What an artist needs to get started

What an artist needs to get started



I covered paint quality in a previous blog ( https://alisongsaunders.art/blog/)  but I just wanted to touch on it again here.

My advice is always to use the best quality paint, brushes and sub-straight you can afford.

I liken it to making a chocolate cake.  If you use cheap margarine, the cheapest battery-hen eggs, cheap cooking chocolate, the cheapest self-raising flour and the cheapest sugar, sure you will make an edible cake, but it won’t be anything special.

Now if you buy the best butter, free range eggs, 70%+ chocolate, good quality flour and sugar and then add in a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of coffee and a teaspoon of vanilla essence, then we are talking luxury chocolate cake.  Calories worth having. 😊


But before you rush out and buy all those good ingredients, you need to know what to get.


Pick up any art instructional book and they will tell you that you can make every colour under the sun with just the three primary colours red, yellow and blue.

True, but in reality, you will need a few more than these to start with, – and you can add to more as you go along, – but just don’t need to go out and buy the lot.


Which Paints

What you do need to get started is a warm red and a cool red, a warm yellow and a cool yellow, a warm blue and a cool blue, white possibly and possibly black, I will come back to this.

Starting off with the warm colours, a Cadmium Red, Phthalo Blue, and a Cadmium Yellow.

The cooler versions include Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine Blue and Lemon Yellow.

If you like to make work inspired by nature I suggest you expand your range of colours further by adding Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre which will give you earthy tones.


The debate over black.  Many people, especially watercolourist say that you should never use black as you can mix a more interesting black by combining the colours yourself, and yes, they are right.  Personally, I have found that a touch of black in a colour, and I mean just a touch, helps to tone it down without having to get out all the colours, mix to make an interesting black and then tone down the colour.

As a watercolour painter you won’t use black very much, but it is a useful tool if used properly.

With white paint, watercolourists never use white paint, they use the white of the paper instead.  This is because white paint has chalk in it so mixing it with other colours can make them look chalky too when what you are looking for in watercolour is that translucent appearance.  If you buy a starter set with white in it, however, don’t throw it away, try it.  You might find that it is really useful if you want to create a cloudy or ethereal feeling to your work.

One other footnote here on colour is it is probably best to mix your own greens or if you do buy a green add another colour to it.  Green straight from the tube always looks a bit odd.



There are so many brushes out there from cheap 10 for a few pennies to sable watercolour brushes that cost an arm and a leg.  Make sure you have a variety of sizes.  Don’t make work for yourself by using a tiny brush for a large area of work, invest in a range of sizes.

Which brush does depend on in which paint medium you want to work.

Softer synthetic or hair brushes are best for watercolour, bristle brushes are generally used for Oil and Acrylic, but you can break these rules.

You can make Oil and Acrylic paint look beautifully smooth using soft brushes and you can create some interesting effect using bristle brushed with watercolour.

The rule here is buy the best you can afford and look after them.  Treat them kindly when you are using them and make sure you clean them properly when you have finished using them and they will last.

A wipe out tool, it looks like a rubber on the end of a paintbrush handle, is particularly useful for signing your name on finished acrylic and oil paintings but the other end of a paint brush is just as good. See last weeks blog about signing your artwork. https://alisongsaunders.art/blog/

A foot note to this and last weeks blog. Sign your work on the front but date it on the back. Some people are put off by dates if it is not really current. They don’t understand that an oil paintings needs time to cure before varnishing and that all takes time. Don’t give buyers a reason not to buy. Date the back.


It is worth investing in palette knives for Oil and Acrylic painting.  You can obtain some interesting effects through the lack of control you have painting with a knife.



Paper.  Just as before, buying the best you can afford will bring the best results.

With watercolour paper, pick a good one and stick with it until you really know how the paper behaves and believe me, different papers do behave in different ways.  Buy a gummed pad so that you don’t have to think about stretching paper until such time and you are really invested in the practise.

Acrylic paint can be used on watercolour paper, acrylic paper and canvas.  I would not waste money and buy quality watercolour paper to use with acrylic paint.  The only time I would use acrylic paint on quality watercolour paper is if the paper is old or has been damaged in some way.  Then you would not want to use to for watercolour work, but it will be great for other mediums.

Canvas boards or panels are one area where until you are really well known and selling your work for big bucks, you don’t need to worry too much.  Cheaper cotton panels which have been pre gesso’d are just fine.  When you want to step up to a higher quality product you can buy cotton canvases in different grades of fineness or you could switch to linen, which is not cheap.

The only recommendation I would make here is start small.

You can go big once you are confident with your chosen medium, but if you start big it could get daunting quickly and it might put you off.


Your setup is very important.IMG_20190616_144253

When using acrylic paint, in order to stop your paints from drying out you will need a shallow tray lined with kitchen towels or large thin sponges soaked in water.  Drain off any excess water though. You want it wet, but you don’t want to thin the paint.

Lay a sheet of baking parchment onto the wet towels and this will stop your paint from drying out.  If you have another tray the same size, you can use it to cover the paint and it will keep it wet for a few days, depending on the weather, so you won’t waste your paint.

A lidded tray with a wet sponge left in it will keep watercolour paints from drying out too.IMG_20190616_144946

Oil paint can be frozen. Again, you will need a lidded box and I also put that instead a plastic bag too, but it can be kept for months in the freezer, no problem.


Really Important

If you are right-handed you need to have your paints, brushes and other equipment on your right. Left-handed, have it on your left.

You run the risk of damaging your work by leaning across yourself to get at your paint if it is on the wrong side of you.


I always have with me a roll of kitchen paper which I use to clean my brushes, I sometime us it to blot off my painting and it help with clean up after.

I also always have kitchen wet-wipes, which are better than baby wet-wipes because they don’t contain the lotion that baby wipes have.

If you can’t find kitchen wet-wipes, then stick with the baby wet-wipes: they still do a good job in helping you to clean up quickly if you have spilt paint on your hands or clothes.


Sketch books.

I have a number of different kinds I use.IMG_20190616_145525

If you follow me on Instagram you will know that I draw everyday in my concertina sketch book and I post the work the following morning. https://www.instagram.com/alisongsaunders/

Ring-bound sketch books are great as they fold back on themselves reducing the space you need in which to work and having a small one to carry with you when you are out means you can sketch anywhere.

An assortment of sketching pencils is worth carrying when you are out too.

If you find you really enjoy sketching, try incorporating charcoal or pastel to help increase the difference in tone in your sketches. You won’t be disappointed.


Protecting your finished work.

There is too much information for me to share in this post, I will create an in-depth post on this later, but a quick general rule here is that watercolour paintings need to be protected behind glass, whereas acrylic and oils do not.

Oil paintings should not be put under glass unless there are exceptional circumstances because oil paint never actually dries and it needs to breath.




3 Responses

  1. Tom Stimpson says:

    Good afternoon Alison,

    I hope all is well. I have just received an invite to attend a ceremony at the Town Hall for Armed Forces day it is a flag raising ceremony but is at 11am on the 24th.

    Would you mind if we try and go for another date??

    Thankyou for your understanding.

    Kind regards



  2. It’s an awesome post for all the web visitors; they will take advantage from it I am sure.

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