What Art Supplies Do I Need?

Some basic art supplies, by Peony and Parakeet

One of the most popular questions that I get is: What art supplies do I need? What brands to buy? Here are my favourite principals in purchasing art supplies and the products that I most often buy.

Use What You have

Use what you have, watercolours, Peony and Parakeet

My first advice would be: before investing a lot of money use the stuff that you already have as long as you can. Creating art should not create more chaos and clutter. It should make you feel more content with your life. If you need to buy something, buy quality. That sends you the message that you value what you do. And you get better intensity of colors and most out of the various techniques.

Background Papers

Fabriano watercolor paper and Canson drawing paper, Peony and Parakeet

If you make collages like I mostly do, most of your papers should be fairly thin. It is easier to cut and paste thin pieces of paper. The background that you are using can be canvas, watercolor paper, cardboard or any thicker surface. I often use acid-free Canson Drawing paper (thickness 120 g/m2, 80 lbs). And my favourite background paper is Fabriano cold pressed fine grain watercolour paper (thickness 200 g/m2, 90 lbs).

Journals

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I also recommend that you buy a sketch book and make it your art journal. You can use a journal page as a background or glue or tape the background paper to the page. With the journal your creativity and self-acceptance grows page by page. Constantly getting back into what you have created enforces your style and makes you love what you do. I like the size of the bigger Dylusions Creative Journal. I also love Moleskine books and Smash books.

Colors – You Can Mix Them!

Three primary colors, Golden paints, Peony and Parakeet

I want to give general advice on colors first before digging deeper into various qualities and brands. If you have a fixed budget, use your money on quality instead of quantity. With three primary colors, yellow, red and blue, you create a pretty wide range of other colors and hues. If you only afford one, buy yellow. If you only afford two, buy yellow and red or blue considering which one you like more.

If you can afford five, buy white, black, red, blue and yellow. With that amount, you’ll survive a long time. When you mix black with the primary colors, you get beautiful melancholic muted shades. And with white, more cheerful pastels. If you can buy some more, buy another set of primary colors just different hues. If you have warm and cold yellows, reds and blues plus black and white, you can create a huge colour palette.

Watercolors

Watercolours, White Nights and Derwent, Peony and Parakeet

I love using watercolours and combining them with other materials like colour pencils. My watercolor set is an old Windsor & Newton set (pretty similar to this one). I have complemented that with some new White Nights pans. I love the quality of White Nights watercolors and recommend it for those who hate watercolor painting just because they use pans that do give the intensity needed. I also have gouache tubes but no not use them often. I love my little pans! For those who really want great pigments and less opacity, I would highly recommend Schminke gouache paints or watercolors in tubes.

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints vs watercolours, Peony and Parakeet

I know many people that hate acrylic paints. The reason is usually that they have poor quality paints that they try to use like watercolors. Low-quality acrylic paints have poor intensity and gloss and coarse structure instead of smooth. While watercolors represent everything light weighted, acrylic paints are heavy and strong. Better than mixing them with plenty of water is to use little water or gel mediums (introduced later in this post).

Acrylic Paints in a box, Peony and Parakeet

My favorite brand in acrylics is Golden. They have affordable introductory sets that I highly recommend. Use very small amounts of color at a time. The color pigments are great, and the set will last for a long time. If you find it hard to squeeze small amounts and tend to use a lot of acrylic paints, Amsterdam has big economic tubes of acrylics in their standard series.

Gel Medium

Gel Medium and attaching collage pieces, Peony and Parakeet

I use gel medium to glue the pieces of my paper collages. I also use it with acrylic paints to give them more elasticity. For me, gel medium is a must have. I have tried several brands and spent plenty of time to find what I like most. My favourite is Golden Soft Gel Gloss. I also like the matte version of it.

Brushes

Peony and Parakeet's collection of brushes

After preaching about quality over quantity I must admit that I do prefer to have a lot of brushes. And many of them are low-quality cheap brushes. I have come to this situation for two reasons. First, in the heat of creating I often forget to put the brush into the water and it gets ruined. Second, the more you vary the size and quality of the brush the more interesting your artwork will look like. So when buying your first brushes, buy a set that has both flat and round brushes in various sizes.

