Don't buy student grade paints. I can't stress this enough. You get what you pay for with paints. I'm not saying you need to go spend tons of money or even that more expensive brands are better than others, but typically paints will come in two lines: A student or studio line and a professional/artist line. The studio/student lines typically have less pigments and more fillers and/or are hues (example: Cadmium Red Hue as apposed to Cadmium Red). These are pigments that give the same look of a color, but contain cheaper pigments to keep the cost down. Ultimately, I find the working properties are different. I feel that the student grade paints just don't give you the same richness that professional line paints will.
- Gamblin: I paint mostly with oil and Gamblin is my absolute favorite brand. I love the buttery texture and the pigment load. I find that the quality is consistently good and that for me is important. I want to know that when I reach for ultramarine blue, it's going to have the same pigment load, texture and color that the last tube did.
- Utrecht Brand - Professional Series: I also like Utrecht brand oils as well. They are a very close second for me. I typically like the colors Gamblin offers better, but Utrecht brand also has great pigment load in their oil paints and the texture is very buttery yet nicely thick. You can't go wrong.
- Williamsburg: For browns and earth colors, Williamsburg is what I choose. The paint is thick and has an almost grainy texture to it which I like when I need a burnt umber. I use Williamsburg's French Burnt Umber specifically and mix it with Ultramarine Blue to obtain my "black". I feel that by using this combination, I get a richer color that doesn't dull other colors on my palette.
Other than OMS (odorless mineral spirits), I don't typically use a lot of medium when I paint. I do use some with the underpainting so it will set up faster, especially if I'm painting on copper. Here's some insight on what I use and why when I do reach for a medium:
- Gamsol: My opinion is that Gamblin's Gamsol is the best of the best when it comes to OMS. It has virtually NO smell and is much more mild than turpentine and other mineral spirits I've used. I HATE HATE HATE the smell of turps - or really any smell associated with mineral spirits. When it comes to studio safety, fumes are something we all need to deal with when painting with oils and I feel that Gamsol takes care of a lot of this. Note: due to the milder nature of Gamsol, the one drawback is that it doesn't clean your brushes as well as a typical turp, however, it is milder so I find it doesn't wear down my brushes as turps will. And the lack of smell, well, that trumps everything else in my book.
- Galkyd - Galkyd is one of Gamblin's Alkyd mediums and works similarly to Winsor and Newton's Liquin. It speeds drying time significantly and can also be used as a varnish/sealer over paintings on copper due to the low acidity. It STINKS, so I use it sparingly, but I will use Galkyd in my underpaintings so the paint sets faster. The consistency is similar to the consistency of corn syrup.
- Neo meglip - Another Gamblin product (are you seeing a trend here?). I have trouble explaining this, but this stuff is amazing. It has almost a jelly consistency and when mixed sparingly with oils, I find that the paint glides on. This medium doesn't increase dry time that much (although still a bit more than not using a medium at all) and works well for glazing techniques or adding the final highlights and touches to a painting. I use it mostly when painting clouds and highlights in still life painting.
- GamVar: I've tried spray on varnishes and they all smell and I swear they get everywhere. Plus, you have to wait longer to varnish with typical Dammar varnishes. I thin the GamVar with Gamsol and brush it on with a soft varnish brush and I can typically varnish in as little as two weeks, depending on the thickness of the paint. Plus, it comes off easily with OMS so if you need to clean a painting
- Liquitex: I almost solely use Liquitex Heavy Bodied acrylic. I find I really like the texture, the dry time is pretty typical of acrylics (not too fast, but not too slow either) and it mixes well with other acrylic brands and other brands of mediums. Acrylic is an older "newer" medium for me. I used to paint quite a bit with acrylics, but am just relearning them now. Liquitex is consistent - you know what you're getting.
- Golden: I'm still experimenting with mediums! I find that I really like the Golden heavy gel mediums - both the matte and gloss. I also like their slow dry as well. This will keep the paints open longer for blending, etc.
- Liquitex: I like the Liquitex fluid matte and gloss mediums for mixing. These mediums thin your paint, but the pigment disburses more evenly than using water.
Brush characteristics are a very personal choice. For oil painting, I've always liked Chungking bristle, although I've not found a Chungking yet that holds its shape for longer than a month with constant use. I recently started looking around and at the recommendation of an artist friend, tried some new ones by Rosemary and Co. So here's what I like right now:
- Old Holland Kolinsky sable: For a soft brush, I like this one. Especially their flats. They hold their edge and have enough snap to get crisp lines, yet are soft enough to blend well. These are typically more expensive (as I guess all Kolinsky sable brushes are), but they're worth the money and if you treat them well, they'll last.
- Rosemary and Co. Ivory brushes: I can't say enough about these brushes. Granted, I've only been using them a short time, but these brushes are fabulous. They are stiff like a bristle, yet soft enough so you don't feel like you're painting with a broom. I love the brush strokes you can achieve with these and I swear, I'm never looking back!
- Chungking Bristle: as I mentioned, I haven't found one that lasts. i've tried the Winsor and Newton Artists' series and I like them okay, but they don't compare to the Rosemary and Co. Ivory line. I now solely use hog hair for underpainting and scrubbing techniques.
- Bristle: I use hog hair for scrubbing, but I have a specific set ONLY for acrylics as you really shouldn't mix your acrylic and oil brushes. I don't use a typical brand at the moment - I have some ProStroke that are ok as well as some Winsor and Newton Artists' Oil bristles that I use for acrylic painting.
- Utrecht Series 239 Synthetic: I like Utrecht's Series 239 synthetic for a softer brush. They seem to hold up and they don't shed. Major plus!!! They also aren't super expensive so there's not too much guilt if you leave your brush in water too long and lose the snap.