Just about every artist’s guide book you will ever read, about learning to paint will tell you that you should always use the best paints, brushes and substrates you can afford to use.
Starting with paint you will be advised to avoid student paints, at all costs, where possible. The reason behind this is straightforward, particularly when you are just starting out. You never know how a piece of work will turn out, so you want to aim for every piece being the best you can do. Sod’s law, you will create your favourite piece using cheap paint. Student paint will have reduced pigment density, use cheaper fillers and run the possibility of fading and discolouring. They handle very differently to professional quality paints, so you would need to learn all over again how to handle the better-quality paint.
…I still use student-grade paint. There is a place for it, clearly, otherwise it wouldn’t be made, and I have learnt how to handle both high quality and student-grade paint. Why?
I use it if I am taking a class to learn someone else’s methods of producing work. I know I am not going to produce a masterpiece, that is not the aim of the class, and I would never want to put up for sale a piece I had made in someone else’s class, so using student-grade paint suits me in this situation.
I am there to learn how they work, how they achieve what they do and figure-out if anything I have learned from them is something I want to incorporate into my working practice.
I generally only take classes with tutors I respect and whose work I admire, so being there to learn how they work means I don’t need to use my good quality paints at this stage. A good but cheaper student paint allows me to work in their way and when I get back to my studio I can decide where I want to take what I have learnt, to explore further.
Also using cheaper paints both at home and in classes I take, allows a freedom that you often don’t have when using the most expensive tools. I can produce reference works without being precious, but then at home I can use my good quality paint once I have decided where I am heading with my new investigations and how best to incorporate that knowledge into my work.
Using student grade paint and paper.
And no, it is not stealing. It’s research.
If I copied one person’s work or methods, that would be stealing but by looking at lots of different artists and the way they work, I am continually researching possibilities to improve the work that I make by exploring these different ways of working. Some fit, others don’t.
I have spent hours watching other artists work, through classes, on ‘You Tube’ and when I am teaching my students. There is always something new to learn and even if I don’t use something in my work, knowing about it means that I can share it with my students.
Using top quality acrylic paints, inks and paper.
Compare this with the piece above to see the difference in the depth of colour.
Where I don’t scrimp though is on the substrates I use in my work. As a painter and a printmaker, I have all manner of different papers to use, depending on the type of art I am making, so feel quite passionate about this.
The permanence of paint and ink is affected by the paper you use and the binder in the paint. You could use the most expensive permanent pigment possible but if you use Newsprint, for instance, your painting won’t last very long.
Newsprint is made from wood fibres and contains cellulose, this can cause a chemical reaction between the paint and the paper, it causes the paper to yellow, becoming brittle – because it is decaying – and this paper will ultimately disintegrate.
Canvases primed with gesso works well with acrylic. Canvases come in linen, being the most expensive, cotton, in different weights and there are also some new synthetic cotton blends which will hopefully be good, but they haven’t been around long enough to know if they have good archival properties.
Board – I use board in my work and I am therefore aware of the problems with it. Even the most expensive art shop produced boards are not perfect. Sealed birch is reportedly the most archival as it less acidic than other woods and sealing it prevents oxidation. Pressed boards, which I use, are made with non-archival glues which can degrade over time. To mitigate this, I seal all the boards myself and all my works on board are coated in resin for extra protection. As board is not considered to be stable, stretching canvas over sealed board and then coating it with a number of layers of Gesso, will give you the most archival results.
Watercolour Paper, here you really do get what you pay for. Cheap papers will leave you very disappointed in the outcome, my advice is to leave well alone. Medium-priced watercolour papers again are probably best avoided, but good quality heavy weight watercolour paper that doesn’t contain cellulose can be used for watercolour, oil and acrylic and looked after will last a very long time.
That said, the most permanent, most archival materials used in a painting do not stand a chance if the work is kept in an inappropriate environment. Extremes of moisture, temperature and air pollution will cause chemical reactions in the paint, moulding to the substrate and the death of the artwork.
Hand coloured Lino Print using top quality paper and watercolour paints.
As long as your artwork is kept inside a building, out of direct sunlight with temperatures and humidity which do not fluctuate hugely, it will last and give you years of enjoyment.