Colored Pencils

Colour pencils, the collection of Peony and Parakeet

Colored pencils have come a long way since I was a child.  They used to be hard and many times they tore the paper when trying to get something out of them. Nowadays there are wonderful colour pencils that everybody should use, including children! Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils have wax-like finish; I adore them! I also love Derwent Colorsoft and Derwent Inktense pencils. Inktense pencils are water soluble, and you can use them instead of watercolors in small areas.

Markers

Markers, from the collection of Peony and Parakeet

Some people prefer markers over colour pencils because markers are easier to use. I use both. I often combine them so that some layers or areas are colored with markers, some with color pencils. My ultimate favorite is Faber-Castell PITT Artist Brush Pen. They can be used on almost any surface. They can be bought in small sets or separately so you can acquire only a few ones first. I also have a collection of Copic markers. They are high quality and serve me well as they can be filled again and again. But if you start small, get few PITT pens, and you will be happy.

Bright White

Using white pens, by Peony and Parakeet

If you have followed me, you know that I do not make white art. I do not create white areas or spend a great deal of time creating romantic scenes like putting off-white tulips on a white background. But having something bright white is essential for me. I love to put some white spots and then color them with markers or paints. That makes colors shine! I take my bright whites very seriously and have spent too much money to find the ones that work for me.

Butterfly, a collage by Peony and Parakeet

In gel pens, Uniball Signo is my favorite. I also use correction pens and Copic’s Opaque White that comes in small jars. You can replace these with white acrylic paint using a thin brush, so nothing to worry if you do not purchase any of these.

So – What Art Supplies Do I Really Need?

If you have read this far, it might feel like you need plenty. But really, you only need some pens and paper to get started.

Few pans of watercolors, maybe a couple of color pencils or PITT markers and you are good to go. Supplies do not make you an artist. The constant practice does.

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14 Responses to What Art Supplies Do I Need?

  1. Debbie Baier says:

    Love your spirit and your art!

  2. I love love love your colors! I am learning to watercolor, but have been studying so hard for the past 3-4 years I have not had time to paint!!! This is terrible. I am hoping to have more time after the next few months, and want to be in touch with people who encourage me to keep on drawing and painting.

    • Päivi says:

      Thanks Carolyn! I love watercolors too! Work in small phases, I do so often and get better results that way! Remember, you can create aquarelle collages where you make papers for the elements and the background separately. My latest work Bursting Circle http://www.peonyandparakeet.com/bursting-circle/ is a good example of that: see the flowers in the circle, they are cut from the paper that was made well before the rest of the work. Happy creating!

  3. Nilli says:

    Fantastic post! Thank you so much!! (I love your “use what you have” philosophy. It’s so good to know that we DONT have/need to buy more stuff.)

    • Päivi says:

      Nilli, thanks! I am more creative if I do not use too much stuff. I also feel more calm and happy. I also love to make all the papers that I use in my collages. I understand that many people love to shop art supplies. Sometimes I do too. But many times taking the time from shopping to creating makes me happier.

  4. Denise Spillane says:

    Love this post

  5. Judy says:

    Love your work! Makes me smile . When you say correction pen do you mean white out pen?

  6. Päivi says:

    Thanks, Judy! Yes, white out pen, found in office supply stores!

  7. alice says:

    very helpful article, thanks! i pinned it to my art journal #2 board on pinterest so i wouldn’t lose it.:)

  8. Maria says:

    Kiitos Päivi mainioista linkeistä. Näyttää siltä että läysin kauttasi vanhat suosikkivärit: Leningrad Paints! Ostin samannäköisen setin piirustus-maalaus opettajani kautta opiskeluaikoina ja käytin niitä vuosikausia. Otin ne mukaan matkoillekin ja matkan varrella lahjoitin ne ystävälle kun ajattelin että ne olivat jo niin lopussa. Sitä päätöstä olen katunut kun en ole yhtä mieluisia värejä koskaan löytänyt, en edes Pietarista toisin kuin kuvittelin! Olen maalannut niin harvoin että varmaan olisi sama setti vieläkin käytössä… Nyt ehkä uutta tuulta purjeisiin 🙂

    • Päivi says:

      Maria, kiitos kommentista! Ostin juuri lisää White Nights eli Leningrad Paints -värejä, bloggausta niistä enemmän ensi viikolla. Ei kun vaan maalaamaan! — Just bought a new watercolor set, White Nights, of course. Will be blogging more about it next week.