The topic of student’s oils vs. artists oils comes up again and again in my classes, so this is an attempt to de-mystify selecting oil paints.
Let’s look at the main differences between Artist and student oils:
Oil paints are made up of pigment, oil and binder (and sometimes filler).
You can make similar colours using cheaper, often synthetic pigments (although some synthetic pigments are fantastic); and you can use cheaper oils and binders/fillers to bulk the paint out, meaning that you can get away with less pigment.
But that doesn’t necessarily make cheaper paints BAD! Sometimes they are Fit for Purpose.
Sometimes you will find that some brands work better than others for your needs.
By all means mix brands, but leave the super-cheap stuff on the shelves of the shops.
In oils, you really can be guided by price to gauge quality. (My chart shows Recommended Retail Prices in March 2017 from one supplier). Remember though that as in clothing, some occasions call for cotton and some for linen or silk. Also, prices differ from one supplier to the next.
Good Student brands are Daler Rowney Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton, Classico Maimeri.
Artists’ Brands shown are Winsor and Newton Artists’ Oils (the middle of the road artists’ oils), and Old Holland, one of the most expensive brands. The prices are per 10ml of paint – about 2 teaspoons!
|Tubes of about 40ml||price per 10ml|
|Rec. Retail Price||Titanium White||Yellow Ochre||Cerulean Blue (hue)|
|Winsor and Newton||£2.09||£2.09||£5.20|
|Old Holland Classic||£2.06||£2.06||£13.06|
I think this tells you that students’ Cerulean may be weak and disappointing, or simply not Cerulean at all in the cheaper brands. But these brands cover themselves by naming it Cerulean Blue HUE! And if you aren’t painting realistic skies it may never matter!
Each tube of paint gives you information as follows:
Series: This is the price of the paint depending on the pigment used. Series 1 is the cheapest and series 5 is the most expensive. Student paints generally all cost the same.
Permanence: This is usually show in stars *** or in letters AA is the most permanent and C is fugitive and a waste of money. If you are painting purely for reproduction, permanence doesn’t matter.
Opacity: This is how transparent the paint is. Indian Red and Burnt Sienna look the same in the swatches, but Indian Red is opaque (O) and Burnt Sienna is transparent (T). Brown Ochre is Semi Transparent (ST) Sometimes this is shown as a solid block diagram or an outlined block. Semi-Transparent is shown as a block divided diagonally.
Some techniques are nicer with more transparent paint. It depends on what you want to do with it.
- There are three factors to consider when you choose your paint:
The colour: Can you mix the colours you want? I found that I could not get the orange colour of a clementine with a cheap cadmium yellow and cadmium red. (Daler Rowney Georgian). But you may never need orange. A good cadmium yellow may work out cheaper in the long run because it has such strong tinting qualities, if you only ever use it to tint colours.
For realistic painting especially portraiture, you’ll need very accurate mixing and top quality colours. For stylised painting the actual colour may not be as crucial to you.
- The Viscosity: i.e. the way the paint behaves when you apply it: Does it cover well? If you rub it for a transluscent look is it what you hoped for? Is it too greasy? Traditionally opaque colours ought to have good coverage. Glazing is best done with transluscent colours.
- The Permanence: The Test of Time: Will it last? This is not altogether related to price because some pigments such as Yellow Ochre are always cheap Series 1, (the price) and always AA (super-permanent). Many cheap pigments are chemically produced and are fairly permanent. Sometimes less permanent paints sometimes cost much more because of the pigment used.
I teach using student quality paints (various brands). You can see the workshop I gave last week. All ten people had never used oils before – although some had tried acrylics. I was thrilled with the results. If you are interested in my workshops, you can see more on the website here.
It’s worth starting out with student oils to decide if you enjoy oil painting. I suggest you start with the most basic palette, then each time you replace a tube or buy a new colour that you buy an artist’s quality tube of oils. You can often purchase starter packs of large tubes in Georgian Rowney (try e-bay) and by the time you have used these up, you can gradually swop or even discard them if they are disappointing.. They certainly last a long time unless you do big paintings.
Do some research and read up on the internet about which brands are best. Don’t be fooled by misleading titles like ‘graduates oils’. Winton (The Winsor and Newton student brand) also has a good name in student oils. I have heard consistently good reports about Classico Maimeri. I haven’t tried many student brands myself in depth, (yet) because I only use artist’s oils in my own work.
I intend doing my own research to come up with a selection of student quality oils, looking for the best budget value for money. In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing about your experiences with different brands. In the next blog post I’ll chat about selecting a good colour palette.