Over the past ten years as a painter, I’ve acquired quite the collection of power tools, brushes, and paints. Living in the Horlock House as a part of the Navasota Artists in Residence program, I had the unique opportunity to house all my tools for a summer. I divided my collection into two rooms: my woodshop, which was in the detached garage, and my studio, which was in the laundry room.
Having a woodshop gave me the opportunity to build my own painting surfaces instead of buying them. As funny as it is to have a studio in the laundry room, it made the most sense because of the quality of natural light coming in from the west facing windows. On the sill, I had my mixing table, computer, paints, mason jars filled with brushes, gadgets, and gizmos aplenty. It was a painter’s dream.
Being frugal on supplies is a necessary skill I acquired during my college years at the Kansas City Art Institute. I spent many hours in the woodshop with my best-friend and roommate Katie striving to construct flawless corners for our frames and wooden panels. By the time we graduated we were masters. Okay… not so much masters, but we were pretty good at building our own frames and painting panels, no matter how big or small. Not having a woodshop after graduation was a huge loss. When Christmas and birthdays came around my family would ask “what I wanted.” My response was always POWER TOOLS! When moving into the house in Navasota I was so excited to get back into building my beloved wooden panels again.
I use my chop saw more than any other tools in my garage workshop. Received as a gift from my mom and sister, I use it to make 45 degree angled cuts for flawless 90 degree corners. My second favorite tool is a scroll saw. Wood is fed into the saw like fabric into a sewing machine. Since the blade is so thin, I’m able to create the intricate cuts my creativity often calls for. Finally, I use a table saw to cut large sheets of plywood into the more manageable panels. I tend to work small in order to get a lot of pieces out of one large sheet, then glue frames to the back for more thickness and sand down all the sides so they’re flush. It might take longer making your own painting panel then buying one from Blick Art Materials but I save money, plus everything is custom to my needs.
A Little Ingenuity
If you don’t have an electric sander, a trick of the trade is to make yourself a sanding block. They costs little, and work great for sanding down layers of gesso (a chalk and binder mixture) to create a smooth surface before applying paint.
DIY Sanding Blocks
You will need: three types of sandpaper, staple gun, scrap wood cuts
1. Wrap the sandpaper around the wood like a present
2. Staple it for security
3. Make up to three using different degrees of sandpaper grits.|
The laundry room is home to my back alley painting pallet on wheels. Here Hulu plays on my laptop, brushes stand at attention in mason jars, while mixing knives wait on top. My mixing palette is queen here. I inherited her from an old college friend my senior year. She’s an old 27”x 28” sheet of glass with the back painted white and a 2” wooden window frame surrounding it. Just this year she has evolved into a work table that rolls around my studio. I like to think that it is evolving to fit my needs as a growing artist.
A Touch of Tech
My MacBook Pro is always on my mixing table when I’m painting. I usually have it tuned to Gilmore Girls or KUTX on Iheartradio.com. However, it transforms into a very important tool the moment I open Photoshop to edit photos I plan on recreating in paint. In the software, I use the zoom feature to see small details when I paint. Ideally, I’d like to have an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, but I’m not cool enough for that ;). My darling Love has one and it’s his favorite thing:
I use an app called Procreate which allows me to sketch, paint and edit work smoothly. It’s very versatile, and thanks to a large user base, it’s constantly being updated with things like new brushes.
– Jason Oliver
He makes more use of technology then I do 🙂
Being an artist is not always wood chips and paint, sometimes you have to write about your work. Google Drive is the cool substitute for Microsoft Word.
It allows for me to collaborate with my critique partners in real-time, work wherever I am, and not have to worry about losing all of my work if a drive crashes.
– Avery White
Being so self-conscious of my writing, I agree with Avery. On average I need five people (give or take) to proofread for me before my deadlines. Google makes sharing documents particularly easy to share with friends all over.
Towering over my laptop are a wide variety of brushes in mason jars. I favor the flat and round brushes with brown synthetic bristles. They work great for freehand clean lines and flow nicely with a bit of water or painter’s medium. Want a really straight line with no fuss? Lay down blue painter’s tape with a clear coat of Golden Mediums. Let it fully dry before applying the paint. The nice clean lines in an artwork are only a taste of what goes into building an image.
I just like the immediacy of the hand. It is one of the first marks on a surface. It’s a foundation in history of marks that are at the end result.
– Cristina Muniz
Fun fact: Cristina’s favorite tool is an oil stick and a bondo spreading tool.
For another painter, Katie Koch, her favorite tool is “The paint brush, because it’s sexy :)”. A clean set of brushes can seduce us into the studio for years. I grew up next to an experienced painter, Arturo Mercado, who painted with brushes older than I am now. A tip he told me to extend the life of my favorite brushes, was to wash them with soap and water every night. It doesn’t matter if you paint in oil or acrylic, having the right mark making tool in an artist’s hand is essential.
Being an artist is about being creative with what you have. The best tool is your imagination.
It is the spark that jump-starts to other tools such as persistence, dedication, and motivation.
– Jose Faus, painter and poet
Recently, I was forced to rely on my creativity. At the time, I was creating a painting that required over 300 small dots. I wanted the dots to be roughly the same size, but not perfectly round. However, after painstakingly trying to use the smallest round tip brush I had, it just wasn’t working. I went to my mason jars full of brushes, pencils, and other odds and ends. It was there I found an old paintbrush with missing bristles. It turned out to be the perfect size I needed to use as a stamp for my dots! Since then, I’ve learned that it always helps to keep old (and even broken) brushes.
Embracing the Mess
I’m not afraid to allow gadgets and gizmos to litter my free space. I’ve repurposed a Single Edge Blade Window Scraper as my paint scraper (be sure to buy Single Edge Blade refills as they tend to get messy). I use clear plastic wrap to keep my paint fresh, and a paint rag to help in the cleaning process. The best kind of rag is an old white cotton T-shirt or even better, an old bed sheet. Some of my best abstract work came from using those kind of rags. I even made a frame for them once. I use a Lone pink micron pen to make edits.
You can buy ones (micron pens) with such fine tips, and I can get really tiny and detailed in my drawings.
– Drew Linne
I splurge on Golden Acrylics as they have the best quality of color on the market (in my opinion). They also have a great collection of Mediums that you can mix with a color to add more texture, gloss, extender, and mattes. Color is the only thing I don’t cheap out on.
There are tools for every step of birthing a painting. Whether you are establishing a solid foundation, doing the surface and line work, adding detail, or applying color.
My collection has wide variety of tools to turn my imagination into a reality. While it may not be comprised of the most expensive or sought after tools, my toolbox is made of pieces that work for me. Discover what works for you and that will make the difference between work and a passion.