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Review of Oil Painting Supplies

Plein Air season has arrived here in the northwest, as the temps are slowly rising to “comfortable”. I am rethinking my entire strategy for plein air painting, getting rid of what doesn’t work and adding new things I haven’t tried. I seem to fight with my tools a lot and I want to eliminate the fight so I can concentrate on painting and capturing the essence of a scene.

So, I gathered up the gear and took it all out on the deck to just paint and seriously judge all my tools. Here’s my set up:

Plein Air set up

I used oil painting paper for the first time and really liked it. It feels and looks like watercolor paper. I taped it with painter’s tape to my board. My initial thoughts about this paper is it has a lot of absorbency so it needs quite a bit of thinning to paint without creating a scumbling effect. The oil paint stays wet for quite a long time, which I found surprising since the paper is so absorbent. When the tape was peeled off, the paper was not buckled or curled in any way as often happens with watercolor paper. I will be using this paper for my plein painting going forward, since it was such a pleasure to use.

“Supplies and finished painting”

Now for a review of the oil paints I used. My limited palette consisted of mostly Gamblin paints which I like a lot. They are richly pigmented and for the most part don’t loose their brilliance when thinned. The Gamblin colors were Yellow Ochre, Indian Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Ivory Black, Cool White, Warm White and Titanium White. I decided I don’t care for the Cool White, so it’s coming out of the plein air kit. Titanium White seems to be much better for highlights. I do like the warm white very much and saves time having to mix warmer tones into the white to keep the chalky look to a minimum.

I used Michael Harding Viridian and felt it too bright a green. When mixed with Indian Yellow or Yellow Ochre it became dull, so I won’t be using Viridian as part of my palette. And lastly, I used Williamsburg Ultramarine Blue. I love Williamsburg paints for their very saturated color pigmentation. A little goes a long way. When mixed with Indian Yellow and a touch of warm white, the resulting green is very pleasing for highlights.

This is the scene I used for my subject;

Painting scene

It was a beautiful blue sky day with some billowy clouds here and there. I live in the forest on a lake and obviously my subject always has to involve trees, so I really put my brushes to the test in trying to find the one or two that will easily help me render trees. For this painting session I used my Rosemary brushes. I must be honest, I’m not a fan.

I laid in my initial colors with the Rosemary Ivory #6 long flat. The hairs are synthetic and have a plastic feel to them. After only a few uses the hairs are fraying out. I always thoroughly wash my brushes after each painting session, so it’s not because there is dried paint left in the ferrule. The long hairs made it difficult to use as a “wash” brush, so I changed over to the Rosemary #6 Evergreen Short flat. It did a better job of rendering my washes and holding paint, but it too is fraying and curling after only a few uses. This is another synthetic brush as well, and I will not be purchasing any more. I did contact the company to complain about the short life of these brushes and was told I’m not cleaning my brushes properly and not to use Turpenoid to clean with. Uh-huh, right.

Next up was the Rosemary Evergreen 1/4″ Dagger brush, which I thought perhaps would render pine boughs nicely, but that didn’t happen. This brush is only good for painting wispy lines, so I pitched it. Also, it is fraying and curling.

After much frustration, I went into the studio and found my Rosemary #2 Series 105 fan brush, and it did a beautiful job on the pine trees. It’s made of a natural hair, perhaps mongoose. It has great spring, and holds paint very well. The hairs are not splaying or curling after quite a bit of use. Happy to say this brush will be a permanent part of my tools for the plein air kit.

Lastly, I used a Winsor and Newton Sceptre Gold II, 1″ watercolor brush to soften the clouds, and that worked great. No hairs were left on the painting as often happens with a hake brush. After washing the brush, the hairs returned to normal. I did not try to paint with it as a lay in wash, but will try it next time.

And now for my pochade box – It’s a Judsons 8″x10″ Guerrilla box which I’ve modified to better suit my needs. I added a leather strap to make it easier to carry, and my husband cut the front lip and added a hinge, so the lip wasn’t in my way every time I wanted to use the palette. I glued in an 8″ x 10″ piece of glass to use for my palette, making clean up easier. My husband also drilled a hole in the palette extension so I could insert a plastic cup to hold my medium.

The lid of the box was modified by adding a custom built, (again, the hubby’s carpentry skills were put to use), panel which fits snugly into the lid and doesn’t bang around every time I touch the canvas. The original set up with these boxes is not useful as there are just four pointy clips installed in the lid to hold a panel. A canvas won’t fit so one has to order a canvas holder which is not stable. And if using a panel inside the lid with the clips, the box depth creates a shadow on the edges of the panel. So I ditched all the hassles with my own customization. Over all with the modifications made, I like this box. I’ve been through the gamut with pochade boxes and now have my eye on a box made by Strada. I’m looking forward to acquiring the micro box and hope it becomes a permanent staple for my plein air work.

So there you have it; my review of supplies! I’ll be working on refining my limited palette colors next and reviewing my Old Holland brushes for use in the field.

More later ~ Rhonda