My Favorite Materials for Oil Painters
Rosemary and Co. These are handmade in England. The exchange rate is fine these days so jump in! Shipping is 5 pounds, or around $7.50 right now. Why buy these? Not only are they good but they're less expensive than most. And by most I mean less expensive than 'cheap' brushes. Go ahead, order the free catalog. The brush photos are lifesize and that really helps decide. My favorites are the bristle brushes and the mongoose. Rosemary's bristle brushes are unusually soft which makes them work for scumbling and I've even used them for glazing. For the mongoose I've tried most but I prefer the regular bright over the long flat. For oils, the long ones just seem too long.
Note: I do not recommend the Ivory series for oils. They splay. I don't use any manmade fibers in brushes.
For bristle brushes I also like the inexpensive but reliable ones from Princeton, series 5200. Cheap and mine hasn't splayed after years of use! For big bristle brushes for big skies, I think Utrecht's series 202/210 is really great. They stay interlocked but the tips of the brushes are just right: soft but hold their own with the paint.
But the ones I buy the most are Robert Simmons Signet brushes. I buy a lot of their flat brushes. Affordable and they seem to hold up with the oils fairly well.
There's not a better blog post on quality oil paint than this one by Jim Harris, delightfully obsessed with oil paint. His top 4? Vasari Oil Paint, Old Holland, Blockx, Schminke's Mussini. I do love Vasari and their Shale is my new favorite paint to use under everything. But I also love Williamsburg paints and I think Gamblin is a great, all purpose line with lovely transparent colors.
My latest love in oil paints? Rublev's Natural Pigments are different and wonderful. There are oil paints there that you just can't get elsewhere. And I like knowing which quarry my minerals came from.
Surfaces and Grounds
Here's where I've tried nearly everything so it's easiest to just come out and say what I don't like. I really don't like prepared, packaged canvas. The texture is dull and regular and the canvas or linen usually thin.
I make my own linen panels or stretch my own linen or heavy canvas and prime it with an oil or alkyd primer.
For stretched canvas (cotton or linen) I use Gamblin's PVA size and either the Gamblin or Winsor Newton oil ground. I loathe applying the oil ground. Really do. But once on and cured (1 week and no, 4 days isn't a week, trust me on this) it's simply and completely lovely. Like painting on a smooth but slightly irregular plaster wall. A tip: don't wear shoes or clothing you intend to wear anywhere else when applying either acrylic or oil grounds.
Panels are easy to handle and it's not hard to make your own linen panels (why yes, the price is less!) click here for my detailed blog post on how to do that. I've bought and used a wide variety of oil primed linens.
In past years, when making small paintings, I went through stacks of Ampersand Gessobords. I like that they're FSC certified wood. There are 2 kinds of certification systems: one by environmental organizations and one by big timber companies. This is the environmental one. So that's good but I think the gesso they use just isn't great for oil paintings. It's absorbent but not in a good way. Yes I suppose I could put my own gesso or ground on top of their gesso, and I have, but it's better to just make it from scratch.
Gamsol is the solvent to use for a less toxic studio. But for cleaning brushes, and only for cleaning brushes, I've been using cheap vegetable oil lately. It works to swish out the paints and mediums and the air in the studio is much healthier with this.
Lately I've been going through buckets of Liquin Original. It works great. Prior to that I used straight linseed oil, or the fat medium and lean mediums based on Ralph Mayer's recipes. Linseed oil dries too slowly and the Mayer's mediums are too toxic. I tried the Gamblin line of mediums but for me, Liquin works great.
Last but not least: who among us doesn't worry about framing? Here's the link to my blog post about framing. I'll update it as I try new sources.