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My Six Essential Tools for Efficient Oil Painting

Oil painting has been the bedrock of fine art for centuries, capturing the imagination with its rich colours, depth, and texture. Whether you're a seasoned artist or just starting out on your creative journey, having the right tools is essential for bringing your vision to life on canvas or any other surface of choice including treated wood panels and paper. In this guide, we'll explore the essential tools every oil painter needs, beyond paint, mediums and a painting surface, to create stunning works of art. As a self-taught artist, I had to find out a lot of this myself and I made some costly mistakes along the way, but here we have provided essential tools that you will need - tools that I personally use in my studios.

  1. Paint brushes and allied tools: Paint brushes are the oil painter's primary tool (except you are one of the rare oil painters that uses their fingers), and investing in high-quality brushes can make a world of difference in your paintings. There are various types of brushes to consider, including flat, round, filbert, and fan brushes, each serving different purposes. Flat brushes are ideal for bold strokes and filling in large areas, while round brushes are great for detail work and fine lines. Filbert brushes combine the characteristics of flat and round brushes, making them versatile for various techniques. Fan brushes are excellent for creating texture and blending. Liner brushes are necessary when you need to paint in those thin lines like a cat's whiskers, eyelashes, power cables overhead or ropes on a distant ship. My favourite brushes have been from the Ivory Synthetic brush set from Rosemary and Co, a dedicated company in England that ships brushes internationally.

    If you are using cold wax in your oil paint, you could also use silicone paint scrapers and rollers that push the heavy paint in different ways on your work surface. 

  2. Palette Knives: Palette knives are indispensable tools for oil painters, offering a unique way to apply paint directly onto the canvas. They come in various shapes and sizes, allowing artists to achieve different textures and effects. Palette knives are particularly useful for impasto techniques, where thick layers of paint are applied to create a three-dimensional effect. They also come in handy for mixing colours on the palette and creating intricate details. I would personally not mix huge piles of colours with my paintbrushes.

  3. Palette: A good palette is essential for mixing and organising your oil paints. While traditional wooden palettes are popular among artists, there are also disposable and glass palettes available. I personally prefer a glass palette for oils as I can't be trusted to clean up the wooden palette after each session. Glass palettes are easy to clean and allow for precise colour mixing, while disposable palettes are convenient for quick cleanup.  Whichever type you choose, make sure it's large enough to accommodate your paint colours and easy to clean. A good paint scraper with a sharp blade (and replacement blades) is essential for easy clean ups. If you paint in oils and use a convenient glass palette, you can't do without a good scraper.

  4. Easel: A great starter easel provides support for your canvas and allows you to work comfortably at an upright position. There are several types of easels to choose from, including tabletop easels, studio easels, and plein air easels for outdoor painting. Consider factors such as stability, adjustability, and portability when selecting an easel that meets your needs. A sturdy easel will ensure your canvas stays in place while you paint, allowing for greater control and precision. You can also hang your stretched canvas or tape your canvas to a wall and paint away.

  5. Palette Cups and Containers, Paint tube squeezers, : Palette cups and containers are used to hold mediums, solvents, and brush cleaning solutions while you work. Look for containers with tight-sealing lids to prevent spills and evaporation. A used jam jar is very handy here. Having multiple containers allows you to keep different mediums and solvents separate and organised, making it easier to access them as needed. A paint tube squeezer will help with those hard-to-squeeze tubes of paint, to ensure all comes out of the tube and there is no wastage.
  6. Reference Materials: Reference materials such as photographs, sketches, and still-life setups can provide inspiration and guidance for your oil paintings. Whether you're painting from life or from imagination, having reference materials on hand can help you capture accurate proportions, colours, and details. Take time to study your subject and gather reference materials before starting a new painting to ensure a successful outcome.

In conclusion, having the right tools is essential for oil painters to unleash their creativity and bring their artistic vision to life. By investing in high-quality brushes, paints, mediums, and other essential supplies, artists can explore new techniques, experiment with different styles, and create stunning works of art that inspire and captivate viewers for generations to come. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned professional, having a well-equipped studio is the first step toward mastering the art of oil painting.

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