All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Paintbrushes and Then Some — Part 3

what to know about artist paintbrushesThis article is the final installment of a three-part discussion on artist paintbrushes. As a recap, in All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some, Part 1, brush anatomy and bristle types were discussed. In part two, we looked at brush shapes and sizes. In part three, the various brush manufacturers and paintbrush care will be covered.

An artist’s single most important tool in oil painting is the paintbrush. It is the main piece of equipment used to apply paint to canvas. Artist brushes come in a wide variety of types, sizes, and shapes. Knowing all you can about the different kinds of brushes available and how they are used will allow you to choose the right one for each stage of your canvas painting.

Manufacturers of Artist Paintbrushes

Artist paintbrushes are made by a variety of manufacturers from around the world. A few more popular brands are da Vinci, Winsor & Newton, Silver Brush Limited, Raphael Paris Classic, and the Robert Simmons line of brushes. These brands are the best-known and most used high-quality brand names of brushes. They will always be known for the quality of the brush and its longevity, and ease of use.

Some artists are faithful to just one or two particular brands and will not use anything else. Conversely, other artists like to have an assortment of different brands available depending on their needs at the time. The only way to know which brand you will like best is by using the brushes yourself. Some name brands will be more expensive than others; however, don’t let that be what you base your final purchasing decision on. With proper care, the more expensive brushes will outlast the lesser-made and priced brands.

Caring for Your Artist Paintbrushes

art brush careIt makes no sense to invest in quality artist brushes if you’re not going to take proper care of them. All artist brushes require a thorough cleaning at the end of each painting session. Let me repeat, never store your brush until it is thoroughly cleaned.

Never leave your artist paintbrush standing head down in a solvent for any length of time. This can cause the brush to lose its shape. After cleaning, a brush should be hung head-down or laid flat to dry. This allows moisture to drain out of the ferrule and hairs. If you allow your brush to dry standing up, the cleaner and paint residue can drain toward the ferrule, weakening the glue that holds the strands to the handle. In addition, it can also cause a buildup of paint residue in the ferrule. In time, this will also cause the brush to become misshaped. When a brush loses its shape, it is then worthless.

As a final step in caring for your paintbrushes, you will need to remove the solvent from the head by using a mild “degreaser,” like dish soap and warm water. This helps to keep the hairs soft and undamaged.

One final word – always keep in mind that your artist brushes are expensive. If you take good care of them, they will last a long, long time.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1     |     Part 2

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All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 2

know about artist brushesThis article is continued from All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some  — Part 1, where artist brush anatomy and bristle type are covered. In part two, artist brush shapes and sizes will be discussed.

An artist’s single most important tool in oil painting is the paintbrush. It is the main piece of equipment used to apply paint to canvas. Artist brushes come in a wide variety of types, sizes, and shapes. Knowing all you can about the different kinds of brushes available and how they are used will allow you to choose the right one for each stage of your canvas painting.

About the Shapes of Artist Brushes

Artist brushes come in four standard shapes for oil painters and are called round, flat, filbert, and bright. The names refer to the shape of the end of the hairs on the brushes, and the different shapes determine the nature of the stroke that it will make. Therefore, it is important to select the proper brushes for specific needs. There are also a few other brush shapes that are used for specialized functions like blending, which will be talked about afterward.

what to know about artist brushes
Flat Art Brush

A flat is a brush with long and flat hairs on the tip, much like a flathead screwdriver. From the side, it is narrow. Flat brushes have a lot of spring to them and can hold a lot of paint. You can use these brushes for broad sweeping broad strokes or turn the brush on its edge to create fine lines. With a little twist, you can even create a triangular stroke. The flat brush is also suitable for blocking in large areas and for the early stages of a painting. These brushes are perfect for quickly and evenly applying large amounts of paint to the canvas surface.

