Artist Q&A: Art Supplies for Acrylic Painters

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In this new series I am getting to the heart of what every aspiring artists wants to know. You have asked the questions and now I'm going to do the best I can to answer them for you. This first question seems like a logical place to begin!

Question from reader:
"What do you recommend for a beginner painter....brands, basic supplies etc. Also, what one art supply item could you NOT live without?"

Your first step is to decide what medium you want to use: watercolor, oil paint, acrylic, etc. For the sake of simplicity I am going to share with you my list of favorite acrylic supplies. So, what do I use? I love Golden acrylic paints. I work fast and in thin layers, so usually I turn to Golden Fluid the most. I often follow up with Golden Heavy Body for details or texture. All of these paints have a very high pigment load and can resist fading over time, an important thing if you want your painting to last.

MY FAVORITE SUPPLIES (the short,short list):
Golden Acrylic Paints
Princeton Catalyst Brushes
Michael's gallery wrapped canvases (with an extra coat of Liquitex gesso).

MY FAVORITE COLORS (including but not limited to!):

Hansa Yellow Light, Indian Yellow Hue, Transparent Pyrrole Orange, Pyrrole Red, Permanent Violet Dark, Quinacridone Magenta, Green Gold, Phthalo Green (blue shade),Turquoise, Prussian Blue, Titan Buff, Van Dyke Brown

Golden Fluid Acrylic Paint

Blick Artists' Acrylic Paint

It’s really tempting when you are just beginning an artistic path to buy inexpensive or student grade paints and supplies. You might think that because you are new at this, inexperienced, or unsure of your skills that you should start out with the cheapest set of paint available. STOP. If your intention is to continue to learn and grow as an artist, then buy the best you can afford, no excuses. Yep, go for the good stuff first and you’ll be much happier.

Why? Because you will paint better. Seriously? Professional grade paints are formulated with a higher pigment load. That means that the amount of color added is a higher density and quality. In fact, you will probably find that you need less paint because a little bit will cover more space and you’ll struggle less to create the painting you set out to accomplish.

The usual recommended Colors to Start with:
Pyrrole or Cadmium Red Medium
Hansa or Cadmium Yellow Light
Ultramarine Blue
Phthalo Green
Raw Umber
Titanium White
Bone Black

*Note: avoid buying Michael’s brand “Artist Loft” for all paints...every single one I have tried, watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastels, have been worse than inferior. I wouldn't give them to preschoolers. I love the canvases and brushes, but the paint just won’t do.

Princeton Catalyst Polytip Brushes

Brushes are a matter of trial and error. For acrylic I suggest synthetic bristles and a long handle. I chose Princeton Catalyst brushes because they are a bit stiffer and can hold up to the vigorous wear I put them under. Generally speaking, a better brush will last longer. If you are picking them out in person look to see if the ferrule is secure. That is the metal part clamped onto the wood handle. And look to see if the hairs of the brush are still straight and even. You will have to decide if you want a stiff or a soft brush, square or round, small or large...all through experiment and play.

Artist Loft gallery Wrapped Canvas
Blick Studio gallery Wrapped Canvas

Ready made canvases are the best option because they are durable and have come down significantly in price over the years. I prefer thick gallery wrapped canvas because I can paint the sides and hang my work without a frame. I watch for mega sales at Michael’s and buy as much as I can fit in my van. Buying online is a good option as well, but there are surcharges if you ever want an extra large sized canvas. No matter where I get my canvas, I always give the canvas an extra coat of gesso before I begin my painting. Cheap gesso is thick and clumpy and defeats the purpose of a smooth surface. You can also gesso high quality watercolor paper as another option for a painting surface. Just remember that usually paper must be framed and that is another added cost.

Golden Matte Medium

There are so many mediums you can mix into your paints to make glazes, new textures or keep it wet longer. You really only need water to start with for washing and occasionally thinning out your paint. Be careful how much water you add because it weakens the paint and over time the paint would be more likely to crack, especially for the thicker layers. I like to use a liquid gloss or matte medium to add to my paint when I want to thin or extend the coverage of my paint. And when the work is done and completely dry, I like to put a final varnish to protect the paint from the sun and dirt and just give it a really finished look.

Shop online at Dick Blick for great deals!

Use coupons to stock up at Michael's

Where to get all these expensive supplies and not break the bank? One option is to go for the mega sales at Michael’s. Watch their coupons and buy supplies a little at a time until you have what you need. They sell Golden Paint, and they have Liquitex Heavy Body, which can be good as well, just less smooth. Another great option is to shop www.dickblick.com. The paint is always on sale, they carry my favorite brushes...and, if you want to go with a middle price, high quality paint, their own store brand (professional line, not student!) has a very good reputation.

As with anything in art, once you've learned the rules, you can throw them all out! Can you paint with house paint? What about drawing with coffee stain? Can you paint on found wood? Or an old book? What if you add beach sand to wet paint or glue in an old train ticket? What if you really like cheap student paint?

The answer then becomes YES once again! Know your material then experiment. If you are going to use non-conventional materials, learn how to make sure they are properly sealed and varnished to protect them and ensure they will last through your lifetime. Go for wild ideas and enjoy the process!

Do you have a question for me? Leave a comment and your question may be featured in a future Q&A. Thank you!

Enjoy the Journey!


  1. Does the gesso just make for a smoother surface when painting?

    1. Hi Liz! The gesso does make a smoother surface, but it does more than that, it helps prepare the surface to accept the paint. That is why we would prepare paper or any other surface with gesso before applying acrylic paint. Modern acrylic gesso isn't just white paint, it is latex paint with calcium carbonate added and increases the flexibility and archival quality of the canvas. Most store bought canvases already have a layer of gesso and can be used without any extra gesso, but I find it's not quite enough to make the smooth, excellent surface I like for creating my paintings. Hope this helps!


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