Thursday, 13 October 2011

the freedom of cheap materials

I had a conversation on the phone this morning with someone about how threatening good quality art materials can be. We found that we both had beautiful watercolour paper which cost £3.50 a sheet lying around unused, along with a number of beautiful sketchbooks (also unused).

It strikes me that we blockos are kidding ourselves buying high quality paints which then sit on the end of the brush pregnant with expectation (if they ever get to the end of a brush), freezing us to stone.

I've been experimenting over the last year or so with different materials. I started with the best quality watercolours, and there's on doubt that they're fabulous. There's also no doubt that Sennelier oil pastels, at £1.35 each, compared to what you can get in your local budget book store, £2.00 for a whole box, are like chalk and cheese. Using Sennelier is like painting with lipstick; using the budget one is like drawing with a candle.

But, a few months ago I decided to start using lining paper, so that I could stop worrying about the cost of experimenting. I used the thickest available - what you buy from a hardware store for putting on your walls. It's so thick that you don't need to stretch it for acrylic or watercolour (just pin the sides down as it dries). You can scrunch up the painting, run it under the tap, and otherwise abuse it, and it still holds together. My recent big self-portraits were done on this - it's so cheap that you don't care what you do, which means you can start to work differently. The paper does start to yellow quite quickly if you leave any paper showing, but as you're experimenting, you don't care about such things....

For acrylic paint, I've found that Gerstaecker and Aquatec, both available from Great Art, are half the price of Daler-Rowney System 3, which seems to be the 'cheap' artist quality paint. You can get 500 ml for £5, or £7, and, having tested them against paints that are up to £10 for a small tube, there isn't a lot of difference. At least if you want to throw them on thick and play.

Seawhite of Brighton do very good quality hard and softcover sketchbooks. The supply art colleges and schools and are much cheaper than other places.

Jacksons are my favourite supplier (I had to remove this link, but they're easy enough to find). They're usually cheaper than everyone else, have top quality stuff, including their own really good quality paints, and everyone there is an artist and can give you advice or find out information if you have a query about something. These sites are obviously all in the UK...


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