artist brushes
Filbert Art Brush

The filbert brush is an almond-shaped brush with a thick, flat ferrule and medium to long hairs. It is similar to the flat brush, except the edge of the brush hairs come to a rounded shape. The strokes are somewhere between a flat and round brush. Filberts create a softer, more rounded stroke because of their shape and are perfect for painting flower petals and leaves.

round oil painting brush
Round Art Brush

Round brushes are most often sable hair and get their name from their round ferrule. Their tip is shaped like a bullet that comes to a sharp point, or sometimes it can be pointed. They are designed for more controlled brush strokes. Round brushes make a softer rounded stroke and are not suited for creating hard straight edges. They hold a nice amount of paint and are great for making thin or thick lines. Round brushes are also suitable for washes, fills, fine detail work, and creating long lines.

bright oil painting art brush
Bright Art Brush

Bright brushes are similar in shape to flat brushes, but the hairs are much shorter. They make short controlled strokes and tend to put paint on thickly. Brights are suitable for driving paint into the weave of a canvas; however, they will remove as much paint as they apply if worked too hard. Depending on how you manipulate the brush, brights can create broad and bold brush strokes, sharp-edged thin lines, or smooth sweeping layers of paint. A bright is an ideal brush for painting landscapes and flowers.

The last paintbrushes that fall under this category are called blending brushes. While these types of art brushes are not essential like the first four types listed above, they are good to have on hand for smoothing out brushstrokes and spreading and blending colors smoothly. Blending brushes are very soft and are not used for applying paint. They are made to gently stroke the wet paint that you have already applied to the canvas to take out brushstrokes and for blending paint. These art brushes are usually the most expensive in your paintbox, so you will want to take good care of them to make them last a long time.

For more information about the different brush shapes, see the article titled Types of Artist Brushes for Oil Painting.

About the Different Sizes of Artist Brushes

Artist’s paintbrushes come in a large assortment of sizes. They range from very large brushes to medium-sized to extra-small brushes. The size of the brush is usually indicated by a single-digit number on the side of the brush handle up near the ferrule.

Most brush sizes range from 0 up to 30; however, really small brushes are numbered by multiples of the number zero (like this: 00, 000, 0000 or 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, etc.). The more zeroes there are, the smaller the brush. The most standard brush sizes are 3/0, 2/0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, and 20. However, keep in mind there is no exact standard for their sizes, and brushes manufactured by different companies are not universal in size.

You will need different-sized brushes for all stages of a typical painting. Large brushes for the beginning stages and smaller brushes for the detail work. Which brush you use depends on two things:

  1. The size of your canvas. The larger your canvas, the larger your brush will need to be, and the smaller your canvas, the smaller your brushes.
  2. The particular area of the painting you are working in. For example, you would use a large brush to apply paint to larger areas of your painting, such as the background (like the sky), and smaller brushes for the detail work (like individual leaves on a tree).

About the Handle Length of Artists’ Brushes

After you have considered your brush size, the next thing to think about is the handle length. Art brushes are either “long-handled” or “short-handled.” There is no universal standard for the handle length. Long-handled brushes usually tend to be around 9 inches or longer. Whereas short-handled brushes are generally 6 inches or shorter in length.

The handle length was developed ages ago and depended upon brush use. Oil painters usually stand away from the canvas, which requires a longer handle on their brushes, whereas a watercolorist sits and paints much closer to their canvases and do not need the longer handle. Your larger brushes will most likely have longer handles since they are used for larger areas of the canvas, and smaller brushes will have slightly shorter handles since these are used most for detail work where the artist would need to move in closer to the canvas.

Continued in Part 3.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1     |     Part 3

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All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1

about artist brushesWhat is there to know about artist brushes? Let’s find out.

An artist’s single most important tool in oil painting is their art brushes. It’s the main piece of equipment used to apply paint to canvas.

Artist brushes come in a wide variety of types, sizes, and shapes. Knowing all you can about the different kinds of artist paintbrushes available and how they are used will allow you to choose the right one for each stage of your canvas painting.

