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3 Things that Really Do Make a Difference In Your Paintings

November 3, 2010

paintingIf you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m a huge advocate of saving money when possible. Art supplies can be expensive and there are many ways to trim extra expenses. That being said, there are a few places where a spending a little extra money really does make a difference.

If you’re new to painting, you may be wondering where you should invest and where you can cut corners. While you don’t need to buy top of the line materials, quality is definitely something you should keep in mind when purchasing the following items. You will have a more positive painting experience and your work will be more successful with better quality supplies.


Take a look at what you are painting on. If it’s thin, flimsy paper, you’re going to have a harder time. When working on paper, make sure you have something thick and heavy. There are many, many different kinds of paper available and lots are suitable for acrylic painting. You want something that resembles poster board, but with a little texture. Heavier paper with some tooth will allow you to apply many layers  paint and will absorb more water without rippling.If you’re having trouble choosing, go to an art supply store and ask for help. They will be able to show you the best product for the type of painting you are doing.

If you’ve never painted on canvas, I suggest you give it a try. There’s a reason it’s been used for so many years! The great thing about canvas is that it has a nice texture for painting and because it’s gessoed (primed), it doesn’t absorb any paint or water. The paint is applied to the surface and dries there. An inexpensive alternative to canvas is canvas paper or canvassette. It’s a paper with a canvas texture and a plastic-y finish.


This was the one complaint I heard again and again from my painting students. Many people were getting frustrated with their work and realizing that the culprit was more often than not, cheap brushes. Brushes make a huge difference, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune on them. I would recommend having three good quality brushes: one 1″ flat brush, a 1/2″ round brush, and a fine tip brush. This won’t break the bank and will offer you the most versatility in your painting, until you know what type of brushes you are drawn to. You are much better off investing in a few good brushes than buying ten or twenty cheaper brushes for the same price.

When shopping for brushes, look for ones that say they are for acrylic paint. You generally don’t want watercolour brushes, as they tend to be too soft. You want a brush that has stiff bristles that will be able to push the paint around. I also prefer smooth bristles over coarse, but that’s a personal thing.


Having very cheap paints is probably the thing that causes the most frustration with new painters. Cheap paints are not pure pigments; They are often mixed with other colours. What this means is that you will not be able to mix colours accurately. For example, many inexpensive yellows have white in them. When you try to mix orange, you won’t get a bright, saturated orange. You will get a colour closer to a peach. Then when you try to tint that peach with blue to create brown, it just turns gray. This throws off all of your mixing.

The rule of thumb is that the cheaper the paint, the less pigment (colour) is in it.  Because of this, I would stay away from the kits that sell you thirty different paints for very little money. Although it’s tempting to have so many different shades, in reality you should be able to mix most of those colours yourself with a basic set of warm and cool primaries.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with starting out with student grade paints, just don’t go for the absolute cheapest. It’s a better investment to pay a bit more per tube and buy less tubes. You really don’t need all the colours that come in those kits. Over time, you can upgrade to better paints as you use the student ones.


From → Painting

  1. Perfect tip for beginners! You will love painting better with good supplies even as you are gaining skills, the results & less struggles. ~Theresa

  2. Spot on! Great article and I cannot emphasize enough how important these three items are. I work in watercolor and have gradually come to this realization. Paper being number one. Quality brushes a very close second and recently discovered what I think is the finest watercolor paint available. American Journey by Cheap Joe. Love how it behaves and joe has created some awesome unique colors.

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