Selecting Basic Painting Colors and Materials

By Mary Bentz Gilkerson
One of the questions I get a lot is what are the basic materials that I use. Which paint colors, brushes and knives?


“Tall Pines, Winter”, oil, 4 x 6″, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

“Tall Pines, Winter”, oil, 4 x 6″, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

I strongly recommend that you use the best quality paints that you can afford. You really do get what you pay for with paint. The best quality paints are pure pigment plus oil, with little to no filler.

williamsburg paint tubes

The brands with ** beside them are the ones I use on a regular basis.

Best Quality Oil Paints:
Old Holland

Good Quality Oil Paints:
M. Graham & Co.
Winsor Newton

Color names can vary slightly from brand to brand. I’ve used the Williamsburg color names here (M. Graham, Gamblin and Golden names are in parentheses when they are different).

Basic Double Primary Palette:
Gamblin’s Flake White Replacement or Titanium White (avoid Zinc White!)
Pthalo blue
Ultramarine blue
Yellow ochre
Indian yellow (Hansa yellow medium)
Fanchon red (Napthol Red or Perylene Red)
Carls Crimson (Alizarin Crimson or Quinacridone Crimson)

Color wheel from double primary palette.

Color wheel from double primary palette.

Want to know more about the advantages of using a Double Primary Palette to gain more control over color?
Click here to read more.

Some of my other favorites but not required. They’re convenience colors that are nice to have, but can be mixed from the list above:
Italian Terre Verte (Sap Green is the closest but there’s really no comparable Gamblin color. WN Terre Verte is almost the same.)
Italian Green Ochre
Egyptian violet (Dioxazine Purple)
Cinnabar Green Light
Monserrat Orange

I use black very rarely, but if you want one I’d suggest Ivory Black. You can also check out a fun read, Why Monet Never Used Black & Why You Shouldn’t Either.

Mediums:  I have a solvent-free studio and advocate the same for my students. If a medium is needed for brushwork I suggest using M. Graham’s Walnut Oil or Walnut Oil Alkyd, or Gamblin’s Solvent Free Gel  or Sovent Free Medium.

Oil/Acrylic Brushes. I use either the Utrecht white bristle, now Blick, or Rosemary’s Brushes:
#8 Filbert
#6 Bright
#2 Round
#12 Filbert


Painting Knives:
RGM Italian Plus Painting Knives, #81, #109 and #62, are great. Blick’s Painting Knives seem to be made by RGM so they work beautifully as well.

Miscellaneous materials:

Paper towels (Bounty is my favorite)

Graphite pencils and erasers

Bar of ivory soap for cleanup

Sketchbook for taking notes and doing thumbnail value studies. I like a small one so that I can carry it all the time.

If you’ve found this list useful, share it with a friend.


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