Painting is a messy, dirty business. Accidents and spills happen. Even if they don’t, there are some corners you can find yourself in, as a painter, which you can only get yourself out of, if you have had the wisdom to include a few essential items in your painting gear.
Here are some non art supplies that every painter should keep with them at all times:
- Newspaper – put this now rare and hard to find stuff under your easel. Much easier to discard some soiled newspaper than to clean staining paint off the floor (or carpet!). I find that I can reuse the same few sheets of newspaper for months (which is about how often I read them anyway)
- Absorbent paper kitchen towels – a roll of this is indispensible for drying brushes, cleaning up spills, removing paint from around the thread of your paint tubes, before you put the lid back on, lifting paint off your canvas, etc. A thousand and one uses.
- Baby wipes – indispensible. All parents know this.
- A bottle of water – nothing removes paint quite as well as water does (if you paint in watercolours, pastels, water soluble oils and acrylics). For oil paints, not so useful. White spirit is what you need here, but I hate the stuff.
- Some washing up liquid – when washing acrylic paint out of brushes, a touch of washing up liquid really helps.
- A pair of pliers – don’t injure your hand to the point of nearly being unable to play guitar, like I did, use a pair of pliers to un-stick stubborn, glued up, dried, recalcitrant, paint tube caps.
- A roll of masking tape – sticks drawing paper to drawing boards and makes it easy to paint horizons and neat, straight lines. The low tack kind is not so great for painting horizons. It needs to be the stickier kind. For attaching your paper to a drawing board, though, low tack is better. It doesn’t damage the paper, on removal. OK, so you need two different rolls of masking tape.
- A retractable, sharp knife – box cutters can help you make neat stencils from masking tape.
- A roll of cling film – if you have oil paint on your palette, you can save yourself a lot of heartache with a roll of cling film, especially if you have to take your palette home and want to save the paint for later.
- A straight edge/ruler – yes, you are going to need to measure and draw straight lines. Who knew?
- An old sports towel – if you get hot and begin to perspire, wipe yourself with it. They’re wonderful for that. Handy thing to put in your car, when taking your wet painting home, too, especially if it’s an oil painting.
- A small spirit level – if you want to paint landscapes with convincing horizons, level your canvas and then level your horizon. There is no substitute.
- A plumb bob – it doesn’t have to be a real one. Something heavy dangling on a string will do. All you want is to establish the perpendicular, courtesy of gravity. This can be very valuable when drawing a standing figure, or a building. The balance of the human form depends critically on working out where the plumb lines are (the relationship of body to feet) and reproducing that on your canvas.
- Some resealable plastic bags – a few zip lock bags can keep those crumbling art materials (charcoal, dark pencil lead, pastels) or split paint tubes from filling every nook and cranny of your art kit.
- A pair of cheap, digital callipers – the ones with the electronic display in inches or millimetres. Great for measuring and scaling (bring a calculator, if you can’t do the scaling maths). Hold them at arm’s length and use the two pointy jaws to take a reading of the relationship you are trying to reproduce. Read the measurement from the digital display. Scale it by your chosen scale factor, to your canvas. Also great for taking measurements off photographs you might be using for reference. It’s easier to work in metric.
- A small acrylic mirror – since renaissance times, artists have been correcting their drafting mistakes by flipping the image in a mirror, horizontally and vertically. You put the mirror vertically to your nose and view the model and your work in the mirror (so an acrylic mirror is safer). Your drawing mistakes become blatant to you. A larger mirror is necessary for self portraits, as is a sharpie marker that you can wipe off (so a framed glass mirror is better for this, but riskier to transport)
- An extra long handled brush – the ability to see the model and your painting in a single view, ideally so that the model and the image you are painting are about the same size, given your perspective, helps you compare your draftsmanship to real life and make the necessary corrections. To get that view, you have to step back from your canvas. An extra long handled brush lets you make corrections on the canvas, without having to walk back toward it and while still able to see the model. It’s the best way to copy from real life. Whistler used them all the time. These brushes are actually quite hard to find, strangely.
- A sponge – natural sponges are great for painting textures, but common or kitchen sponges are great for laying a thin wash of colour on your canvas. Also good for cleaning up spills.
If you paint outdoors, en plein air, then add these things to your kit:
- A foldable camp chair
- An umbrella that you can attach to your easel or stab into the ground (so a beach umbrella)
- A wide brimmed hat, sun cream and sun glasses, for the hot weather
- Woolly hat, scarf and fingerless gloves, if you brave the cold conditions
- Some drinking water. Actually, lots of drinking water.
- A piece of rope or string to hang your heavy drinking water bottle from your easel. This lowers the centre of gravity and stabilizes your easel in light breezes or on uneven surfaces.
- A “please do not disturb” sign 🙂
You’re all set.