Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Painting Supplies for Beginning Acrylic Painters

Sheep Eating Orchid, Acrylic on Canvas by Amy Lynn Hess

Becoming a painter is an exciting prospect, and shopping for supplies is one of the best parts! 

The question, though, is what to buy?

When I worked at The Loft, an art supply store in Athens, Georgia, customers would often come into the store with only a general desire to paint or with the intent to purchase the perfect gift for someone who had just started acrylic painting. These two types of customers were my favorite customers. I would listen to what they wanted to achieve or what type of painting they did, and I would then try to work with them to find the right art supplies for the right price. I became quite adept at putting together beginner's art supply kits for acrylic painters. Every beginner's kit for painters should include, at minimum, brushes, pre-stretched canvas, and acrylic paint.

Purchasing Brushes for Acrylic Painting

It's important to purchase a few, high quality brushes with excellent "snap."

I recommend buying brushes at an art supply store. There are more and better options there than at a big box or department store, and the brushes will be labeled "acrylic," "oil," "oil and acrylic," or "watercolor." There are short handles, which are mostly for use at a table, or longer handles, which are mostly for use at an easel. A variety of brushes will be used by any individual artist in the way that is most comfortable and effective per project.

There are some basic tests to perform when picking out acrylic paint brushes. A quick brush across the heel of a hand a few times can help a buyer test for snap and loose bristles. For beginners, it's easier to learn to create lines and strokes properly with brushes that create a smooth line and that don't lose any bristles when stroked. A good brush will also have a little snap to it, meaning the brush will bounce back into shape when bent. A good brush will have no extra bristles sticking out here and there, and a good brush will have deeply crimped lines where the metal meets the wood of the handle. This ensures it won't come loose after a few uses.

Brushes come in shapes and sizes: flat, round, filbert, fan, bright, and angle in sizes from #2, #4, #6, #8, #10, and up. They also come in many bristle types, including boar bristle, synthetic, and soft natural hair in many "stiffnesses." Palette knives also come in many sizes and shapes, and they are found in the brush aisle, as well. The only limitation for brush purchases is the buyer's budget. I do quite well with only a few well-maintained brushes in rotation, and they've all lasted over fifteen years. There are eight brushes I use most often and could not live without. I use my

  • #12 boar bristle filbert
  • #10 synthetic flat
  • #6 natural hair round
  • #6 natural hair bright angle
  • #4 synthetic filbert
  • #4 synthetic flat
  • Short-handled #4 round
  • #2 synthetic bright.

On professional-grade brushes, the size or size and style of brush will be imprinted into the brush handle.

Purchasing Pre-Stretched Canvas or Canvas Boards

For beginners, I suggest the ease of purchasing pre-stretched or factory-stretched canvas or canvas boards over purchasing the canvas, frames, and gesso (the primer paint), separately. Trying to learn to stretch a canvas takes time, and canvas that has been stretched improperly is difficult to paint on, and that may discourage a new painter. Of course, any number of surfaces can be used, such as cardboard, wood, leather, ceramic, metal, or glass surfaces, but they would require gesso, also.

Pre-stretched canvas and canvas boards come in a variety of sizes. There are a few simple ways to determine how large a canvas to purchase for a project. Start by thinking about the painting's purpose, and if there is a predetermined location for the finished product. The size of the canvas should look aesthetically pleasing in the space. If there is no predetermined purpose, the only other suggestion for choosing a size is to choose based on a budget: the size of the painting surface determines the amount of paint required to cover that surface.

No matter what the size, not all pre-stretched canvas or canvas boards are made equally. Some have corners that are well-constructed, neat, and tidy. Some are uneven. Some have stretchers that fit together nicely and when placed on a flat surface will lay flat. Some lay lopsided, which they will also do after being hung on a wall. It is worth a few extra dollars to purchase quality pre-stretched canvas.

Purchasing Acrylic Paints

Golden paint is an excellent brand.

The most exciting part about buying acrylic painting supplies is buying the acrylic paint! Beginners should choose a brand of acrylic paint that has a smooth consistency and shiny sheen. Just as with the brushes, the smoother the paint, the better the line and stroke. The paint can always be mixed on a paint palette after being squeezed from the tube, but if the paint comes out separated, it can be difficult to achieve an even quality. A salesperson may be able to open a tube for a quick look to see if the paint is clumpy or separated, but there are some brands of acrylic paint that come in clear tubes.

As stated above, paint can always be mixed, which makes every tube one more possible combination. For a beginner's kit, it's really only necessary to purchase one red, yellow, blue, white, and black. However, to have a little more leeway with color, two hues of each color will offer endless possibilities. As with everything else, price is always a factor, but paints range in price from very inexpensive (especially when on sale) for $2.50 a tube, to very expensive at almost $50.00 a tube. It all depends on the color fastness, density, and content - especially content of toxic metals, such as cadmium. Non-toxic paints will be labeled as such and will normally cost less than those with metal content.

No matter what a beginning painter's budget, supplies do not have to be a financial burden. An acrylic painter can begin with three items, if need be: a brush, a canvas, and a tube of paint.

Want to read more about acrylic painting?  

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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