Quality also marks the search for an ideal after necessity has been satisfied and mere usefulness achieved.
TLDR: Use the best, be the best. Oil paint is safe. Give your artist friends jars.
This one's a long one and a bit nerdy, you've been warned :)
I've mentioned in a previous blog post (64 Crayons) about the importance of quality. It is important to me (and the artists friends I know in my personal life) but let me tell you, there are a lot of artists out there that either don't know or don't care about quality workmanship.
I'm very fortunate that when I began painting in my teens I was provided with an excellent quality acrylic paint brand. When I began painting again as an adult I bought professional quality paint even though I was only painting for myself without thinking of selling the art. I bought the best I could afford in limited colours and expanded my supply over time.
When I began showing and selling my paintings, I never put a painting out into the world without being completely happy with either the painting itself or the quality. And I began researching paint, substrates, and pigments. Of course, you learn these things over time so my knowledge is much better now than it was even five years ago. To me, painting is not only an art but a craftsmanship.
I'll focus on my oil paintings since that is the medium I'm working with currently (but I maintain the same quality with my acrylics too).
I paint with a Canadian made oil paint that I purchase from Montreal, Kama Pigments, and it consists of pigment and walnut oil. Only the purest light-fast pigments are used. There are no fillers in this paint so a little goes a long way. I chose this brand of paint because after much research I had learned that walnut oil yellows less over time than linseed oil (which is common in many other oil paints) and is safer to use with a higher flashpoint. Since my studio is in my house health and safety is always a concern.
I do use Gamblin mediums in my underpainting but since I have asthma I need to be careful about toxins. Which is partly why I only use odorless mineral spirits in the under layers and not for cleaning my brushes or subsequent layers. It's still a health risk but I try to either do those layers outside in warm weather or I open all the windows while I'm using it. Despite being odorless it's still a chemical. I also use Galkyd medium in my paintings and while not completely safe is much safer. Sometimes I also use Cold Wax medium in the under layers also. Other than that I use walnut oil in the upper layer which is completely safe. Of course, once the painting is dry there is no harm to you as a collector.
There is a way of oil painting in a solvent free manner but I'm unable to achieve the look I want if I paint that way.
The interesting thing is when I paint in acrylic I notice the off gassing of the acrylic paint to be so much more noticeable than anything I use in oil painting. There has been a common misconception in modern times that acrylic paint is safer than oil paint which is completely untrue. There are lots of chemical binders used in acrylic paint and mediums whereas oil paint is simply pigment and oil. Using is a solvent is a choice I make to achieve the look I want and I'm aware of taking safety precautions.
Surface quality is important also. I paint on heavy cotton canvas that has been triple primed with archival quality gesso and is stretched on kiln dried pine stretchers. Some artists paint on solid wood panels, some on linen, some on canvas depending on their style of artwork and medium. I prefer canvas since I normally paint with some texture so a fine tooth isn't of concern for me.
When I do paint sketches with a palette knife either plein air (meaning outside) or in the studio I prefer to paint on canvas boards (canvas adhered to carboard panel or wood panel), or Canson canva-paper (a thick archival paper that mimics the tooth of canvas). Both of those are light weight enough for me to take on my camping trips and if I do a sketch I'm not happy with they are easily disposed. Sometimes I sell these sketches but I always clearly mark the materials used so that as a collector you know it needs framing and a future full sized painting could come from it.
As for quality of paintbrushes and knives? I have my favourite large Escoda brush from Spain that is hog bristle and leaves beautiful strokes in the paint that just thrill me but I also have brushes that cost me $2 with synthetic bristles that also do well for me. I learned early on that you don't need to spend a fortune on brushes, although maybe if I were a photo realist or portraiture painter I would have a different opinion. For me, cheap and expensive alike work depending on the application and use. Also, you can never have too many brushes and artists are fugal. I store them in large empty coffee cans and mason jars. If you ever want to befriend a painter just give them a bunch of clean jars - they are used for everything from storing brushes to mixing mediums and solvents to cleaning brushes.
My palette is a glass kitchen cutting board turned upside down so that I mix on the smooth side. I painted the chopping side a neutral grey so that it's easier to see my paint colours. Sometimes I cover it with wax paper to mix on for easy clean up because I'm lazy.
When I'm finished a painting and it has dried I title the back, sign it, inventory it and wire it. None of my collectors buy a painting without it being ready to hang. I feel that is important.
I always stand by the quality of my work. It means as much to me as the painting itself.
I will keep you updated on my latest work and perhaps some insight into my creative process.