Brushes & mark-making tools – Behind the Scenes

Expertise comes with time and a lot of practice. One of the aspects of painting that distinguishes an artist is their particular style of mark-making. For most artists this is one element of their work that develops over a period of working with different materials, and a range of tools.

Over the short years I’ve been painting, I’ve managed to accumulate a slightly embarrassing collection of brushes. I’m less addicted to buying new brushes than I am to to acquiring new tubes of colour – but only just. And I’ve recently discovered a couple of new mark-making tools that are quite unusual. But first I’ll show you the traditional tools I have in my studio.

Brushes and tools in my studio:

Watercolour is my favourite medium at this stage. I’m still enthralled by the surprises this medium brings.  I’ve been working mainly in watercolours so it accounts for the bulk of my tools for it. Every artist has a favourite blush. My favourite brush has changed over time. For a long time a size 10 kolinsky sable round brush was my go-to tool. Since then I’ve tried some great synthetic brushes which have good points and are quite robust and hold a good point. I’ve recently discovered a sable filbert which is fast moving into my small group of ‘most favoured’ brushes. My all time ‘can’t live without it’ brush is a size zero rigger. It’s just perfect for adding those last little details.

Watercolour brushes
Watercolour brushes

Other watercolour tools include old credit cards, toothbrushes, sponges (not visible in this painting) bamboo sticks, eye droppers and ballpoint pen outer sleeves. There are probably a few others in this photo, but those are the ones I use most often.

Last year I had a dabble with mixed media and acrylic paint. As you can see from the state of my collection of brushes for acrylics, I’ve not done very much of with them. This is a limitation of time rather than anything else. I’ve managed to prepare some canvasses so ‘watch this space’. The brushes are at the ready.

Acrylic Brushes
Acrylic Brushes

I’ve done a little more with oils, but still consider myself a rank beginner in this medium. As with acrylics, my main limitation here is time. But these brushes have been used once or twice and will be again.

Oil Brushes
Oil Brushes

My two main suppliers of brushes are Rosemary’s brushes and for the acrylic brushes, Escoda.

I’m always up for a experimenting with watercolour. On my recent trip to South Africa, I was looking for some hand and body lotion and wandered into Rain. While I was browsing I noticed these two items: which looked ideal for a bit of watercolour application. So I bought them both.

Alternative painting tools - Sponge and Porcupine Quills
Loofah and Porcupine Quills

Here’s what happens when you play with the loofah. The red in the middle of the page was paint applied to the loofah which was then rolled across the paper. The blue and green marks were made by dragging the loofah across the paper using quite wet paint, and the quin gold was applied very thickly and then dragged. I can see all sorts of interesting marks in this. Sadly, when I unpacked back in the UK I discovered that the loofah had been left behind somewhere on my travels. But now that I’ve tried it, I’ll be looking out for a new one.

Watercolour painting - Sponge Marks
Loofah Marks

The porcupine quills are interesting. They have very, very sharp points so you have to be quite careful using them. The other (white) end has a little bend in it – each one slightly different. Although the beautiful sharp points are great for sratching out and making very fine lines, it’s the other end that is the most interesting to work with.

Watercolour painting - Quill Marks
Quill Marks

I’m enjoying this new tool. My next post will be a painting I did using the quills as one of my main mark-making tools.

Artist Studio Behind the Scenes – Palettes

In this Artist Studio Behind The Scenes post I’ll show you my palettes. I’m a bit of a kit junky so my art materials and equipment spend can get a bit out of hand.  I have four different types of palette and  I use them all a little differently.

Artist studio Behind the Scenes - Lightweight palette holds many colours
Lightweight palette holds many colours

This was my first palette. It was great for a beginner as I could get all the colours I needed onto one palette. Although I still use it in my studio, I am gradually moving towards using palettes with bigger reservoirs for the paints. The mixing areas on this palette are great though, and it’s fabulous for when I fly anywhere with my painting kit. Its flat, light and can be popped into a plastic back and laid at the bottom of my suitcase. This is the one that will be travelling with me later this week.

Artist studio Behind the Scenes. Big and chunky -  great for mixing loads of paint
Big and chunky – great for mixing loads of paint

I bought this palette after seeing it in use at a Jean Haines workshop. This is Jean’s preferred palette and it’s great for mixing up big pools of colour. Jean’s painting style is dynamic and quick so that really works for her. I love this palette, but the limited number of colour reservoirs mean that I can’t use it as a permanent one-and-only palette (because I am also a colour fanatic).

Artist studio Behind the Scenes. Pair of plastic palettes. Small and easy to pack.
Pair of plastic palettes. Small and easy to pack.

These two little palettes were given to me as a gift by someone who worked for our company a couple of years ago. They are also great for travelling – lightweight and small, and they stack very neatly. I use them in a very specific way. The one on the left I use for mixing up a colour I don’t particularly want as part of my permanent palette when I’m working on a specific painting. And the one on the right is my gouache palette. You can see the little dot of white gouache in the centre. I don’t want to risk tainting the transparency of my colours by putting gouache into one of my watercolour palettes so this one is great for the small bits I use from time to time.

Artist studio Behind the Scenes. Innovation. Sealed palette with lid to keep paints from drying out.
Innovation. Sealed palette with lid to keep paints from drying out.

This is my newest palette. I saw this type of palette for the first time when I was on Georgia Mansur‘s workshop. She uses a similar one for her long life acrylics. Then the fabulous Mita Higton lent me hers to try out and I was hooked. This palette has mixing trays galore so you can go nuts on mixing colours. It also has reservoirs for 21 colours and best of all, it has a sealed lid so the paints stay wet. All the parts are removable so it’s really easy to clean when you feel the urge to un-dirty your palette. The down-side?  It’s just too heavy to take on an airplane unless you leave some of your clothes behind.

You may be able to see that the centre block of paint reservoirs is slightly raised. That’s because underneath it is a piece of flat household sponge cut to fit that space. The sponge is damp and has a dose of disinfectant  on it. It doesn’t make contact with any of the paint, but once sealed, it’s presence is enough to stop the moisture inside the sealed palette from causing problems with the paint.

Artist Studio Behind the Scenes – What’s in a Name?

I’ve changed the post series name from ‘What’s in my Studio’ to ‘Artist Studio Behind the Scenes’ because I want this to be a series written to give ideas to other artist as well as insights to people who don’t paint, but are interested in finding out a bit more about the process.

So what’s the favourite palette is in your artist studio?