Moonlit Sky in Smalt Blue, Finished Painting

This is one of my night sky paintings:

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Haven,  16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I like lighthouses, although I wasn’t thinking of any particular place when I painted this.  I wanted the painting to be mostly about the beauty of the sky, overwhelming the tiny symbol on the horizon, a theme I’ve been working with in many forms.  This painting features a lot of Smalt Hue, one of Golden’s historic colors.

haven_detail

Smalt Hue is a modern synthetic approximation of the blue color that was once made from ground cobalt glass in 16th and 17th century paintings in place of Ultramarine or Cobalt blue, which were made from crushed precious stones and very costly to use.  Blue is a rarity in Renaissance paintings due to cost of the pigments.  The method of making blue paint from cobalt glass was much less expensive, but the colors faded over time.

smalt

Working with modern paints, I don’t have to think much about the relative cost of the colors on my palette (although some still cost more than others) or worry about the lightfastness.  I still discovered Smalt Hue as a beginner artist because it was relatively inexpensive (as a Series 1 color, it costs roughly half as much as Cobalt Blue, which is Series 8) and I fell in love with the slightly purplish shade for skies.  As you can see from the swatch on the tube, it’s very transparent and easy to layer.

The other main colors are Paynes Gray and Dioxazine Purple, with some Titan Buff in there for the moon:

paynesgray  dioxazinetitanbuff

You can buy this image as a photo print or canvas print through my Etsy store.  The original is not for sale.  

Getting Started: Setting up your Painting Space

Welcome to my series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught artist.  

Once you’ve got your paint, brushes, canvases and other supplies, you’ll need a place to set up.

While an easel is great for serious painters, it can take up a significant part of your budget, and you don’t really need one when you’re first starting out.  My recommended canvas size for beginners is something in the 9″x12″ to 16″x20″ range, and this size is manageable for working flat.   If you’re sitting at a desk or the kitchen table, try propping up one end of your canvas on some books (protected with a rag) to see if you prefer working at an angle.  If you do, you might want to invest in a table easel at some point.

Try to keep your most used supplies within easy reach, so you don’t set yourself up for back or shoulder pain.  This is my current setup in my garage where I paint:

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Getting Started: Your Supply List

Welcome to my advice series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experience.  These are the basic supplies you’ll need when starting on a budget.  

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Paint

Buy small tubes of professional or “artist” grade paint in these colors:

  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cadmium yellow (or Primary yellow)
  • Cadmium or Naphthol red (or Primary red)
  • Carbon black
  • Titanium white
  • Consider adding Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Green and Zinc White if you can

Brushes

  • Large flat or filbert
  • Small round
  • Medium angular bright

Canvas

  • Buy 5-6 canvas panels (recommended size 9″x 12″ or larger) to start
  • Then buy back-stapled or gallery wrap canvas (not side stapled) when you’re ready

Other Supplies (buy or find at home)

  • Masking tape
  • Disposable palette paper
  • Old apron or button down shirt
  • Rags
  • Big water jar or bucket

You’re ready to paint! Leave any questions in the comments or send me a message.

Next: Setting up your Painting Space

Getting Started: Other Painting Supplies

Welcome!  I’m posting a series of tips for beginner artists, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught painter. 

1. Paints   2. Brushes   3. Painting Surfaces

4. Other Essential Supplies

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Most of your supply budget should be spent on good quality paint, brushes and canvas, in that order. You don’t need a lot of other stuff, but here are some essentials that you should have before you get started. (Again, I’m posting examples and pictures from dickblick.com, but I am not affiliated with them in any way.)