Anatomy of Artist Brushes

A paintbrush’s anatomy is made up of three basic parts. These are the head, the ferrule, and the handle. It isn’t necessary to know this to create a beautiful painting. However, by knowing the different parts, you will be familiar with various art terms.

artist brush parts anatonomy

    • Head — The hairs or bristles of the brush. The strands are made from either natural or synthetic fibers. This is what an artist uses to apply and push paint around on the canvas. The head has three parts too. The very tip of the head is called the toe. The fattest part is called the belly, and the point where the head meets the ferrule is called the heel.
    • Ferrule — The metal cylinder that attaches the head to the handle and helps hold the hairs in shape. High-quality ferrules won’t rust or come loose.
    • Handle — The long stem of the brush that is held when in use. It is usually made of wood or plastic. The length of the handle can vary. A quality brush will balance on your finger regardless of the size.

For additional information about the parts of a brush, see the article titled Anatomy of The Artist Paint Brush.

Hair Types Used in Artist Brushes

Artist brushes come in a variety of types. Knowing what those types are is beneficial in knowing which brush to use to achieve the effect you desire in your paintings. There are two main types of hairs in paintbrushes – bristle and sable. A different kind of brush hair is synthetic. 

bristle hair brushBristle brushes are made from ox or hog’s hair and are usually light in color and have a lot of bounce. The ends of the bristle hairs don’t come to a point but have two or three V-shaped splits called “flags.” This makes them capable of holding a good amount of paint which is beneficial since these brushes are primarily used when you are applying paint to the major areas of your canvas. After repeated use, the “flags” will become stained by darker pigments; however, this will not adversely affect the brush in any way. In addition, because the individual hairs of the bristle brush are hard or stiff to the touch, they will leave small grooves in the paint. These grooves will remain in the paint until they are smoothed out with a sable brush.

sable hair brushSable brushes are soft painting brushes made with hair from animals such as sable, squirrel, marten, or mongoose. They are springy and silky to the touch, with each strand converging to a fine point.

Sable brushes are great for blending, glazing, and making soft, less-defined brushstrokes. When compared to a bristle brush, you will notice their hairs are softer and much more delicate. In addition, sable brushes will not leave tiny grooves in your paint. They are capable of smoothing out the brushstrokes left by other types of brushes and will give your painting a smoother, softer look when you don’t want your brushstrokes to show. Artists prefer using them for more delicate applications of paint and finer detailed work. Sable brushes are the most expensive and will require more care than all of your art brushes.

Synthetic brushThe final type of artist paintbrushes is called synthetic brushes. They are not made from animal hairs but are products of man-made materials of either nylon or polyester filaments.

Synthetic brushes range from soft to stiff hairs. They can be tapered, tipped, flagged, abraded, or etched to increase their paint-carrying ability. They are more affordable than natural brushes made from animal hair; however, they are not quite as good.

The strands of synthetic brushes tend to stick together when they get wet, are prone to wear out faster, and are harder to work with. The individual strands often spread out in all directions, fall out, and may become a permanent part of your oil painting. However, there are some advantages to synthetic brushes. They are less prone to being damaged by solvents, insects, or caustic paints. They are also easier to clean than natural hair brushes because the filaments won’t trap paint like natural hairs will.

For additional information about the different brush types, see the article titled Types of Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes.

Continued in Part 2.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 2     |     Part 3

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What Every Oil Painter Needs to Know About Artist Oils, Part 2

In part 1 of What Every Oil Painter Needs to Know About Artist Oils, we looked at the ingredients that go into artist oils and the various lightfastness ratings. In this continuing article, we’ll take a closer look at the different grades of oil paint and what they mean.

Artist Oils: Artist-Grade vs. Student-Grade

artist oilsArtist oils come in two grades: artist-grade and student-grade. The main difference between the two types of oil paint is the potency or concentration of the pigment. This means that artist-grade oil paint will stretch further than a student-grade will because it contains more pigment.

