Supply and command

The right tools are critical to artistic success

The right tools are critical to artistic success

January 20, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Carl Butler enjoys the warm feeling of a purplish blue in his skies.

The painter, from the Brunswick, Md., area, remembers one project where his preferred color was missing. That was OK, he thought; he'd use a darker blue and improvise.

"I didn't get the warmer blue effect I wanted," Butler recalls. "(I used) the darker variety thinking I could mix a paint with it and get the same effect. I should have gone ahead and gotten the blue tube of paint I had wanted."

Talk about painting one's self into a corner.

The wrong materials can sabotage any art project into oblivion. Trying to create a watercolor with a painting knife, for instance, might not be the best idea.


So, while New Year's resolutions to learn how to paint or draw are still fresh, it's important to learn up front the ins and outs of unleashing the inner artist.

"There are just so many different art projects that are easy to do but people are afraid of them because they look difficult," says Roger Collins, owner with wife Ellen of Howard's Art Supplies and Frames on Dual Highway in Hagerstown. "It's easy to do if you have the right materials, and you can learn through an instructor of a book."

With so many options available - student-grade versus professional-grade paints, acrylics, oils and watercolors, or brushes ranging from sable to synthetic - it's easy to slip when first starting out on an artistic project.

But a little foresight can prevent big headaches.

"If you use the wrong brush for the wrong material, it just won't work," Collins says. "Probably the biggest problem is trying to be too cheap. A brush can last your lifetime, so you need to buy a decent quality."

It's a double-edged sword, trying to balance budget consciousness with quality materials.

Some decisions are easy. The difference between paints of student versus professional grade, for instance, diverge only in the amount of a color pigment used in the paint. And all papers at Collins' shop are acid-free, ensuring a longer life of the finished painting.

But skimp on a brush, says South Jefferson Elementary School art teacher Judith Chesley, and you're liable to be picking stray hairs out of a painting before they are dried in place for the life of the project.

For 23 years, Chesley has taught art at the Charles Town, W.Va., school. After so much time she knows what supplies she needs and tries not to sacrifice quality for cost because she knows what can happen when shoddy supplies sabotage a class project.

"If you were doing a pottery project and had the wrong kind of clay and you fired it and it broke all to pieces, you would have a lot of unhappy children," she says.

Paint, brushes, paper or canvas, these are the easy supplies everyone recognizes as vital to painting. What is lost in the shuffle, according to Butler and Collins, are other materials that can make your project flow more smoothly.

Just try painting a pasture scene without a fan brush, Butler says. Using a traditional, thin tipped brush leads to a more tedious process. And without a storage area for paints and brushes, artists can be left with a muddled jumble of supplies stuffed haphazardly into a drawer.

Art projects may look difficult, and it will take time to master technique. But in this instance an ounce of prevention really does equal a pound of cure. Resources are readily available, Collins says. It's up to the artist to use them.

Bottom line, Chesley says, is to take time to research materials and try to avoid relying on cheap supplies.

"I've found that just doesn't work," she says. "You buy watercolors for $1 or $2 a tray and they just don't last a month or two, and you have to start over again."

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