrylic palette.
Sheets of tempered glass for both oils and acrylics. I usually spray these with grey primer on the back to give myself a nice mixing reference color.
In case of acrylics, I also use various lids, food containers and styrofoam trays – whatever comes to me for free and is on its way to recycling bin, makes an extra stop in my studio before continuing its journey 🙂
★ MICS ★
Daniel Smith Watercolor Grounds, Various types of Gesso, Genuine Gold/Silver/Copper leaf, Various brush pens and water-brushes, White and Metallic inks and gouaches, Pigma Micron Pens (Sakura), Various mechanical and wooden pencils, chalk, pastels and oil pastels. Silicoil Brush Cleaning Tank. Gold and other metallic and iridescent mediums and paints and pearlescent powders from all imaginable brands.
★ PAPER & OTHER SURFACES ★
Various watercolor paper, Bristol, Yupo, Illustration Board, Watercolor Board, Wood Panels and slices and other surfaces depending on what I’m working on. (this really deserves it’s own post, so I will hold off the explanations till then)
★ Sketchbooks ★
I prefer using wire-bound sketchbooks. Even when using Stillman & Birn or Moleskine I never work across the fold and never work on the back of the pages. (For the exception of figure study/sketching/messy doodle cheapo paper books and watercolor mixing books). I generally like to work very compact while on the go and therefore prefer a book which I can fully fold back. Also I often create very quick watercolor studies or work very wet, which leads me to tearing our or cutting away wet pages so that I can start a new mini painting or sketch. I tend to cut through my books a lot! Sometimes I scan pages, pin them to the idea board, give them away as gifts to friends or sign them and add them as a little extra gift when sending big originals to the collectors. <3
Stillman & Birn – These are very high quality books. I tend to use these for more “intentional” works rather than quick sketches. With doodles and color tests I could burn through these very quickly and it would very quickly get very expensive – which I would rather avoid. I use Beta, Delta & Zeta (basically all the watercolor/extra heavyweight paper books) and unlike many artists, I quite favor the Deltas. I love painting on ivory toned paper, I’ve been crazy about ivory paper since I was in high school! Even though it may be a bit more troublesome to reproduce from for print, I’m willing to deal with it! I’m also really looking forward to trying Nova series in all three colors! Can’t wait to get my hands on those!
Strathmore – these are my most used and abused sketchbooks. I go through tons of their watercolor and mixed media pads. From sketching to color test books, Inktober, watercolor, – you name it – most of it is done on Strathmore. Their products are of great quality and quite reasonably priced. Here is a list of my most used Sketchbooks and pads:
Wire-bound Mixed Media
Pentalic – I love pentalic watercolor books however I quite rarely use them, since they are less available and are hideously overpriced on Amazon.ca 🙁
Pads & Loose Paper
Watercolro & Bristol Board
★ FOUNTAIN PENS, INKS ETC. ★
My fountain pen collection consist of randomness acquired over the years and while I do love fountain pens, I refuse to allow it to become an expensive addiction. (Indeed, if you look at the prices of fancy, luxury fountain pens – some costing hundreds and other going into $1000+ range – drugs would be cheaper lol) My pens however are all very inexpensive, but they are great writing and sketching tools and I feel no lack with them. The point I’m trying to make here is – “You don’t NEED expensive fountain pens!” Want – maybe, but need – NO! I find that many people stay away from fountain pens because a) – they don’t know where to start and b) – it looks potentially expensive as hell! But it really doesn’t need to be! My Duke with fude nib cost me $9 on ebay – usually they go for around $13. Pilot Kakuno is also around $13 + another $7 for converter – but that pretty much lasts forever and permanently frees you form having to buy refill cartridges, TWISBI ECO is around $30, has a built in filling mechanism – I Sooo LOVE this pen! My only more expensive pens are actually my Lamys – some of which I got on ebay for peanuts and lucky me – they turned out to be original and not knock offs, and a vintage Waterman – my only truly expensive and noteworthy pen which I got for free, broken and needing some love, berried in a lot of old pens, markers and art pencils I got for free at an estate sale.
Fountain Pens – TWSBI ECO (my absolute favorite), Lamy Safari, Lamy All Star, Lamy Joy, Rotring ArtPen, Pilot Kakuno, DUKE with Fude nib, Noodlers freebie pens that come with large ink bottles and finally my epic vintage Waterman with flexible nib
Technical Pens & Fine-liners – Rapidograph Koh-i-Noor technical pens, Sakura Micron Pens, Copic Multiliner – the only Copic thing I own
Dip Pens & Other Manual Ink Related Pens – Deleter, Tachikawa, Caran d’Ache 114 Nib holders, plus many other random cool looking and comfy nib holders, A, G and other random nibs – to be honest I don;t even know what most of them are called. Various ruling pens. Self-made Bamboo and Reed pens as well as self-made sharpened twig and chopstick pens.
At the moment all my fountain pen inks are made by Noodler and all are waterproof/bulletproof inks. I keep very few colors as I prefer to spend money on more watercolors rather than colorful inks.
Colors I use are:
Heart of Darkness – your basic, dark, indestructible, waterproof, everyday black. I use this color for inking, sketches and artworks where I specifically want to use black but don’t feel like dealing with dip pens or if I’m out and on the go so dip pen is not an option.