Artist-Grade Oils

Artist-grade paints (sometimes called professional paints) are made from the purest ingredients and contain a higher ratio of pigment to oil base. That percentage can be as high as 75% pigment to 25% oil base for some colors. This usually makes them more expensive to purchase than student paints. However, it also means artist-grade paints will be more economical in the long run because they will stretch further. Also, artist paints have better mixability and truer color because there are no fillers like in student-grade.

Student-Grade Oils

Student-grade colors are often called “hues” on the label. The word “hue” means imitation or fake. This means that the pigment is artificial and not a true pigment. For example, Cadmium Red Hue is an imitation version of the actual pigment known as Cadmium Red. Student-grade paints were created to reduce the cost or toxicity of true pigments.

They have different mixability and opacity characteristics than true pigments, and they tend to get muddy and dull when mixed. Student-grade of paint is cheaper because of the ingredients – they contain less pigment and more filler. Filler costs much less than the purer, concentrated ingredients in artist-grade paints. However, just because the paint is priced cheaper does not mean it is more economical. When mixing color with student-grade paint, you will need much more paint to get the final color you are trying to mix. This is because the strength of the pigment is weaker (less potent) in student-grade and will take more to mix the color you desire. In addition, student-grade oil paints come in fewer colors than artist-grade oil paints.

Whenever possible, it’s best to purchase artist-quality paint rather than student because you get more pigment in a tube, and the results from color mixing are more intense and brighter. In addition, if you mix student-grade with artist-grade, you risk reducing the quality of the better grade paint rather than improving the quality of the lesser grade. If you need to save money, consider painting on smaller canvases or using the lesser grade paints as the under-painting saving the finer quality paints for the upper layers.

Knowing which oil paint is best suited for your particular needs will save you time and money in the long run. Do a little research on your own, and compare labels and prices. Look at some consumer reports and reviews written by other artists. You should be able to find the type that suits you best.

I hope this article takes some of the mystery out of which oil paints to use for your paintings. Being more familiar with the materials you work with will make you a better artist.

Additional Reading

For more information on the subject of artist-grade vs. student-grade oil paint, see the article titled Artist Grade or Student Grade Oil Paint, Making a Choice.

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UPDATED: 15 March 2021

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What Every Oil Painter Needs to Know About Artist Oils, Part 1

about artist oilsThere is such a wide selection of oil paint brands available it’s hard to know where to begin. Hopefully, when you finish reading this two-part article, you will have a little better idea of what artist oils are and which ones to use.

The Ingredients in Artist Oils

Oil paints are made up of pigment that has been ground into an oil base, called the vehicle or binder. The most commonly used vehicle is cold-pressed linseed oil. However, artist oils may be made with walnut oil, poppy seed oil, safflower oil, or other less popular oils.

Linseed oil comes from the flaxseed and gives oil paints a longer drying time. This allows the paint to be worked with for extended periods, sometimes even up to several months. The advantage of a longer drying time means the artist can develop a painting by making changes and corrections at the artist’s leisure. A disadvantage of longer drying times is the painting might take months or years to completely dry, depending on how thickly the paint was applied to canvas. This might be an issue if you have a customer anxiously waiting for the painting to dry so he/she can take possession of it.

oil paint pigment

The pigment is where paint gets its color. A paint color gets its name from the pigment that is used. We first got our pigments from the earth in the form of rocks or powder, but now it is also manufactured from synthetic materials. Some of the oldest pigments known to man are made from colored earth, like Yellow Ochre, Sienna, and Umber. Other pigments are derived from mineral salts such as White Oxide.

