Materials - Part II: Brushes and Oil Tubes

With so many brushes on the market today, it is easy to get confused as to which one you need.  It is obvious that the more brushes you have, the more versatility you posses.  There are two basic types of brushes: soft and stiff.  The first are used with thin media, and the second with thicker, as it come from the tube consistency.  Another thing worth noticing is that intricate detail requires smaller and softer brushes, whereas thicker and larger areas employ stiffer and larger brushes.  The best thing to do is by a process of trial-and-error to arrive at the understanding of which brushes work the best for you.  Don't be afraid to experiment.  The beauty of oil painting is that if you make a mistake, you can either wipe it off, or use it as a foundation once it dries.  There is no final or incorrigible mistake with oils!

Ok, let us describe the basic designs of brushes and its uses.    

Flat bristle make very characteristic square or rectangular marks while leaving clear bristle imprints that remain unchanged after the paint has dried.  When turned to its side, one can accomplish smaller detail with a larger brush.  The impressionists were notorious for the extensive use of these type of brushes.  It is important to have a few of these red sable flat brushes.  They can be pricey, but they are well worth it.  These type can also be useful when softening and blending. Rounds in both sable and bristle can be very useful, although we don't advocate you accumulate too many of these. When the strokes are applied perpendicularly to the surface being painted, they are ideal for stippling, which is  the technique of applying paint by repeated small touches, and thus producing a soft, even effect.

Oil Colors
The group of colors that are a regularly used by an artist is called the color palette. Some artists use many while others prefer a few.  The following palette is the one we currently use as the result of years of experience, and in no way is implied that is the perfect one.  It is merely a suggestion or a starting point.  Eventually, you have to decide what works for you. You'll notice that we don't include black, or any secondary color.  The viridian green is a tertiary color.  This palette was taught to the Santa Maria twins by their late uncle and teacher Ismael Santa Maria, who established Santa Maria Studio in 1939.  For that reason, this palette is called The Santa Maria Palette.  In another lesson, we cover the distribution of the colors and the physical artist's palette.

As far as the brand to use, there are a number of companies that produce high quality oils.  Our first choice is Winsor & Newton Oils.  They have been produced in England since 1832, and have the best ratings for permanency (ability of a color to last without changing or fading) and quality.

The Santa Maria Palette:

Earth Colors Spectrum Colors Non Colors
Burnt Umber     French Ultramarine     Cadmium Red Medium    

Titanium White  

Burnt Sienna     Phthalo Blue     Alizarin Crimson      
Yellow Ochre     Viridian Green     Cadmium Yellow Medium    

And, finally, no list of color tubes can be completed without the help of the Painting knife. It is not only a wonderful painting tool, but also an inseparable companion to dispensing color from the tubes to the painting palette, and also works great to scrape and clean painting from the painting surface and the palette itself.  You can get a set, or one.  If you only buy one, make sure it is the first or last one pictured here.  Those particular models are the most versatile and useful of all.  Another quality to keep in mind is its flexibility and "soft feel" when used.