A basic guide for beginners
– and those seeking a little more information about art materials and how to use them

I am providing a selection of basic information, there are links included to other sites with far more in depth information here
– this is an excellent site, with a great deal of information here
– also an excellent site, with a great deal of information here – fascinating range of products, magical shop in London
Obviously the approach of buying in a shop where you can see what you are getting is not always possible  –  but art materials can be very variable in quality and type and if you have to mail order – it  is best from a reputable seller of art materials, you may pay more but the quality will be good.


There are some excellent artificial fibre brushes around which work very well, I never use anything else, now that these are available.
Having an expensive sable brush will not make you paint well… Do you really want a creature to die so you can use its coat for a paintbrush?
 I think that makes my feelings clear. 
So, anyway, brushes…
You need a few, ideally, of different sizes and shapes (- however, one medium sized one with a good point on it can suffice …..). 
Everything to do with painting has an interesting history and brushes have good names and specific purposes: flats and brights have a square end, rounds a pointed end, a filbert has a rounded smooth point, a mop holds a lot of paint, a fan is self explanatory, a spotter has a point but has short bristles and a rigger has long bristles and holds quite a lot of paint – ideal for line work – in fact, so called, as made to paint rigging in paintings of sailing ships. Another shape called an angle, has its hair cut at an angle, not surprisingly.

A number printed on the handle indicates brush size. Brushes start from 000, then 00, 0, 1, 2, and up. The higher the number, larger the brush. This is very variable between makers, so it is best to handle the brushes that you are intending to buy until you are sure about what you wish to have.
 For oil paint , a stiff type of brush is mostly used and for water colour a soft one.

Keep your brushes clean –  always wash them thoroughly after use with an appropriate cleaner for the paint type and dry them afterwards so that the handle and ferrule ( the metal part that holds the bristles ) do not corrode and so that the brush holds it shape.  If you leave the brush in water for so long that it bends, you are ruining it, likewise if you leave it with paint dried into it.
 It is possible to buy a block of brush cleaner in a box and I have one but I often use shampoo to clean brushes. For a serious mess on a brush with oil based paint, I find that using solvent and granulated sugar will usually get the brush clean.   I then wash with shampoo to restore its shape and get any remaining cleaner out of it. If you allow a brush to totally dry up with acrylic paint –  then throwing it away and buying a new one is a good choice.

There are very many types of paper and a complete beginner should buy something fairly standard and inexpensive, handmade paper is not cheap and really is to be reserved for the point at which you know exactly what you are doing.
 Paper is made largely from plant fibre, the science of making it almost certainly came out of China and spread throughout the East before it was made in the West in 13th century Europe. Initially made from rags, the more modern paper made from wood is relatively recent. Rag paper is now a more specialist paper.
 Producing pulp for paper is a whole process which I won’t discuss here – there are different methods of doing this and they each have slightly differing characteristics. China clay, chalk and size are usual additives which create surfaces to receive print, paint etc.
 Handmade paper has its pulp placed in trays of wire to dry – resulting in the characteristic ‘deckle edge’ – the uneven edges of the dried pulp. 
Obviously, if you choose to use handmade paper you should not really cut it down and loose that feature.

Paper is classified by weight – ie the quantity of pulp per sheet / ream (500 sheets) and physical size. 
The systems in America and in Europe are different,  as are the sizes and names given to those sizes.
Euopean paper sizes – link    HERE
American paper sizes – link    HERE
Here is a link to a site which defines paper types –    HERE
and a link to a site which defines art paper types –    HERE
This site  HERE  has a great deal of in-depth information about art materials which is very interesting for the serious investigator.
The most common paper terms you will hear are probably laid and wove.
 Laid paper has very slight textural stripes and wove is a very plain flat surface.
Watercolour and technique

One of the opinions that I have heard frequently touted is the purist view of watercolour painting where all whites must be pure paper and everything must be done > by the book< – one must not use any other type of media etc……….  well, if that appeals, go for it…. but there is no need to feel bound by any rules at all   it is your piece of artwork and you are entirely free to work in any way with which you feel happy…. however, there are things that it is as well to know before you begin and here are some of them.