Pigment can be divided into two categories, these are:

    • Natural pigments – A pigment derived from naturally occurring compounds, either inorganic, such as rocks, minerals, and metals; or organic ones, such as plants and animals. Examples include Mars Brown, which comes from iron oxide, or Ivory Black which comes from charred animal bones. Natural pigments have been around for centuries and were used by the Old Masters, who would make their paints before starting a painting session. A lot of the natural pigments in use today are manufactured from inorganic substances.
    • Synthetic pigments – An artificial pigment made by chemists from carbon-based molecules derived from petroleum substances, acids, and other chemical compounds. Most of the oil paints we use today are made from synthetic pigments, such as quinacridone, phthalocyanine, and dioxazine. Fortunately, these paints have maintained their natural pigment names for historical and cultural reasons.

Lightfastness of Artist Oils

There is very little difference between modern-day natural and synthetic pigments regarding their potency of color and ability to mix well with other oil paints. However, an important factor to consider in any paint is its lightfastness. Lightfastness is a paint’s ability to resist fading when exposed to ultraviolet light. This is important because it determines the length of time a pigment will retain its original color. In other words, it determines the life expectancy of the work of art. A pigment must have lightfastness, and it must not break down chemically or physically if the work is going to last through the ages like the Old Masters.

To determine the lightfastness of your oil paints, look for the official American Society for Testing and Materials Standard (ASTM) rating information on the labels of each tube of paint. The ASTM is an independent organization that was established to create a worldwide standard for pigment permanence. The following pigment ratings were established in 1984.

Lightfastness ratings:

    • ASTM I – Excellent
    • ASTM II – Very Good
    • ASTM III – Not Sufficient enough to be used in artists’ paints

You would want your oil paints to have the lightfastness of an I or II.

To Be Continued…

This article is continued in What Every Oil Painter Needs to Know About Artist Oils, Part 2, where we’ll take a closer look at the different grades of oil paint and what they mean.

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Types of Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes

If you’re an oil painting artist, it is important to know the different types of bristles for oil painting brushes. Having knowledge of bristle types will help you choose the right brush. The term “bristle” refers to the hairs that make up the brush head of a paintbrush. The brush head is the part of an artist’s brush that holds and delivers paint to the canvas’s surface.

Bristles for oil painting brushes are made from two types of hair, natural hair, and synthetic hair.

Natural Hair

Bristle and sable are the two main types of hair used in natural brushes. Artists prefer natural bristles for oil paints because they are softer than synthetic bristles.

Types of Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes
Bristle brush

Bristle brushes are stiff and springy brushes made of the hairs from the back of a pig. They have natural “split-ends,” which make them ideal for oil painting because they can withstand heavy oil paint, textured canvas, and harsh solvents like turpentine. The stiff bristles will leave a strong mark on the canvas. In addition, Bristle brushes are easy to clean.

Bristle brushes are best in sizes of a half-inch wide or larger. They are best when used in large areas of a canvas, to begin a painting, or for very large paintings. Entire paintings may be painted using only bristle brushes. However, you would want to switch to sable brushes if you wish to have finer detail in smaller areas.

sable hair brush
Sable brush

Sable brushes do not come from sables. Instead, they are made from any member of the weasel family with “red” hair.

Sable brushes are softer and more delicate than a bristle or synthetic brushes. They are also more expensive and require more care.

Sables are great for blending, glazing, and making soft, less-defined marks. In addition, they are great detail brushes. The best sizes for this brush are a one-half inch in width or smaller. Artists painting with oils often prefer their long handles, which allows them to work at a greater distance from their painting.

Some less common natural hairs used for painting brushes are badger, camel, goat, mongoose, ox, pony, and squirrel.

Synthetic Hair

synthetic hair brush
Synthetic brush

Synthetic brushes are manufactured from either nylon or “Taklon,” a polyester filament. This paintbrush offers more versatility than natural because it may be used with acrylic and oil paints. These brushes are a good budget alternative to natural bristle brushes, but make sure they’re made for oil paints.

