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Best Gifts for Painters and Artists Part 2 - charcoal, conte and oil paint

Updated on April 23, 2015
Join the great masters by painting in oils
Join the great masters by painting in oils | Source

How to choose the best gifts artists

What are the best gifts for painters and artists? I outlined a few of the first, popular and easiest tools and media available in Best Gifts for Painters and Artists Part 1, but there's so much choice it's sometimes difficult to know what to buy for that really special gift. Here are a few more creative gift ideas.Once the basic tools of the trade have been acquired, an easel, palette knife, drawing board, pencils and perhaps a set of water colour paints or pastels, it's time to move on. Have you thought about a complete beginners set to oil painting, conté crayons or charcoal for drawing? What about gouache for the illustrators and designers? Canvases, brushes and paper is always needed and make welcome gifts and presents. Read on for easy solutions to present-buying headaches ...

Student painting at the ancient bridge in the medieval town of Rochechouart, about ten minutes from Les Trois Chenes
Student painting at the ancient bridge in the medieval town of Rochechouart, about ten minutes from Les Trois Chenes | Source

Charcoal is the traditional drawing media

Charcoal has long been used by artists to produce beautiful tonal drawings and sketches on paper, and also to draw onto walls and canvas to establish the bones of a composition before using oil or other paints. Charcoal is made by burning twigs of wood, usually willow or Lime (Tilia) to produce black, carbon sticks with soft, medium or hard consistencies.

You can also buy compressed charcoal which is charcoal powder mixed with gum binder compressed into round or square sticks. These are firmer and less powdery than normal charcoal but have a greasier consistency not unlike conté crayon - see below. Compresed charcoal can be bought in the form of pencils;

Nude combing her hair By Edgar Degas (18341917)    Charcoal on paper
Nude combing her hair By Edgar Degas (18341917) Charcoal on paper | Source

Conte crayons

During the Napoleonic Wars there was a shortage of graphite and this inspired Nicolas-Jacques Conté to invent the conté crayon made from a combination of clay and graphite. These days they are made from compressed powdered graphite or charcoal mixed with a wax or clay base. They are made into sticks with a square section and are usually found in the earth colours: black, white, burnt umber and burnt sienna although they can also be bought in other colours and in the form of pencils.

What's the difference between conté crayons, pastels and charcoal? Pastels have a powdery consistency and can easily be blended and smudged on the paper. Charcoal is soft but doesn't have the smooth texture of pastel. Conté, on the other hand, is harder the other two and has a slightly greasy quality. This means that although it can be used to create soft shades, sharp lines can be produced by using the edges of the crayon. There can be some confusion because Conté is also the name of the company that makes conté crayons - and they also make soft pastels, (not readily available in the US).

Georges Seurat was one of the artists that most famously used conté.

By Hans Hoffmann (ca. 1530 - ca. 1591) National Gallery of Art
By Hans Hoffmann (ca. 1530 - ca. 1591) National Gallery of Art | Source


Gouache is a water based paint that differs from watercolor in that the particles are larger, denser and a white pigment such as chalk is also present. Gum Arabic is also present as a binding agent, just as in watercolor.

Like watercolour it is diluted with water, but gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities and it is the first choice for producing areas of flat colour such as posters.

Oil paint

Oil paint consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil, commonly linseed oil. The paint can be thinned with solvents as turpentine or white spirit or with linseed oil, and varnish may be added to increase the glossiness of the dried film

Oil paints can be difficult unless you have a dedicated studio as it can be smelly and messy. It is slow drying, and that can be an advantage or disadvantage; you ave more time to decide if you have achieved the correct effect and if not, the paint can simply be scraped off the support, but the down side is that painting outside and transporting works is difficult to organise if there isn't time for it to dry first - and this can take weeks if the paint has been applied very thickly.

The beauty of paiting with oils lies in the sensuousness of the paint, the translucency, the subtle and rich way that they blend together and the way that they can be combined with other media.* We think of the 'Old Masters' when we think of oil painting, from the early Renaissance onwards.

*(For example tempera or acrylics, for example, can be used as a base. These are both water based material and must be completely dry before oil is applied over them. They should not be mixed with oil paint.)

Stretched Canvases

The quickest and easiest, and also often the cheapest way to get started with acrylics or oils is to buy a pre-primed, ready stretched canvas. It can be primed with acrylic primer and this can be used for either acrylic or oil paints, or it can be primed with oil paint and this is only for use with oil paints.

If you are selecting canvas, either to stretch yourself (see below), or a ready-stretched frame, you must match the canvas to your needs. Canvases come in duck cotton, linen, or a blend of the two. Linen is durable and nicely textured but more expensive than cotton. For beginners and budget shoppers, cotton or a synthetic blend is perfectly adequate. As you gain experience you might decide that you prefer a more textured canvas, or a smoother one. Also the larger your work, the stronger the canvas needs to be.

Portrait of Steven by Barbara Walton, tutor at Les Trois Chenes
Portrait of Steven by Barbara Walton, tutor at Les Trois Chenes

Where in the world is Limousin?

Limousin, France

get directions

16000 Angoulême, France

get directions

Are you inspired to take up the pencil?

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    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      8 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Hi Marko, nice to meet you here. Wouldn't any artist be pleased with new materials?

    • markomitic profile image


      8 years ago from Toronto

      I am an artist. I would like those gifts. Great hub.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      8 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Thanks for dropping by, ImChemist. Pleased you liked the hub.

    • ImChemist profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for this great hub.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      8 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      akirchner Why not get started today. A box of pastels could bring out the artist in you. Many thanks for your comment.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      8 years ago from Washington

      Totally wish I was an artist as what NEAT things to get as a gift!


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