Sunday, January 19, 2014

Essential Tools #1: Painting

I'm starting a new series here on the blog called "Essential Tools". I get a lot of questions about the kinds of tools I use in creating my work, and since I've spent the better part of a week painting 60 Bumble faces, I thought that starting off with my brushes and paint was timely.

After years of buying and trying brushes, I've pretty much figured out what types of brushes are essential and efficient for my work. I've gone through a ton - sometimes I figure out pretty fast that a brush isn't right for my needs, other times it takes a while to discover exactly what the job needs.

On the top, smooth flat brushes for applying washes or base coats. Scrubby bristle brushes are for staining effects and scumbling, while small brushes handle the details.

A well-used rag and paint tray.

When it comes to painting on rigid 3D things (like the faces of my bunnies), I have three basic brush categories - soft brushes for laying down color, bristle brushes for glazing and scumbling, and detail brushes for outlines, getting into small areas, and fine work.  I also have a few non-brush tools at the ready - rags for applying or rubbing off glaze, fine-point cotton swabs for cleaning up mistakes (you can buy these at beauty supply shops by the acrylic nails), and my fingers. There are usually fingerprints somewhere in every paint job I do - in fact, when I'm glazing over the teeth, the last step is for me to wipe my right middle finger over the bottom half to clean the glaze off the surface, but leave enough glaze in the cracks around the outside of the teeth to add visual dimension.

I won't go too far into paints and glazes, because I use so many different things, this blog post would be forever long - but I will share some of my favorites. I actually use inexpensive bottled craft paints as the base coat for pretty much all my faces (my favorite brands are Folk Art and Americana). I like the fact that they come in so many colors, and are easily mixed, and they dry very quickly to a relatively matte finish.  When it comes to finishing and detailing, I prefer Golden liquid paints, mediums, and glazes. Golden paint is incredibly saturated, and their colors are beautiful when mixed with mediums. Their Van Dyke Brown is my favorite, and I use a lot of it. It's just this perfect, beautiful, oily, translucent neutral/cool brown that can be used straight as an almost black color, or diluted all the way up to the barest hint. If you create work that requires faux aging techniques, I would say this color is a must for your toolkit.  Golden makes a wonderful matte medium that works as a glaze base for color, allowing you to float color lightly onto surfaces and build up shading in layers. I use this a lot too.

My rinsing container is an old ceramic mustard crock from a thrift shop.

Inexpensive craft paints are a trusted standby, and my favorite brown from Golden.

Tips and advice
(mostly for those working on 3D surfaces, customs, etc)

1) Don't go for the most expensive brushes, especially not right away. Get some decent, middle of the road brushes in all shapes and sizes, and try them all out until you find what works best. None of my brushes cost more than $10 each - if I were an oil painter it would be a different story, but I use acrylics and can be kind of rough on brushes, so for my needs, inexpensive brushes work just fine.

2) Take care of your brushes. After every time you paint, before you put them away, wash them thoroughly with mild soap and water (and make sure you get all the paint out), reshape the bristles, and let them dry.  It's amazing how much longer brushes will last you if you just take the time to take care of them!

3) If you find brushes that you like, buy a few more. Brushes break, get lost, accidents happen. Always a good idea to have a backup.

4) Experiment with paints, mediums, and varnishes to see how they work, and how they work (or don't work) together. You'll only know what you like and don't like by trying a lot of things.

5) Always prime your surface and varnish your finished paint application. I prime with Krylon spray primer (grey or white), and use Krylon clear coat varnish to seal it. These steps are very important when creating archival work - remember, acrylic paints are only a veneer of polymer that rests against the surface of what they're painted on, they need as much help sticking as they can get, which is where primer comes in. Acrylic glazes, paints, and mediums are fragile, and need to be protected by a good strong coat of hard varnish, or else even a minor scratch or bump could ruin hours of work.

6) Wear an apron. Seriously. Even if you're being super careful, that day will come where you drop a loaded brush on your lap, or flick red paint across your chest....


  1. I really love your art work, it is inspiring, and this new blog with all this new information is great, you inspire me to be an artist too.

    1. That's so awesome! Artist as a job description can be frustrating and head-on-the-wall nutty sometimes, but I think it's totally worth it ;)

  2. very good info Amanda! Thanks for posting this! (I'm with you on the Golden paints)


    1. Thank you so much! Your dolls are lovely, I especially like the Kindreds!

  3. Love your art so much! Have you ever heard of Nova paint? I used to use golden but when switched over once I started using them at work. (I work in stop motion). If you get a chance, give it a whirl....

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I've never heard of Nova, I'll have to check it out - stop motion? That's way cool!

  4. I think I might re-experiment with glazes after reading this; they sort of dropped off my radar for a while. I've added Van Dyke Brown to my epic list of "Colour Experiments". It looks enormously like raw umber, except the masstone is brownier and the tint in less grey. A subtle difference but I can see how that could be preferable.

    Very much looking forward to reading the rest of these posts.

    1. The only way I can think to describe the Van Dyke Brown that really makes sense to me is "oily" it's this dark brown, translucent greasy substance. It glazes super well (I agree with the greyness of raw umber, I think that because it's a more opaque pigment, the light doesn't go all the way through, so it gets a little ashy over dark colors). Ha ha, it's pretty ridiculous how excited I get about brown paint :P


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