The Right Stuff

I work with knitters, and a student recently told me, "I don't like the way my stuff turns out." When I asked her what kind of yarn she used, she replied, "Oh, I just picked up something cheap. I didn't want to spend money on something that probably wasn't going to work out."

Blue Depths by Steve Henderson, watercolor

When you're first starting out, it can often seem
like an insurmountable distance between the
materials that you want to have and what you
can afford, but buying bit by bit means you
don't have to invest all at once, but you get to
start reaping benefits immediately.

Bad idea. Whether you're knitting or oil painting, you'll get the best results when you use the best materials.

While a novice, or even an intermediate, does not need the most expensive items in the store (interestingly, many professionals do not shop at the tippy top themselves), they also don't want the two-quart tubes of student grade paint and cheap, cheap brushes, all slathered onto loosely woven, won't-stay-stretched, canvas.

If the colors are weak and the brushes imprecise, the results of your oil painting art or watercolor experimentations will be disappointing.

The Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson, discovered the major difference between student and professional grade art supplies in one of his early quarters of teaching, when he recommended a starter watercolor kit to his students while he used the materials from his own studio for his demonstrations.

"I know I'm a beginner," one student said, "but even though I'm following you step by step, nothing I do looks at all like what you're doing."

Steve picked up her brush, dabbed it in her paint, and swept it across his canvas.

"Nothing I do looks like what I'm doing with this paint either," he said.

From that point on, he recommended his own professional paint choices and brushes to his students, limiting the colors and brush choices to decrease the cost.

Yes, it costs more. No, you don't have to overhaul your entire studio at once.

But bit by bit, buy up. Do you agree?




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Oil Painting Blog

2 thoughts on “The Right Stuff

  1. I do agree. When I started experimenting with watercolours a friend suggested I bought a cheap student-grade set of pans and a pack of printer paper sheets. I was quite ignorant and naïve so I tried. I almost fell out of love with watercolours immediately. Such terrible results! I’d better stick to colour pencils and pastel crayons, I thought. Fortunately, I was ‘reckless’ enough to give it a last try with quality watercolour tubes and paper and wow! The magic reappeared and I was in love again. It’s much, much better to start out with the four basic colours and a few sheets of quality watercolour paper and go on from there than to loose time and precious effort working with materials that are highly limited in themselves.

  2. Well . . .

    There is a ‘student’ grade paint brush by Cornell that I love – sure, they wear out fairly quickly, but everything else about them is wonderful. Responsive, stiff enough to scumble, soft enough for glazes, just a versatile, reliable brush.

    But I saw that Cornell made higher grades, and I researched, and I even wrote to Cornell, asking what made the higher grade, and higher priced brushes better. Got a nice detailed, almost complete answer, so I tracked some down and got one.

    It is much softer, and frankly, less responsive. Almost useless for scumbling or creating thin atmospheric paint layers. Not bad for glazing. But disappointing.

    And the comparable grade brush of other brand is too stiff, hangs onto the paint too much and resists leaving a smooth stroke unless the paint is over-thinned.

    So . . . there’s more to it than just the label and price tag.