My Materials


Below is a List of My Oil Painting Materials.  What works for me will not necessarily be useful to you.  The best advice I can give is to get to know your materials and tools inside out and don't believe anything you read on a label. The process of painting is as much an emotionless science of chemistry and physics as it is a language of passion and how long an artwork will last is greatly determined by the quality of the materials and the scientific process of application. So make sure you always use the best artist quality materials you can afford, learn how to apply them correctly and keep your working tools in a pristine condition.  


Brushes


I use a combination of natural and synthetic hair professional artist brushes and mostly work with flats and long filberts and occasionally with rounds.

For synthetic brushes I prefer the handmade ones by Rosemary & Co, specifically their Ivory range as well as the Precision series from Raphael which is an imitation sable brush with very soft bristles. The rounds I use are from the The Rose of England series.  They have beautiful pink coloured handles with synthetic bristles and were designed by Michael Klein for Rosemary & Co. Their short handles make them perfect for floral studies or detailed work.

For natural soft hair brushes I work exclusively with Rosemary & Co's brushes from their Masters Choice and Sable blend series.     

My choice of hogs hair brushes are also from Rosemary & Co from their Classic and SER 2045 range with the Classic being a mixture of natural and synthetic hair.  I also use hogs hair and synthetic filberts and flats from French manufacturer Raphael.

As an economical alternative for scrubbing or underlayer work I make use of the student grade brands that includes the various series of synthetic and hogs hair brushes by Prime Art and Dynasty. I have found that by taking great care of my brushes (even the cheap ones) I can extend their lifespan significantly.  Many of my old brushes date back almost 10 yrs - the worn out ones are used for priming and other rough work.



From top to bottom:  Masters Choice, Sable blend and Rose of England, all by Rosemary & Co.



Ivory Filbert Series by Rosemary & Co.



Precision series by Raphael.



Keeping your brushes in a pristine condition is one of the secrets to successful painting. 


Brush Cleaning and Care  ~ Solvent Free Alternatives


I never use turpentine for cleaning natural hair brushes as it dries the bristles to the point where the brush completely loses its shape.  Turpentine is also difficult to remove from the bristles and always leaves a residue behind.  If you are sensitive to solvents (turpentine or white spirits) you can use a synthetic brush cleaner such as Daler-Rowney's Oil Brush Cleaner or Maimeri's Eco Oil Cleaner (both works well on natural and synthetic hair brushes).  Alternatively you can follow these simple cleaning steps below that I have found to work quite well.

Step 1:  Wipe off any excess paint from the brush.

Step 2: Dip the brush into clean walnut or linseed oil to loosen and dilute the paint in-between the bristles and wipe it off with a paper towel or cloth.

Step 3:  Use luke warm water and a mild dishwashing liquid such as Sunlight liquid and gently rotate the bristles in the palm of your hand until you can see no more paint coming out of them.

Step 4: Squeeze (not pull) out excess water with a soft cloth and let the brush dry overnight in a flat position to prevent water from seeping back into the hande.

I prefer to rinse my brushes clean in artist quality odourless white spirits (a liquid petroleum). It deep cleans the bristles during and after a paint session.  Thereafter I use dishwashing liquid and luke warm water to remove any final traces of the paint and white spirits.

Brush tip:  Never let your brushes stand in solvent or water, the moisture gets soaked up into the wooden handle, eventually swells, cracks and loosen the ferule (metal clip) that holds the bristles together.  

For natural hair brushes I use a tiny bit of hair conditioner smoothed onto the wet bristles after I have cleaned them to restore the oils in the natural hairs and helps the brush to keep its shape. 

Oil Paints


I work with oil paints from various manufacturers as I have my favourite colours across the different brands.  My cadmium reds and yellows are always from Italian manufacturer Maimeri from their Classico and Artisti series. The Maimeri paints are known for their affordability and exceptionally high pigment loads across all the different series.  

Other high quality professional brands that I use are Rembrandt from Dutch manufacturer Royal Talens, Schminke from Germany, the artist series from UK manufacturer Winsor & Newton, Lukas Studio oils from Germany, and Daler-Rowney (UK).

Below are the colours and layout of my permanent palette.  This is an extended basic series of warm & cool primaries along with dark and light transparent hues.  I used to buy cobalt violet, cad orange, naples yellow, and cad yellow deep, but now I just pre-mix them from the other colours and store them on the palette as permanent additions.  I use 10 tube colours (including white) from which I mix everything I need, including chromatic blacks, which makes this a very economical palette.  You can reduce your number of tube paints even further, but certain colours such as viridian and the brown oxides are known for their unique mixtures that are otherwise difficult to duplicate.  












Paint Mediums & Varnishes


Maroger paint medium:

I need for the oil paint to stay workable for as long as possible and still be able to do transparent applications as well as impasto work all in one session.  With an alkyd medium the paint becomes tacky soon after you've applied it.  The maroger medium on the other hand allows me to continue manipulating the paint hours after I have laid it down and also allows me to do beautiful glaze work as well as impasto work that retain brushmarks.  Transparent pigments really come to life with this medium.  I use the Flemish formula manufactured by OldMastersMaroger.com in the USA that is made of cold pressed linseed oil, mastic, litharge (lead oxide which act as a drying agent and brings light colours to life) and refined gum spirits of turpentine.  This is the same medium used by David A. Leffel, Sherrie McGraw and Jaqueline Kamin.   In fact, the recipe was passed on by David Leffel to OldMasters.com and is of exceptional quality.  It is the only maroger medium I use.  There are many recipes of maroger medium floating out there in the world, but a word of caution, it is a tricky medium to manufacture and when not done correctly can lead to disastrous results on the canvas.   