1) Water bucket

There are a lot of fancy artist’s water pails out there, but you really just need a big jar or tin.  Don’t use a coffee cup or drinking glass or you’ll end up drinking the paintwater when you’re not paying attention!  Change your water in your jar often and never let your brushes sit in the water.  This brings us to…

2) Rags and Apron

I like to have a dedicated painting apron (and sometimes an old button-up shirt as well) to cover my clothes.  Acrylic paint will permanently stain clothes if it dries on.  Again, it doesn’t have to be a special painting apron, but you should have something.  I also like to keep a few rags on hand (old t-shirts work well) to keep under my water bucket to absorb drips and provide a place to rest wet brushes or wipe off excess paint.

3) Palette or palette paper

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You’ll need a place to mix wet paint.  I personally never liked using the traditional hand-held wood or plastic palettes because they’re a pain to clean.  To save hassle and water, I recommend using disposable palette paper (or in a pinch, glossy magazines) when you’re starting out.  When you’re done painting you just peel off the top layer and throw it out.  Disposable palette paper is ideal when you’re just getting started, but see my recommendation #7 below when you’re getting more serious. Continue reading

Getting started: Painting surfaces

Welcome!  I’m posting a series of tips for beginner artists, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught painter.  

1. Paints  2. Brushes

3. Painting Surfaces

I’m continuing my series on acrylic painting for beginners.  Once you’ve chosen your paint and brushes, you’ll need something to paint on.

As a beginner, it’s difficult to decide how much to spend on your painting surface. On the one hand, your painting is only as durable as what it’s painted on, and it makes sense to spend a little more money on ensuring your time and effort aren’t wasted on a poor quality surface. On the other hand, you might feel more free to experiment if you don’t have a big expensive blank canvas staring you down.  It’s up to you.

I do feel that it’s more important to invest in good paints and brushes, so most of your money should go towards these. You can always start out with a few canvas panels and work your way up as you get more comfortable.  (I’m showing examples from dickblick.com but I am not affiliated with them in any way.)

Canvas Panels

Blick Canvas Panels

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Getting started: Brushes

Welcome!  I’m posting a series of tips for beginner artists, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught painter.  

1. Paints

2. Brushes

blending3

I’m continuing my series on acrylic painting for beginners.  Again, you should be spending most of your budget on a small number of artist grade colors and brushes, avoiding the large “student” sets and unnecessary extras.  Quality paint and brushes will make the biggest difference in your results.

Plan on spending $5-10 for each brush. You’ll be tempted by the large, cheap, 12-piece bristle set for students, but don’t buy it. These brushes are not usually very good quality, and you won’t use all those sizes.  Nothing can frustrate you faster than bad brushes.

Brushes for heavy texture paints like acrylic and oil are stiffer than watercolor brushes, so make sure you’re shopping in the right section. You can choose from a range of natural (animal hair) or synthetic fibers.  Both work well in my opinion, but I really like the Princeton Best synthetic series for overall value.

My 3 Essential Brushes for Acrylic Painting

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Getting started: Paint

Welcome!  I’m posting a series of tips for beginner artists, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught painter.  

1. Paint

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My primary medium is acrylic on canvas, which I recommend to all beginners since it’s a water-soluble medium (no solvents needed) and you can paint over your mistakes and start again on the same canvas whenever you want.  There are some arguments to be made for learning in watercolor, but I’ll be talking about acrylics only in this post.  My advice is to spend most of your budget on a small but careful selection of high-quality paints and brushes, rather than the large cheap beginner sets, and I’ll explain why. 

Student quality vs. Artist grade paints

When you go to the store to buy paint, you’ll see that there are two grades; student quality and professional or “artist” quality.  Some brands carry both.  The main difference, other than price, is that professional quality paints have a much higher pigment concentration, meaning more pigment and less filler.  With artist quality paints, your colors will be more vivid, mixing will be easier, and you won’t need to use as much paint.

When choosing paint, beginners tend to gravitate towards the large, budget “student” sets with a lot of colors.  However, you’ll develop more mixing skill and have better results if you just start with quality paint in a few basic colors.  These are Golden Professional Heavy Body acrylics, the brand I use, but in general just look for a type that doesn’t say “student”.

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