Easels, Painting Sets & Paint Brushes: Christmas Gifts For Your Budding Artist
One of the nicest Christmas gifts I never received was a paint set. I am reasonably sure my parents felt, as most sensible parents would, that their child would have opened such a present and said, "Oh goody - school supplies for Christmas."
Most sensible parents would have been correct. This was a time for granting childish wishes - for frivolity and games. What sensible child would want school supplies, even art supplies - paints, easels, brushes - for Christmas?
Every fall we were sent off to school with our new satchel, full of all those lovely new school supplies. The new scribblers and pencil case were grand, but not all school supplies are created equal.
The items that always captured my imagination were the new art supplies - colored pencils, sleek and clean; colored felt pens that reeked of ink-thinner and new social studies projects; and watercolor paints, fresh, unblemished, un-muddied in their pristine pans, the brushes stiffly pointed.
The joy of touching each piece, delicately fingering each yet-to-be-used tool, held such excitement, such a sense of the wonder, knowing the hours of joy and discovery these amazing tools would unlock.
One year, though, my sister received a paint box.
The small wooden suitcase contained a set of tiny, wonderful tubes of color, a real wood palette complete with thumb-hole, several finely pointed brushes, and a small bottle of very smelly turpentine.
As well as holding a further treasure of three blank canvas boards already prepared for painting, the miraculous suitcase folded backwards to become a table easel.
We were enchanted. Of, course the paints were only to be used under strict supervision, as oil paints stain things quite badly, but the set was the source of many hours of pleasure for the budding artist who received it.
Table easels are great for a number of reasons. For one thing you don't have to spend long hours on your feet. As well they take up far less room, as long as you have a table on which to work.
Many of the ladies I taught used their dining room tables to work on their painting projects. Covered with a plastic cloth to protect the surface, they make a super work area. There's lots of room to lay out the paints, water cups for painting and for cleaning brushes, and for plenty of paint rags.
I am fortunate right now to have a work table, but even so it must do double or triple duty as a beading table and a scrap-booking surface.
When the projects mount up and the competition for a flat surface to work on I can always put away the scrap-booking tools and supplies for a while to make way for commerce.
Still, I try to finish my smaller painting projects - decorated boxes, Christmas candlesticks, plates and trays - before the need for space becomes too pressing.
Any larger projects or paintings that I have underway will fit very nicely on my faithful standby - my studio easel.
These French easels are a joy to use, especially if you paint out of doors, en plein air, as it is called - or in the open air. They combine an easel with a box for all your paints and supplies, making it so easy to carry everything you need from location to location.
Perfect for painters in either acrylic or oils, they can also be used for watercolor painting, as many of them come with cup holders in the crosspiece, which can save a lot of bending.
These studio easels are as sturdy as they are elegant. Easily adjustable to various sizes of canvases, they are the Cadillacs of the easel world.
Constructed from kiln-dried wood, they don't warp or twist out of true. Perfect for either acrylic or oil painting, they are built to last a very long time.
I can personally attest to the staying power of a wooden easel.
I have a cedar easel that my dad built for me - a simple tripod-style easel, but it shows absolutely no signs of warping or torque after almost thirty years of semi-continuous use and abuse.
This looks very much like the first easel I used at university. Those easels were a similar construction, but ours made of welded steel and weighed about thirty pounds or so.
Meant to take a lot of abuse form art students, they weren't pretty, and they were a bit heavy to move.
The durable, aluminum easel shown here solves that weight problem, as it is much easier to reposition so the painter can take full advantage of the natural lighting available.
Having raised the idea of painting in natural light I must explain that though that is definitely the most desirable light, it can be a bit problematic at times.
Ott-Lite True Color Lamps
Traditionally, painters have sought windows with North light - just think of all the old movies that feature artists painting away in some garret. In part, the accommodations were cheaper, but they were also taking advantage of the natural North light.
North light is a cool light, and has little or no color to add, to throw off your color values. South or West facing windows may yield much light, but the color of the light at different times of day will greatly affect the color temperature of the paint on your canvas. The colors that were perfect in the morning will appear "wrong" in the late afternoon.
Modern technology helps out with this "painters' friend", a true-color light to avoid the dilemma of constantly changing color values.
Watercolor easels are traditionally a lap or table-top style of easel. The binder version pictured here would also be perfect for sketching out of doors as it allows you to add your own sketch paper.
Most watercolor artists paint out of doors to capture the color and movement of the piece, but will often complete the painting when they return to the studio. There are a few notable exceptions, but that is the general practice.
Often they will make several "value sketches" in broad strokes to fix the colors, the basic shapes and shadows, and the movement of the sky or the water.
Many will take photographs and make detailed notes of various elements that will guide them in later completing the painting.
An Amazing Demonstration of Watercolor Painting
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That video demonstration of the Watercolorists' art is certainly inspirational. My first watercolors looked nothing like that.
Practice, practice, and more practice...that was the motto of our drawing professor in my second year of studies. He was an exceptional watercolorist, so though it wasn't offered as a separate studio course, he would incorporate watercolors whenever possible.
One of his favorite exercises was what he called studies in the juxtaposition of natural and man-made objects.
That meant in late-March or early-April our entire class would be shivering in a pre-Spring graveyard somewhere in the city.
The trees were barely leafed out and the snows still threatened at times, hardly comfortable working conditions, while we tried to keep our fingers warm and capture the play of light across the tree-shadowed tomb stones.
Needless to say, we grew very adept at handling our painting kits under adverse conditions.
Our painting prof, who gently guided us through the traditional steps of a modern artist's apprenticeship, introduced us to a wide variety of painting media and tools. He was forever trying to stretch our ideas of what was possible.
Starting with oils, which I loved but later developed allergies to, he continued our education with the history, composition and properties of acrylic paints. I still remember how to grind pigments and mix my own paints.
Almost any student grade acrylic will do for a beginner, as you won't be much concerned with permanence of colors, but good brushes are essential.
One Stroke and Folk Art brushes are exceptional for painting in acrylics. Mainly formulated from man-made fibers, they take the paint well and stand up to more abuse than natural hair brushes.
Acrylic paint is not forgiving in your brushes, and though there are ways to clean and restore damaged brushes, a thorough cleaning is the best way of avoiding damage in the first place.
Oil paint, on the other hand, is very easy to remove from your brushes, though it may stain them. The oil in the painting medium actually helps to condition the brush hairs.
A good selection of brushes is necessary, as with any type of painting media. You will need several flat brushes of various sizes, several round brushes, and some very fine brushes for detail work. Unless you plan to work on large canvases, you will not need very large brushes, however you will need at least one large 2" to 3" brush for gessoing your canvas.
Working with pre-gessoed canvases or canvas boards will save you time and preparation, but you will still need one or two large flat brushes for laying in basic foreground and background washes.
Painting is one of the most rewarding ways to spend time - it is certainly one of mine. I never seem to have enough time to pursue it these days, as there are so many other pressing matters. It is something to which I have always though, no matter how long I leave it.
I love the colors laid out in orderly blobs on my palette. I love the first moments of laying down the color foundation. My hand remembers the feel of the brush, the mixing of the colors, and the amazing sensation of applying paint to the canvas.
Every time I set out my paints for another project, it is Christmas for me, with all the joy of discovery of the morning so many years ago, when my sister opened her first set of paints.
© 2009 RedElf
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