Some advantages of synthetic brushes are:

    • They are more resistant to damage from turpentine, insects, or paints.
    • Cleanup is easier since they don’t tend to trap paint in the individual hairs.
    • The hairs last longer because they are less prone to break and are more durable on many different canvas surfaces.

One disadvantage is the less expensive synthetic brushes tend to lose their shape more quickly than natural hair brushes.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1

Anatomy of The Artist Paint Brush

Types of Artist Brushes for Oil Painting

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Taking The Mystery Out of Mahl Sticks

Mahl sticks can be a mystery. Let’s take a closer look at them. The word mahl stick comes to us from the Dutch word “maalstok,” which means “painter’s stick.” It’s a handy little tool used by artists that has been around for centuries. Many of the Old Masters regularly used them as they were putting paint to canvas on many of their masterpieces. We often see paintings from the 16th- through 19th-centuries depicting artists in their studios, at their easels, etc., and the mahl stick is usually there, included as part of the painter’s equipment.

Mahl SticksArtists use this painter’s stick to steady their hands when attempting to paint minute details on their canvas art. Most oil painting artists paint with their canvases resting upright on an easel, and sometimes it’s hard to get your hand into just the right position without resting it on your canvas. This is a problem if the surface is delicate or the paint is wet. You can’t just plop your hand in the middle of your work. To do so would mean smudging or smearing your artwork. That’s where mahl sticks come in handy.

painters mahl stickA mahl stick is simply a long, round stick approximately three feet in length with a ball or knob on one end. Usually, the knob end has a ball or wad of cotton on it that is surrounded by soft leather or chamois. The chamois will keep it from slipping on the surface and can easily be removed for cleaning or replaced when it gets soiled.

You use the painter’s stick by resting the ball-end on the edge of the canvas, easel, or dry spot of the painting. Then hold the other end up with your non-painting hand and steady your hand holding the brush on the stick while you paint. If you’re right-handed, you will hold the mahl stick with your left hand, and if you are left-handed, you will hold it with your right. It should be light enough so your hand that holds the stick will not get tired.

Mahl sticks can be purchased online or from local art supply stores, or you can make one yourself. They can be made from any round piece of wood you have on hand, such as an old broom handle, half-inch dowel, or piece of bamboo. Whichever it is, it should be lightweight yet strong enough to resist bending under the weight of your hand.

One end of the mahl stick should be easy to grip. This can be achieved by wrapping it with some sports tape like the handle of a hockey stick or tennis racket. The other end of the painter’s stick needs to be bulky by adding a ball-shaped piece of wood or a rubber tip like what is used on the tip of walking canes. You would then wrap it with a bit of cloth to prevent it from slipping or scratching the canvas. It can be tied on by using a piece of string.

I hope this article takes a little bit of the mystery out of mahl sticks and provides a valuable painting tip.

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What to Know About an Artist’s Oil Painting Palette, Part 1

What is there to know about an artist’s oil painting palette? You’d be surprised.

Artist's Painting PalettePerhaps one of the most iconic symbols of the fine artist is the artist’s painting palette. They are often taken for granted; however, the palette is one of the most important tools an artist uses. There is much to consider about the palette, and this article covers some interesting points.

Palette (noun):
(1) A thin board or slab (traditionally made of wood) on which an artist lays out and mixes colors.
(2) The range of colors used by an artist for a particular picture.

“Palette” is one of those words in the English language that has more than one meaning. It can refer to the actual tool an artist uses to mix colors on or refer to a selection of colors used to make up a color scheme. For this article, when an artist’s oil painting palette is mentioned, I refer to the surface an artist uses to mix paint on.

There are many types of palettes available on the market for oil painting artists. They are made of various materials, from wood to paper to plastic, and they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It’s a matter of personal preference which type, shape, and size you choose to use.

Types of Artist’s Painting Palettes

An oil painting palette is a stiff, level surface that an artist uses to arrange and mix paints on. Any flat surface may be used for one; however, those made from hard, inert, and non-porous material make the best palettes. These would include wood, plastic, or wax paper.

