We asked you: what are the three most indispensable tools in your studio or to your art business — those things you reach for all the time and never let you down.
From easels that you wouldn't leave the house without, to brushes that changed your life, we compiled a list of must-have tools for professional fine art painters.
If you have been searching for the perfect primer, varnish, paint brand or more, these artists have recommendations for you.
Besides paint and something to paint on, I couldn’t live without my knives. These knives, in particular, have long handles, are thin and flexible, and well balanced. They are a real joy to handle.
These are great for getting outside to paint from life and traveling to workshops. I tried a variety of pochades and plein air easels before purchasing the Strada. The rest just gather dust now. The Strada is light, simple, and fast to set up. Basically, put it on the tripod, open it, and go!
3. Easy Easel display stand
I use this to store wet paintings while they are drying. The stand can hold up to eight paintings and is adjustable to accommodate a variety of sizes.
The paint saver palette has a few parts: a plastic container it fits in, an aluminum housing for the palette itself and the palette (which slips on a thin panel and is held in place by clamps in my studio and by a small bungee cord on my Open Box M pochade).
The reason I love it is that it truly is a paint saver! I use it interchangeably in the studio and in the field. When I’m through using it, I pop the palette and housing into the plastic container and into the freezer they go.
It saves me from wasting paint and from having to carry tubes of paint. It also saves me time in the field because I don’t have to put paint out on my palette.
2. Home-constructed panel holder.
I got this design from Carol Marine. It holds small, thin panels and allows me to paint off the edges without any hindrance. This is especially helpful when painting a cropped image because you can carry the image off the panel (think circles and ellipses) making it easier to keep them from getting wonky.
3. My trusty viewfinder
I use it indoors and outdoors, with photos on my computer or in the field. What can I say? It makes it easy to crop to the size of my canvas and easy to choose a composition.
Well, one of my indispensable studio tools has become Artwork Archive. It has truly improved my cataloging efficiency in the studio.
As artists, we like to focus on creating and gathering inspiration, but the business side is also important. This program has streamlined things for me from client interaction to applying for grants and awards.
Now for more traditional artist tools. I looked back at my photos and the tools I count on surprised me. I always have a backpack, sketchbook, portable easel and filbert brush… but I’ve decided on the list below.
It doesn’t matter what size it is, a filbert brush is my go to brush. It gives me options with a simple twist of the wrist!
I usually like to have a quality paper that I can use with pencil, pen, and paint. It also has to be light and fold down flat so that I can take it anywhere. I usually carry it in a sealable plastic bag as well … as I live on an island for several months of the year! Water is always readily available should I want to sketch with watercolor pencils (another favorite tool!)
3. Portable easel
While I don’t consider myself a plein air painter, I do a lot of painting on-site and outdoors, but also at galleries and studios other than my own.
1. Drying Box
My husband made it and it is unbelievable. A fan takes in air from the outside through dust free filters. A small motor blows the air out again. A light warms the environment and the painting dries overnight if you want that. For me, and the way I paint in layers, it is terrific!
It’s the most flexible I have found to date and I cannot paint without it … I have a few extra on hand at all times.
I use a Soltek because I love how quickly I can set it up!
3. Oil paint
I use Cobra Solvent free oils because when I travel all I need is water.
Also: I absolutely LOVE Artwork Archive because it has made me so much more organized with visual info to go with my inventory!
A demonstration of Helen using some of her favorite tools
I prefer the gold and black marbled pen with hand-crafted gold-plated #513 EF nib, designed for acrylic inks, it works amazingly well with masking fluid (no more ruined brushes).
Forms a reliable water and paint impervious film that protects the white of the page which can be easily removed by peeling or rubbing.
3. 140 to 300 lb Cold Press Natural White Arches Watercolor Paper
This time-tested watercolor paper will not tear if it is dry when you use masking fluid on it.
The combination of these three products allows me enormous control when using watercolor in a loose and expressive way.
1. Old, used paint brushes.
I use old brushes with ruined tips for texture effects; altering them by trimming the brush fibers with scissors into a blunt point. These work well for so many things, but I especially use them for stipple effects in painting rocks, clouds, and water.
2. Matte varnish
I use this to protect and finish a painting unless a client asks for gloss. If gloss is preferred, I use a matte varnish first, have it photographed, and THEN add the gloss varnish. Matte-varnished work is extremely easier to photograph (less glare/reflection).
3. Blue Painter’s tape for horizon lines
I paint a lot of seascapes, which demands a correct and even line in the distance. I don’t want to get the work framed and have a wonky horizon line that is different from the edge of the canvas or frame, although I have made a few exceptions on purpose for dramatic effect.
I measure exactly where I want the line to go, use a level or t-square, depending on the size … and then use painter’s tape. I then apply a small bit of matte medium to the tape line and let dry. Then, paint to the tape and remove. If I want a softer line, I go back in with paint diluted with matte medium to achieve the softened horizon.
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