5 Materials I Can’t Live Without as An Artist

5 Materials I Can’t Live Without as An Artist

Posted by Robyn Wall on

Materials are an artist’s bread and butter. Whether you make art on paper or a lathe, with a camera, or a computer, maybe you are a musician or a chef, all creators have their go -to tools. Personally, I create primarily with my hands on paper as a ‘traditional’ artist, but sometimes I don’t use the most traditional methods or tools for my work. In this post, I’ll provide 5 examples of my favorite art materials and why they’re so imperative to my creativity.

As a watercolor artist, some things on the list are must haves, but a few are a little less traditional. Let’s jump in.

1. Paper

This is a no-brainer. As a “traditional” artist, I absolutely cannot live without paper. I use two major categories of paper for my work: a sketchbook and sheets of watercolor paper.

There is nothing I hate more (in an artistic framework) than wasting materials, so I always sketch out concepts and ideas in my sketchbook before committing to anything so as not to waste the much more expensive watercolor paper. Strathmore has always been a reliable company for this kind of paper, and I recently made the switch to the recycled sketchbook. They designed this paper for dry media and it features a fine-tooth surface that is acid free and made of 30% post-consumer fiber. The paper is pretty thin and somewhat see-through, so I wouldn’t recommend using pens or dark graphite.

Once I have worked out the details of my concept on sketch paper, I’ll transfer to watercolor paper. Currently, I am loving the brand Fluid which I discovered on the Dick Blick website. I have paper with cold press and hot press finishes. Cold press is highly textured and absorbs more water, great for paintings that are done in a loose style without a lot of detail. Hot press is a smooth paper, similar to sketch paper but thicker to accommodate medium water volume. This paper is great for heavily detailed pieces.

As my work typically features a combination of loose and detailed techniques, I like to keep both types of paper on hand. Choosing which finish to use is almost always an intuition-based decision.

2. Pencil

Not all watercolor artist's sketch before they paint or have a subject to transfer to their watercolor paper. In fact, I once had an art teacher that tried relentlessly to teach me to paint without sketching an outline first. Needless to say, I never got the hang of it and I am too much of a perfectionist to care if not sketching saves me any amount of time at all.

I can’t live without my 6H pencil when I spend the day in my studio. A bit of an unorthodox choice, this is a very hard led typically used by architects for drafting, not by fine artists. But it is very very light when you are drawing with it which I love as it makes erasing a breeze.

3. Pens

My style features an interesting lining technique similar to what you would see in pop art, but a little less dramatic. I typically begin a new piece by using my 005 Micron pen to trace over the outline of my sketch. This ensures that none of the details will be lost under the many washes of color that apply to a piece.

After a painting is finished, I use other Micron pens of varying thickness to cleanup and define the edges of my outline. The final touches involve a Xileyn gel pen to exaggerate some lines or add contrasting details to a piece. Lately, I just can't live without these pens.

4. Brushes

Sure, there are some artists that paint with pallet knives or even their fingers, but that’s just not my jam. As a watercolor artist, it is important to have soft brushes that can absorb and distribute plenty of water.

I have a couple of favorite brushes. A 1 inch Loew-Cornell wash brush is frequently used to apply a heavy layer of clean water for my signature smokey look which requires a wet on wet painting technique. My go-to brush is a size 8 pointed round from Dynamic Distraction. I use this brush every time I paint, to where the synthetic tip has frayed and needs replacing. I haven't had this brush set very long so they may not be the best quality, but I just love the extreme point that this brand gets on their brushes.

5. Black paint

No matter what I am painting, it is pretty much guaranteed that I will use black paint. I always make sure I have plenty of tubes stocked up because I really can’t live without it as an artist. Lately, I have been using black paint as a primary ‘color’ in my pieces, but at the very least I use it to mix darker shades for my paintings.

Currently, I use van Gogh Ivory Black +++ 701 to stock the studio. This brand is of medium quality and reasonably priced, which is why I like it.  

Traditional or not, materials are something an artist simply can not live without. Knowing which tools you are consistently using can be a tremendous advantage for creatives. You can research new brands and different variations of your go-to materials to try out new things. Another perk to knowing what you use most often is the ability to stock up to make sure you never run out of your must-haves 

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