Palettes can also vary in size and shape. The most commonly known type of painter’s palette is made of a thin piece of rectangular or classic kidney-shaped wood specifically designed to be held in the hand and rest on the arm between the elbow and thumb.

wooden Painting PaletteWooden Painting Palette

This is the most traditional artist’s painting palette and was used by the Old Masters. Today’s manufactured wooden palettes are sealed with a varnish or lacquer. You can make your own if you desire to do so; however, a wooden palette must be properly seasoned before using it with oils. This can be done using plain shellac or linseed oil and rubbing it into the wood using a rag. If it is not seasoned, you will end up with a palette that will absorb all the oil from your mounds of paint, and soon you will find yourself working with paint that seems much drier than when you first squeezed it from its tube.

plastic Painting PalettePlastic Painting Palette

Another popular material for an artist’s painting palette is plastic. Plastic palettes are durable enough to withstand solvents and work well with oil paint. They can be scraped clean and are more adaptable to soap and water than a wooden palette. Usually, these are made of non-staining, white plastic.

disposable Painting PaletteDisposable  Painting Palette

These are pads of waxy paper that come with or without a thumb-hole. The top sheet is torn off and used for a painting session. When the session is over, the sheet is disposed of. This makes for a quick and easy cleanup. Some artists find this type of palette convenient, particularly for the classroom or Plein air painting.

Palette Shape and Size

Artist’s oil painting palettes come in a rectangular or classic kidney shape. The kidney-shaped variety has a thumb-hole at one end and is made to rest in hand and against the forearm easily. Paint colors are arranged around the edge of the kidney-shaped palette and are easy to access. On the other hand, rectangular palettes appeal to other artists because they allow the paint to be arranged neatly in rows. And rectangular-shaped palettes fit nicely inside art boxes and field easels when taken out on location.

Some palettes are large, while others are smaller. Many of the Old Masters preferred to use a small palette because they worked their paintings in stages, and fewer colors were needed for each painting session. A smaller palette meant they had more control over their paint. Some of the larger palettes used by artists today are adapted to the modern method of having every color in your paint box on your palette at one time. That can be a lot of colors! If you have that many colors to squeeze out of their tubes, you need a larger palette to hold them all and give you ample room for mixing.

Whether you use a rectangular or kidney-shaped palette, a large or small one, it is a matter of personal choice as to which you choose to use.

To Be Continued…

This article is continued in Artist’s Oil Painting Palette, Part 2. In part 2, you will learn how to set up your palette, plus other helpful information.

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What to Know About an Artist’s Oil Painting Palette, Part 2

What is there to know about an artist’s oil painting palette? You’d be surprised.

In the article, Artist’s Oil Painting Palette, Part 1, we learned about the different types of artists’ palettes there are for oil painting. The word palette has two different meanings. The topic of this article deals with the kind of palette an artist uses to mix color.

Palette Color and Tone

kidney shaped artist paletteThe most important thing about the oil painting palette is its color. You will find that you will have a much easier time getting your colors right if you mix them on a palette that is the same color as your canvas.

Artists who want to see the true color of their paint will mix their paint on a palette that is the same color as their canvas. If you mix your paint on a brown wooden palette and then apply that same paint to a white canvas, the color will look different from what you mixed on your palette. For example, if you mix pink on your brown wooden palette, you see the pink color against the brown color of your palette. Then when you apply the pink paint to your white canvas, the color will look different because you are now seeing that same pink color against a stark white surface. Your pink will look dark on the white canvas, but it will look much lighter on the palette. The Old Masters often painted on brown or gray canvas, and their palettes were that same tone. This meant the paint they mixed on their palette was the same color when they applied it to their canvases. There were no surprises or remixing of color to get it right. It was right the first time.