For general sketching, doodling, outlining and detailing before or after watercolor I prefer working with the following four colors: Lexington Grey (LG), 54th Massachusetts (54M), Blue Upon the Plains of Abraham (BUPA) (Canadian exclusive color) 😛 and Polar Brown (PB). First three are varieties of grey. LG being a fairly neutral grey, 54M being a blue/black-ish grey and BUPA being a purplish/violet grey. I prefer using these colors over black. I find that sketches done with them feel a lot more alive and have far greater depth. PB I love for figure studies, portrait sketches and nature sketches where I use PB for branches, bushes, weeds and warm autumn scenes.
★ PENCILS ★
I use both mechanical and wooden pencils. I sharpen wooden pencils manually with either an exacto-knife or a razor blade to a very long lead and fine point, also leaving a lot of exposed wood (I’ll post a photo here soon). For mechanical pencil I use all sizes, but 0.3 deserves a special mention. I find it to be extremely useful with my miniature works.
I use B, 2B and 4B lead for sketching. I often go even softer when using wooden pencils. I rarely use HB and I can’t even remember the last time I used F, H or anything harder than that.
For under-drawing I use random color Col-Erase pencils, my favorite however is probably Tuscan Red. With mechanical pencil color leads I mostly use red and blue, I quite like purple and would love to find brown, but it’s pretty rare and I just can’t be bothered to pay extra for getting it.
★ ERASERS ★
I use kneaded erasers, as well as Marie’s 4B, Milan erasers, Koh-I-Noor and Staedtler. I switch depending on the surface and the softens of the pencil. Kneaded erasers are awesome because they are pliable – they feel like a putty and can be made into any shape allowing you to get into those tiny areas or use them for texturing and detailing. Marie’s makes amazing 4B erasers – if you use 4B and softer pencils these babys will do magic. I find them especially useful when i draw on odd surfaces like heavily textured gesso boards which I make myself. Another favourite of mine is Milan 403 Gigante – these really are gigantic, I cut them to sizes and shapes that fit my needs. Koh-I-Noor and Staedtler are great all around erasers. I also use Wair-in plastic erasers and Steadlers black rasoplast.
I have a few note worthy favourite mechanical pencils:
Pantel Graph 1000 0.3 – 0.9 this is probably my favorite pencil. Well balanced, I love it’s weight, feel and and design. It looks and feels just right for me!
Pantel 120A3dx is my other fave, it’s shorter but still has a great drafting tip, good balance and a comfortable grip
Uni KuruToga, longer and heavier pencil, I find it very comfortable, however I never get the intended use out of it, as the whole point of KuruToga is the rotating lead but I draw with a very light hand so my pencil almost never feels sufficient pressure needed to rotate.
Zebra DelGuard – these are surprising conformable and I love using them even though on the first glance they are not the type of pencil I like, being that I normally prefer drafting style pencils with long thin lead holder which KuruToga is not. Also since this pencil prevents lead breakage under pressure I really like using it with 0.5 color leads. I find them to be far more fragile than regular graphite lead and these pencils really help when I work on uneven surfaces that tend to break my leads.
rOtring 600 – The Lamborghini of all mechanical pencils. There is also an 800 series which is even fancier but 600 remains rOtring’s star and is quite a bit cheaper. I’ve never owned an 800, because I simply cant justify the price for the sake of an experiment.
Pentel GraphGear 800 and GraphGear 1000CS – really comfy and quite heavy, also CS comes in Red, Blue and Black so it’s awesome for those who use three color leads and want eye candy color coded pencils for it. (Me – lol)
Stanford drafting pencil – this is my long term favorite. I don’t know the exact model name but I’ve had this pencil for over 20 years! I wish they still made them! I’d love to get my hands on another one!
I also have many other pencils which I will not bother listing here. Many of them are just cool looking (often cheapo) pencils or good quality drafting pencils which for one reason or another I don’t often use.
2mm – For 2mm lead I use exclusively Koh-I-Noor pencils. I’ve been using them for over 20 years and never even tried another brand nor do I feel the need.
★ INK ★
Black Ink for Painting & Line-work
I love Deleter’s Manga Inks, their Black 4 is waterproof and extra dark and Black 2 gives you a nice glossy finish especially when applied with a brush. They come in tiny bottles, but maybe it’s possible to order large qualities from Japan? o.O although hey, they are manga inks after-all, and are meant for inking not washes and painting large surfaces.
For washes (but also for general inking when I don’t feel like burning through those tiny Deleter bottles) I use India Ink and Sumi ink depending on the effect I want.
Sumi are not waterproof, however in my experience there is some water-resistance to them. They are also not as dark as India inks, but the effects and washes one gets from them can be quite beautiful! They certainly aren’t to be dismissed. Unfortunately I can’t name my Sumi inks for you, since I tend to immediately toss the boxes as the writing on them is always only in Chinese and Japanese anyway and I tend to store them together with my suzuri/ink grinding stone.
India ink I use at the moment is by Speedball. It’s quite matt, has good coverage and is sufficiently dark. It is completely waterproof and I often use it with both my dip pens and brushes. I also use Higgins Black Magic. it’s a good waterproof ink, dries really fast and can survive some eraser abuse.