My art supplies

As an art teacher I’ve been asked by students about which art supplies should they get; which brands, colours, qualities, etc. Sometimes I have a quick answer, but most of the time I have some hesitancy in recommending something specific. (I often list a bunch of options.) These questions have been happening more often so I decided to sit down and write up a list of my current recommendations! But first, I wanted to explain my hesitancy in giving blanket answers on material specifics:

  1. Everyone is different!

Our individual uniqueness is awesome and because of this we all have different preferences. For example, maybe you gravitate towards works with a lot of texture versus smooth texture. Or you prefer a certain colour palette over others. These preferences would influence which type of supplies work for you, not to mention our tastes change over time.

2. Art should always be easily accessible.

I feel you shouldn’t feel limited because you don’t have the “best” art supplies. Coming from a very do-it-yourself upbringing, I developed a habit of using what is available for me. The back of the disposable paper placemats from my parent’s restaurant was my sketchbook and paint pad for many years. The piece of cardboard in mother’s pantyhose package was my high-quality card stock and any drawing implement found was collected! If you are open to it, anything can be used to create art. I’ve painted with sticks, tea, even mud with my friends growing up – haha! Of course, there are times when you should use art supplies that are meant to last. Also, to achieve certain results you do need specific materials. In the end it really depends on what your intentions are.

3. There are SO MANY varieties of art supplies.

I cannot claim that I know what is best as I have not tried everything. (I would love to…honestly one of my favourite things to do is test art supplies – even the flops are fun to experiment with!) Also, materials change overtime as new art supplies come to the market, and sometimes old ones change in quality.

ANYWAY, I still have my go-to supplies!
I’ve been playing with art supplies for what seems like my entire life and understand what materials will work in my favor and what will not. Below I’ve listed my recommendations for the topics that I typically teach in: Drawing, Watercolour, and Acrylic painting. I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I mention! They are simply the ones I currently have the most experience with.

This is not an exhaustive list. It is geared towards those who might need some extra guidance on the basics of what they should start out with. Once you become familiar with your art, you will learn to see what works for you, and what doesn’t.

*Favourite graphite pencils:  Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils or Tombow graphite pencils
Favourite mechanical pencils: Staedtler Mars technical pencils
Alternative brands I use: Faber-castell, Blackwing, and Derwent
If on a budget: Deserres graphite pencil set

* Note: I like pencils that run a bit darker than average.

Favourite charcoal: General’s (for all types of charcoal)

*Favourite paper to draw on: Strathmore 400 (or 500) or Stonehenge paper
Alternative brands I use: Canson
If on a budget: Honestly, anything! Draw on the back of envelopes, newsprint etc.

* Note that I lean towards papers that have medium texture (known as tooth), which lends to darker and smudge friendly work – which is not everyone’s favourite!

Favourite erasers: General’s grey kneaded eraser or Faber-Castell grey kneaded eraser

Favourite paints: Daniel smith. Either dry pans or fresh tubes. I like dry pans because it’s easy to set up and carry on the go. But using fresh tube paint is gentler on your brushes and you can make tailor-made paint sets with them.
Alternative brands I use: Windsor Newton, Van Gogh, PWC, Koi
If on a budget: Prang Oval or anything really. If given a choice between spending more money on paint or paper, I would spend more on paper and “cheap out” on the paints!

*Colour recommendations: There’s so many to pick from! And everyone has their colour preferences. I love just working with what comes in watercolour travel kit. But if you need some guidance, I’ve listed a few of my go-to primary colours:

Yellows: Yellow ochre and Lemon yellow (aka Hansa yellow)
Reds: Alizarin Crimson, Magenta, Burnt sienna
Blues: Ultramarine, Pthalo, Turquoise

Not primaries, but nice to have: dioxazine (purple/violet), and Payne’s grey

*Note: Although different brands will have the same name for many colours, they often don’t look the same across different brands.

Favorite paper: Arches cold press 140lb or heavier.
Other papers I use: 140lb Winsor & Newton, Fabriano, Strathmore, Pentalic
If on a budget: Canson XL 140 lb watercolour paper or Speedball 140 lb watercolour paper (I use these papers all the time while I teach as I go though so much of it! Yet, they definitely feel cheaper in quality compared to the others listed above, but are a step higher from the very cheap papers! If possible stick with splurge on good paper for watercolours.)

* Favourite brushes/shapes: Small medium and large round Chinese watercolour brushes, Raphael imitation squirrel softaqua, Royal & Langnickel Zen series 83 Round 14 or smaller
Other brushes I use: Princeton watercolour brushes and Sakura Koi or Derwent water brush
If on a budget: Basics Liquitex watercolour brushes or Princeton value series (called “Snap!”)

* Embarrassingly, I haven’t tried many “high end” brushes. (Hopefully Someday!)
I feel nothing beats the traditional natural hair Chinese brushes for watercolours. The Royal & Langnickel Zen series 83 features super sturdy water-resistant handles and soft natural and synthetic hairs. Which suit my painting style very well and are affordable. In general I recommend looking for sable and synthetic sable brushes to start for watercolours.

Favourite Paints: Golden acrylics and Windsor Newton
Other brands I use: Grumbacher and Liquitex
If on a budget: Liquitex BASICS, Pebeo Studio, Deserres or Wallack’s Student line (look for the primary set of colours: which contains a red, yellow, blue, white, black and sometimes brown).

*Colour recommendations: Similar to watercolour there are so many choices. Depending on what you are painting (or your personal style) you will change your palette accordingly. That being said, these are the colours I gravitate towards currently:

Yellows: Lemon yellow (aka Hansa Yellow) and Diarylide Yellow
Reds: Pyrrole Red Light, Quinacridone Crimson, Alizarin crimson
Blues: Cobalt, Manganese, Ultramarine
Titanium white

Windsor newton:
Yellows: Cadmium yellow light and yellow ochre
Reds: Cadmium red light, Alizarin Crimson, Vermillion
Blues: Cobalt, Manganese, Ultramarine
Titanium white

*Note: Although different brands will have the same name for many colours, they often don’t look the same across different brands.

*Favourite Brushes: Royal & Langnickel, I like a mix of synthetic and hog bristle brushes
Other brands I use: Princeton
If on a budget: Basics Liquitex watercolour brushes

* Again, I haven’t tried many “high end” brushes. Otherwise, my “favourite brushes” could be different.  Shy away from super cheap sets that look too good to be true. If possible, feel the thickness and stiffness of the brush hairs. If it feels thin, it’s not going to be much fun to work with! Also look at how tightly bound the ferrule is (the part between the hairs and handle) if it looks loose or has open bits, the quality is very low.

Surface (Canvas and papers) for acrylics: This is very personal and depends on what your intentions are for the artwork. If given a choice I would use stretched canvas over canvas board or paper. I also love painting on wood. If preparing your own surface with primer, my favourite line of primers are from Daniel Smith. I’ve also used Golden and Tri-art primers, which worked well.

That’s it for now! Like I said in the introduction, this is what I am familiar with at this time and is it is not an exhaustive list; some may even disagree with some of my recommendations. This is really meant for those who may need some extra guidance on the basics of what they should start out with.

I hope to keep on learning and experimenting! And remember, being able to make art no matter your supplies is what counts! So please never feel pressured to have what others says is “The BEST” or the “ONLY worthy” supply to use.

Here’s a photo of a painting I did with a brush made with a paper towel roll – hehe

(PS: If you have any recommendations for myself and for any of my students, leave a comment and let us know! Thank you!)