Positioning Your Painting Palette

oil painting PaletteThe artist’s oil painting palette can be used in two primary positions, either on the tabletop or hand-held. Some artists prefer to hold their palettes while they paint. This makes it possible to continue painting from different angles. Other artists would prefer to set their palette on a table and mix paints that way. Tabletop palettes are usually larger, and this feature allows the artist more room for mixing colors. Whichever position you choose for your palette is a matter of preference.

Organizing Your Painting Palette

Organizing your oil painting palette is a helpful skill to use. It may seem insignificant, but a well-organized palette will make your painting sessions easier and more enjoyable. How you organize paint on your palette is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way. Some artists choose to arrange their palette from light to dark, while others place their colors from cool to warm. Another way is to group colors according to families, such as grouping all your yellow colors together, oranges, reds, violets, blues, greens, earth colors, etc. Still, other painters lay out their paint colors in a haphazard manner without apparent rhyme or reason. Even though there are no specific rules for arranging colors on your palette, the arrangement should make sense so that time is not wasted searching for your colors.

The following are some suggestions for organizing your palette.

    • Place your colors along the outer edge of your palette, leaving the center area open for mixing your paints.
    • If you are a beginner, you might want to start with a small section of colors on your palette. As you become a more experienced painter, you can add more colors.
    • Try to lay out your colors in the same order each time you paint. You will soon get to know where they are without having to look at your palette.

I hope this article has taken some of the mystery out of oil painting palettes. The type of palette you choose to use and how you lay out your paints are beneficial and the enjoyment you’ll receive from the painting experience. So take your time when it comes to selecting the palette you want. And don’t let the price decide whether you buy one over another. Get yourself a good palette because you will be using it for all your painting sessions.

Happy painting!

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UPDATED: 10 June 2021

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There are Palette Knives, and Then There are Painting Knives

There are palette knives, and then there are painting knives used by oil painters. So what’s the difference between the two? Each type of knife has a specific purpose in oil painting. This article will explain the difference and what those functions are.

Palette Knives

Palette Knives and Painting Knives
Palette Knife

A palette knife is a blunt tool used by an artist. It has a long, straight blade and is primarily used for mixing paints and scraping a palette clean when a painting session is over. It is not the type of palette knife used to apply paint to canvas because of its straight blade and handle. The knife used for actual painting on canvas is called a painting knife and will be discussed in a minute. Most palette knives are metal blades with a wooden handle; however, some are made from plastic.

A palette knife is something that every artist needs, even if they never intend to do a painting using one. You will at the very least need one for mixing paint colors on your palette.

A palette knife is not be confused with a painting knife, although many artists use the term “palette knife” when referring to both types of knives, which is perfectly acceptable.

Painting Knives

Palette Knives and Painting Knives
Painting Knife

The painting knife serves a different function than a palette knife and comes in various styles and sizes. It is also shaped differently than a palette knife. The most commonly used painting knife has a diamond-shaped head and a crooked handle and is primarily used to apply pigment to canvas. The bend in the handle is so you can hold the knife head flat against your canvas without touching the wet surface with your fingers or knuckles.

A painting knife may be used with any paint — acrylic, watercolor, and oils. However, oil paint lends itself the best to this style of painting because of its thicker consistency. Some artists do entire paintings using a knife instead of a brush. Painting with a knife is a bit like putting butter on bread and is also a great way of creating texture on your canvas. The paint on these canvases is applied so thickly that the strokes, scrapes, and streaks made by the painting knife are clearly visible. This type of painting usually requires advanced skills. To see some examples of paintings done entirely with a painting knife, go to Google images and type in the keyword “palette knife painting.” You will see some very nice examples of painting knife paintings.

When it comes to cleaning, you will find cleanup is much easier than a brush. Simply wipe the knife clean using a paper towel or cloth.

Lastly, a painting knife can also be used for mixing colors and for scraping your palette. There really is no need to have both a palette knife and a painting knife.

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UPDATED: 26 September 2020

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