The maroger medium, however, needs to be intermixed with oil paint in order for it to dry completely (usually overnight).  I have found that if I use it straight out of the tube to oil out an area that is not painted over again it takes quite a long time to dry completely and the surface of the painting remains sticky for weeks.  It seems though that this medium probably works a lot better in areas with a low humidity compared to the high humidity coastal region where I live in the Western Cape.




Maroger is not available at any art stores in South Africa, you need to import it directly from the US manufacturer which makes it an expensive oil painting medium.  As a more economical alternative I use walnut oil (undiluted) and walnut oil diluted with artist quality white spirits (50/50 mix).  If you use maroger, don't use anything else such as linseed or walnut oil.  Some mediums and solvents don't work together well, e.g. damar (used as a varnish and paint medium) doesn't dissolve in white spirits.

Walnut Oil as medium and cleaning of tools and palettes:

Walnut oil is said to have been the only oil used by Leonardo da Vinci.  I use it because it works well as a paint medium, dries fairly quickly and doesn't yellow the light colours over time as fast as linseed oil does. I use a 50/50 walnut oil and white spirits mix to shine out small dull areas on the canvas and as a general paint medium.

I also use it to clean my wooden palette as the oil removes semi-dried paint and feeds the wood but also leaves a beautiful deep and smooth finish on the surface of the palette that makes it ideal for mixing paint.  I prefer the walnut oil from Italian manufacturer Maimeri.  

Solvents ~ White Spirits and Turpentine:

A solvent is used to break down the oil content in oil paints, thereby making the paint "lean" and also thinning the paint.  The most commonly known solvents used by oil painters are turpentine and white spirits.

Many oil painters are not aware of the health risks of mineral Turpentine (bought at the hardware store and used to remove household paint).  It is a very hazardous and poisonous solvent that is readily absorbed through the skin on your hands and when inhaled irritates the mucous membranes of the airways and the lungs.  It evaporates very quickly and being regularly exposed in a class or studio with turpentine fumes in the air can over time lead to serious ill effects.  Gum turpentine (artist quality with the pleasant smell which is derived from pine resin and sap) is not as hazardous on your health but it is still an irritant to the mucous linings inside your mouth, nose and throat, so when inhaled the vapours can cause headaches and sinusitis to people who are sensitive to it.

I have stopped using any kind of turpentine in my studio and have switched to odourless artist quality white spirits (a high quality liquid petroleum distillate) that evaporates very slowly and doesn't absorb through the skin.  I have found that some odourless brands, however, have a bad smell.  If you can smell it, don't use it.





Varnishes:

Between painting layers I use a light spray of Maimeri's Retouch varnish to restore the brilliance of the paint.  It has a semi-gloss finish and dries within 20-30 minutes on a layer of paint that is touch dry (2-3 days). Some pigments like the umbers and siennas tend to "sink", leaving dull areas on the canvas especially in the dark areas such as backgrounds or shadows.  The "irritation" of a brush when smoothing a paint layer over and over can also leave dull areas.  Another culprit is poorly sized supports that are too absorbent.  The retouch varnish restores the colour and shine and really brings the paint to life without sealing it off and preventing it from curing (drying).  What I love about this varnish is the finished look that it gives a painting without the irritating brilliant glare from a high gloss varnish.  Once the painting had time to cure (6 months), I use Maimeri's final varnish (aerosol).

A word of caution on alkyd mediums - they darken very quickly (within a few months!) and they do yellow despite what the label or the price tag says.  They are very tempting to use as a final "varnish" layer or for oiling out dull areas but I would advise against it.  They are impossible to remove from the surface of an oil painting without damaging the layer of paint underneath.  A layer of alkyd on top of a layer of oil paint is very difficult to clean and any amount of dirt that gets trapped in the grooves of brush marks or other crevices in the paint layer will cause a greyish colour in dark areas such as backgrounds or shadows - you can try pretty much anything, but you won't loosen the dirt from the surface of alkyd medium without damaging it.  Any scratches rubbing will also show up as a grey mark.  I used to work with these mediums from time to time because of their fast drying and excellent glazing properties, but I stopped using them completely.  I have been informed by other artists that they become brittle over time although I have never experienced that, as far as I have experienced they remain flexible.



 
   

Sizing and Priming of Painting Supports


I used to cover my canvases with two thin layers of gesso primer (store bought mixture of acrylic paint and marble dust) until I discovered that the sinking of pigments in the dark coloured areas on the canvas which occurred on my "carefully" primed supports was due to the fact that gesso is a very absorbent agent and with good reason - the fine tooth of the gesso allows the paint to adhere to the support.  I switched to using a sizing agent instead that seals the canvas and prevent the oils in the paint from sinking into the cloth underneath.  Keep in mind that there are millions of microscopic holes in the canvas cloth through which the oils seep, which is why some painters follow a rigorous (and time consuming) sizing process of layers of rabbit skin glue and lead white.      

Maimeri has a quick drying alkyd "primer" for oil paint that is actually more of a sizing agent than a true primer.  It works beautifully and can be thinned with a little bit of artist's turpentine as it is quite thick and sticky when used straight.  But it dries to a very smooth finish that allows the paint to flow silently off the brush (I don't need to sand in-between layers).  Two thin layers works better than one thick layer.  This is the only "priming" agent I use on my canvases.

Gesso is very useful if you want to create some texture on your canvas or on a wooden panel and works well with painting techniques that doesn't require smooth brushwork or dark coloured areas such as in chiaroscuro work.  When working with gesso I use a high quality product from Italy, because it can deteriorate if it is not manufactured correctly.