Top Ten (and even more) of My Favorite Art Tools

There are so many tools I use all the time, I want to highlight some of my favorite brands for anyone that wants some recommendations! I use some of these every time I paint, and some not every time, but they are indispensable!


  1. Let’s talk about the setup. My studio has some equipment that seems pretty expected, but I would have a tough time making art without them. I use a pretty simple easel, it’s a midsize H-frame style. I would love to have another larger one, but it does the job and I can move it around easily which I like too. I have seen the wall mounted ones too, and if I had more space in my studio, that would definitely be on my wish list. I have a small farm table that holds my palette and brushes that I couldn’t live without and a tall chair for when I can take a rest or when I work on my computer. Of course, I have my computer I use for reference photos and other work. I use paper towels to wipe paint off my brushes regularly, so I have a plastic bag that holds dirty ones until I can dispose of them.
  2. Glass Palette – Love love love my palette. It is a large piece of heavy glass with rounded edges (like you would have on a coffee table.) It is easy to clean off and that keeps my paint nice and clean. I have used (and do use en plein aire) a wooden palette too and they are ok, but I tend to leave too much paint behind, so I like the glass which can be really scrubbed with odorless mineral spirits, like my favorite brand, Gamsol.
  3. Palette knife – I know, for some people, this is just not that important, but for me, I have to have one I really love. If I ever paint and don’t have this tool handy, I am just annoyed beyond belief. I personally like a flat edge steel knife for mixing my paint and for application on my art in places. Check out Dick Blick’s Blue Comfort Grip Painting Knife Style 84 or at Jerry’s Artarama, I like Creative Mark, Painters Edge Stainless Steel Painting Knife Style 44T.
  4. Brushes – Oh my goodness! Nothing makes me giddy like a little kid like getting some Rosemary Brushes in the mail! They are amazing, hand-made in England and are used by artists that inspire me. I love the responsiveness of the brushes and the way they hold their shape. Check out Rosemary Brushes to see what I mean. My favorites are: Ivory Long Flat Curved Edge in a 6 and 10, Series 279 Master’s Choice Long Flats in 2, 4 8, and 10 and Series 44 Pure Kolinsky Rigger in Size 6. There are others I have, but those are definitely my top choices.
  5. Gamsol – In general, I like all Gamblin products, but I really can’t paint without Gamsol. It is odorless mineral spirits and when they say odorless, they mean it. I really don’t smell it. Also, because it evaporates slowly, it is a safer mineral spirit to have in the studio. I use it to clean my palette and my brushes and in the first stages of my painting to loosen up the paint. When I prepare my panels, I use it to loosen up my oil paint ground (but that’s a totally different post.) For cleaning my brushes, I use it in a coil jar that I clean out every paint session. But again, that process is another post in the works!
  6. Let’s talk about Paint! So, I do keep a pretty limited palette but occasionally I will try a special color. Generally, I love Williamsburg Paint, Gamblin and M. Graham. Here’s a run down of my basic palette:

Gamblin Fast Matte in Transparent Red for my underpainting

Williamsburg Titanium White (I know the Lead White is better and I use it occasionally.)

Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Red

Yellow Ochre

Quinacridone Red

Ultramarine Blue and Prussian Blue

Raw Umber

Paynes Grey Violet

Van Dyke Brown

  1. Panels – I will use pre-stretched canvas, but mostly I use birch wood panels. For my larger pieces, my work starts off as a birch panel that is not prepped at all except for being built with supports and generally 2 inch deep cradle. I then will prepare the sides with a dark espresso stain that has polyurethane built in. I will sand and stain, then steel wool and stain about three times for each side. The top then is prepared with PVA inside and out three times and then I use Gamblin’s Oil Paint Ground on top. This is a lengthy process and deserves it’s own special post. I prepare my panels this way for longevity and brightness of color. For my smaller pieces, I will use a prepared panel with gesso on top and prep the sides and insides with PVA with the sides being stained the same way as the larger ones. I love how clean and contemporary they look and hope my collectors love them too!!
  2. Creature comforts! I love my coffee. No, really, I love coffee like all day long. So, I do drink coffee while I paint but I am very careful how I handle it with my dirty painty hands and usually will wash my hands or use a paper towel to keep paint out of my foodstuff. I also love water. I drink a lot of water so again, I am careful not to eat paint. I need my sneakers or other comfy shoes and comfy jeans and I always use my apron, not just to keep paint off my clothes but also to hold stuff like my phone and sometimes brushes or paper towels although those usually end up in my back pocket of my jeans.
  3. I can’t live without some special tools that I don’t use all the time, but I really need them when I need them. For example, I don’t use any medium, usually, but I do use Rublev Oleogel from Natural Pigments. From the Natural Pigments website, “Oleogel is a firm thixotropic gel made with linseed oil and fumed silica.” I use it when I am approaching the end of a painting I have worked on in many sessions and I want to add the finishing brushstrokes. I will add a small amount using a paper towel on a dry painting to wake it up and give it a little oil so that when I go in for the last approach, the paint adheres to the layer below and blends like a wet in wet painting. Another product I don’t use a lot but is really important to me is Chelsea Classical Studios Lavender Retouch Varnish. I rarely have time to apply a permanent varnish these days since you need to wait six months or preferably a year before using it, but I can use retouch varnish as soon as the painting is dry to the touch and my favorite is Chelsea Studios Lavender because it is natural and smells amazing. I also love Gamblin’s Gamvar as well, so I recommend either!
  4. Lastly, along the lines of creature comforts is my next tool. It’s Pandora or Stitcher app on my phone. I love listening to music while I create and I have a couple of Pandora stations that I use for different reasons. My main station is the Squirrel Nut Zippers station. It has jazz standards like Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra, Neo-Pop Swing like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Brian Setzer, Electro-swing like Parov Stelar, Dixieland Jazz like Louis Armstrong and tons of unexpected music in between. It keeps me out of my own head and moving forward with lots of energy. My thumbprint station has my favorites I have thumbed up and I like the way it kind of jumps from genre to genre so that I have a little more variety. I will listen to this when I get tired of my main station and when I am painting for a long time. When I need to get motivated or thinking about my business stuff, I love to listen to a variety of podcasts on Stitcher.