With all the materials out there it can be overwhelming to choose a basic starting kit. When you enter in an art shop on one side you feel like Alice in Wonderland but on the other you feel like walking out because of the amount of choices.
In my classes, here in London, I suggest these basic materials to start with your mixed media art practice.
Acrylic Paints – brands and colours
The best paints are the brand Golden or Liquitex, but those are quite expensive to start with. I find that Pebeo and Daler Rowney System 3 are a good choice to start.
Acrylics come in heavy body or more fluid viscosity. To start I would suggest to get the heavy body type, if you want to make it more fluid, you can always do that by yourself adding water for example.
Ideally you want to mix your own paint and avoid buying tons of tubes. You can start buying the warm and cold range of primary colours adding of course a black and a white. Here is the list
Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Lemon Yellow or Cadmium yellow light
If you want to add some extra colours to this fundamental list then add:
Bear in mind that while painting you’ll need a lot of white colour. So I would suggest to double the size of white compared to the quantity of other colours you’ll get.
Gesso & Mediums
To prime paper or raw canvas or wooden panels you’ll need gesso which can also be used as a white paint over a large area of a work in progress. I would suggest a good quality of gesso even if you are a beginner. Priming your surface properly is an important aspect of your work. So choose Golden or Liquitex at least 500ml.
There is an endless list of mediums out there and they all seem essential. To start you just need a gloss medium. I would suggest also in this case to get a good quality medium. Either Golden or Liquitex will work greatly.
You will use gloss medium to:
build up your layers of paint
stick collage in your painting
thin your heavy body paints and create a more transparent version of the opaque colours you have
seal your work
A gloss medium is very versatile and will add depth to the colours of your work. If you don’t like a glossy finish on your painting, you can always change it later when you varnish it. In this case you can decide to varnish your work with a matt or satin finish.
Flat: #12 and #16
Round: #2 – #6 and #12
Utility/Chip brushes 1”, 2” & 3” you can also find these in hardware / DIY stores
You can have a look at “5 of my favourite hardware tools for your abstract paintings” to have an idea of some extra tools you may need to add interesting textures to your work.
How to choose your surface? Well, my suggestion is to try a bit of everything before committing to one solution. If you are a beginner you still don’t know which is the surface that is more suitable for your kind of approach to art. These are the ones you should try experimenting with:
Mixed media paper
A great option is Fabriano Pittura in sheets of 50x70cm 400gsm. It’s very sturdy and will also allow you to add some texture by scratching it a bit. This paper doesn’t require any coat of gesso.
An alternative is watercolour paper. My favourite is Saunders Waterford 450gsm Hot Pressed. For an acrylic painting I suggest hot pressed watercolour paper as it is very smooth and pleasant to paint on. A weight of 450gsm is important to avoid the risk of buckling. With watercolour paper you can either decide to add a layer of gesso or paint directly on it. It will depend on the kind of painting result you want to achieve. If you would love to get a watercolour kind of effect then I suggest avoiding to add a coat of gesso. If you think of adding many layers of paint and maybe do some collage, definitely it’s good to protect the paper with a couple of coats of gesso.
The realm of canvasses is another infinite one. Don’t ask yourself too many questions and if you are a beginner just get small-medium size (between 30x30cm and 60x60cm) primed and stretched. I always suggest a square format because you can work out the design of your artwork in a more balanced and easier way.
If you have already tried the primed canvas perhaps you want to experiment with raw linen. You won’t need to gesso these and you can play with the raw colour in the background by leaving some areas untouched or maybe find your own experimental way on this beautiful organic surface.
The pleasure of working on wood is incomparable in my perspective. It’s smooth, it’s resistant to hammering and scratching, doesn’t bounce under your brushes like a canvas does… My favourite brands of cradled panels are:
Tintoretto (at GreaArt)
Global (at Cassart)
For higher quality and bigger sizes check ArtistSurfaces.co.uk
To save some money you could get the panels unprimed and you can prime them by yourself with a couple of coats of gesso.
For the sizes, I suggest some small three 15x15cm, six 30x30cm and maybe a couple of 60x60cm.
Fixing and Varnishing
When you get to this stage “varnishing your work” you’ll be very excited. It means you are happy with what you have created, and you can add finishing touches to seal it and move on. The varnish will protect your painting from dust, UV rays and yellowing and it comes in gloss, satin or matte finish.
Whether you need to seal your mixed media work on paper, on canvas or wood get a Liquitex varnish Spray (matt, satin or gloss according to your preference. I personally find the satin the best!)