To stretch a piece of watercolour paper, soak flat in water fora few minutes ( use the bath for big pieces) drain and sponge down on to a clean drawing board or piece of wood, removing excess water. Use brown paper gummed tape ( obtain at art shops)  to fasten it down around the edges. This will hold your work down and prevent the paper from buckling unevenly – as it will if you get it very wet without stretching.
Its possible to buy blocks of paper which you paint on whilst in the block   –   you then remove the dry painting with a palette knife. Well – I for one have not managed this without tearing the paper  so it may not be suitable except for outside painting.

Set out your workplace so that you have what you need to hand  and if you are intending to make a painting within a larger piece of white paper – mask off the part you are not going to use.
 Remember the need for clean water at all times to mix paint  A glass dropper from a medicine bottle is good  !
I sometimes add a drop of washing up liquid to my brush washing water   –  I believe it helps.

As you begin, try to hold your brush gently and allow it to flex in your hand, allow the paint to slide on to the paper from the brush – rather than applying pressure as you would a writing instrument.
 If you have not painted in watercolour before – give yourself time to practice.
 Play with making different types of mark and with mixing colour – Play is a relevant word – this is absorbing and entertaining – you may have forgotten the nature of play during adult life, it still has a purpose.
 If you have several types of brushes, see what the difference is in the kinds of marks that they make. You can experiment with dropping paint, flicking it,sponging it or spattering it as well as making the more usual type of brush marks.

Try wetting the paper with water – you can do this with a spray, brush or sponge – and putting a drop of colour on to it, see the difference of effect in the amount of water on the paper, try making lines of paint on the wet paper. Experiment with blotting the wet paint with a tissue, with a sponge or a cloth – observe the interesting textures that are created when you do this, think about how these textures might be used in a painting. Be aware that spontaneous and accidental patterns in the paint bring life to a painting and can be used expressively.
 You can extend this to making some >sky< backgrounds: painting blues and greys into wet areas to see how similar the spreading paint appears to clouds.
 You can use sponging or blotting when making a background for a painting also   – some people use cling film and it gives beautiful effects but I prefer kitchen paper myself as a bit more manageable.
 You can use something like a credit card ( for instance ) to make printed lines or to scrape paint across the paper – a small plastic ruler will do but a credit card is a good size   – probably use an outdated one…..
I have some small pieces of stiff plastic into which I cut various comb-like edges and I sometimes use these.

Be aware that some pigments have different qualities to others and behave in their own specific ways on the paper  and different papers create effects of their own  – so become sensitive to the beauty of form created spontaneously by the materials themselves and learn how to incorporate those features in your artwork.

Experiment with resist to keep an area free from paint – there are masking products which you can use – removable type also known as frisket (…and a great way to ruin a brush, don’t use a good brush and keep washing it )  I have found that the removable mask is pretty difficult to get off without damaging the paper   but others possibly would not say that…… or you can try using wax.

There are a number of products that create interesting effects for sale in art shops.
 Gum arabic has been used for a long while to give brilliance to colour and to slow the drying time, useful for overlaid washes of colour. Follow instructions on the bottle. Ox gall, a traditional material, used to treat paper before painting to make the paint lie down better. Salt or alcohol can be sprinkled into wet paint for an interesting effect  –  experiment, you may like it. Fine sand in minute quantities can be added to paint – if you wish to do this, use a matt PVA solution mixed with water to bind it – you can add fibre, pastel shavings or other inclusions in this way   but in a water colour painting, textural additions need to be just a hint.
In the event of a finished painting having areas that you dislike  –  it is possible to remove paint with sandpaper but be aware it is a make or break solution. I have even removed accidental splashes with bleach. If desperate with dislike and short of paper – wash it all off – it will leave a sort of cloudy shadow which can be a base for the next one

There is nothing actually wrong with using white paint, whatever people may tell you, although using the bare paper for white and thin washes for pale colours looks nicer. Neither is there anything wrong with drawing onto your painting with pastel or other media    –   You are free to do as you wish, ignore the painting despots who want you to obey the rules!   At the same time, remain aware that methods become traditional because they work well.

It is possible to dry a painting with a hair dryer but be careful.
Consider working on two or three paintings together to keep your mind fresh toward the artwork.  If only working on one   – walk away every so often and take a break, your body will appreciate the rest and you will have new eyes when you return.
All the information given for watercolour can be equally valid when using acrylics and, of course, this type of paint can be used thickly in impasto effects using a palette knife. Acrylic paint is noted for its bright colour and its drying ability in contrast to oil paints when used in a similar manner. 
It can be effectively used in combination with other materials for thickening


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