Resources for Artists
Materials & Supplies
My favorite paper is Arches cold press: 300lb for 10x14" and larger paintings, 140lb for smaller paintings. I'm exploring Arches hot pressed blocks for flower portraits. I precut paper to keep my sizes consistent and to make matting easier.
I precut paper so that the sizes are consistent. When I feel like painting, I grab a sheet and it's ready to go. Planning ahead like this definitely saves money when I'm purchasing mats.
I make my own paper supports from a piece of styrene or plexi (the plastic stuff that comes in frames) and two pieces of foam (Dollar Tree). Put the foam together, lay the styrene on top, and tape together with packing tape. It's lightweight, but firm, so it's really easy to hold on your lap.
When I am ready to paint, I just affix my paper to the support with blue painter's tape. The styrene is a nice smooth surface that really lets the tape adhere until I am ready to remove it. I use a lot of water, but I don't have any issues with buckling when I do it this way.
Drawing & masking
I use a regular PaperMate mechanical pencil and white eraser to draw out my painting in great detail. For masking, I use Winsor & Newton masking fluid, applied with a Colour Shaper tool (far right in the picture above), an old brush, or toothpick.
I use a mix of sable and synthetic brushes, mostly Winsor & Newton (Scepter Gold and Cirrus Kolinsky) and Robert Simmons (Sapphire), with several Anna Mason detail brushes and Cheap Joe's (Golden Fleece) mixed in.
Sizes include 3/4" and 1" flats for applying large initial glazes and a #4 round for skies. Most of my painting is done with very small brushes, often #000, #00, #0, #1. Sometimes I use a #2, #4, and #6, but rarely anything larger.
Most of my paints are Winsor & Newton Artist Watercolors, with a few favorites from Holbein and Maimeriblu. I stick to a fairly limited palette on a given painting, but I probably have 3 variations of red, blue, green, and yellow, plus Paynes Gray, Burnt Sienna, and Raw Umber on my palette.
I love my John Pike palette (the plastic kind with the open center and cover). I've tried others, but this suits me the best.
Leaving a very wet paper towel in the center area keeps the paints from drying out completely. I use the same towel to wipe my mixing area clean before I start a new painting session. I also spray the paints with water to rehydrate them.
Prepare reference photo
I manage my digital photos on my Mac with the Photos software, which lets me tag and favorite pictures for fast reference. I also keep a folder on Google Drive called, "Paint This," with items in my painting queue.
My paintings are mostly 8x12", 10x14", 12x18", or 9x21", so I have made PhotoShop files in those sizes. Each one has a series of 3 vertical and 5 horizontal gridlines. Depending what size painting I want to do, I layer the grid file over the reference photo. Once positioned, I can crop the photo and save the image to Drive alongside the original reference photo.
Tablet & audiobook
My Samsung Galaxy View 18" tablet has completely changed the way I paint. I used to print photos from my computer and draw gridlines all over them to help me get the proportions correct (think about lighthouses with stripes or Adirondack chairs). A larger painting could be 2-4 pieces of computer paper taped together. The only problem with this is that you lose a lot of important information about the scene with that printed page. Digital files are vastly superior, so I bought the largest tablet I could find. (I sometimes refer to it as 'my precious,' which some people will understand.)
Painting primarily involves the right brain, so I like to distract my logical, left brain with a great audiobook. This frees up my right brain to paint what I see in the reference photo, not what I think I see. I used to watch a good movie (often one of the Lord of the Rings movies), but I don't have a TV in my studio. Books work well.
I paint at a table in front of a big window, painting board resting against it and my lap. I also have a photography light that I'll set up behind me for times the light isn't great (or when inspiration strikes at midnight). The tablet is in front of me, a TV tray is on my right with the palette, water, squirt bottle, and brushes. A roll of paper towels is nearby, as are tissues. Whatever I'm drinking is on the table, just out of reach so I have to think before I drink (I've swallowed a lot of paint water over the years). Milk Duds are optional.
Study the photo
I study the reference photo very carefully to take in all of the details and envisioning how I will paint them. I try to see the end result before I start drawing. I may do this for an hour a couple of days before I start drawing it out, but it's worth it.
e.g., When you're painting water, it's not necessarily blue. Water reflects its surroundings and changes with the light. Sometimes you see things reflecting off the surface, sometimes you see what's beneath the surface, sometimes you see movement, and sometimes you see all of the above. Observation will help you break these layers down and plan how to approach them.
Drawing, masking, & painting
I carefully draw out the painting in great detail, thinking about the elements I want to accentuate. I press hard enough so I can see the line, but not so much that it can't be erased (or leaves an indentation on the paper).
Masking fluid is fabulous for reserving whites, but it can be tricky to remove. I try not to leave it on the paper for more than a day or two. I'm finding that it comes off with more difficulty on 300lb paper.
With the prep work out of the way, I'm ready to paint. The drawing is the hard part - it's basically staining the paper in thin glazes after this. Simple, right?
Reviewing my progress
I will often hold my board up to a mirror to check my progress. After hours of hovering over the board on my lap, 18" away from the paper, this gives me a fresh perspective and lets me see what's going well and what needs more work.
I also prop the board up on my dresser, kitchen counter, living room table, anywhere that I might pass by and be 'surprised' by it - and get that fresh look. I study it before bed, noting anything I need to address the next day. It's not unusual for me to have a painting on a board for 2 weeks after I think I'm finished. Then it's ready to photograph (or have scanned) and add to this website.