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18 Painting Tools to Help You Find Your Inner van Gogh

A man painting a European scene on a canvas on an easel.

If you want to express yourself on canvas, you’re going to need the right tools. Fortunately, there are a lot of cool options out there that can make the process easier and help you create a masterpiece.

Choosing Your Paint

10 bottles of Apple Barrel acrylic paints in various colors, and 10 tubes of Winsor & Newton oil paints in various colors.
Apple Barrel; Winsor & Newton

Not all paint is created equal. Additionally, there are different kinds of paints, which not only change the look and feel of your art but the entire process. Acrylic paints are best for beginners because they dry quickly, which makes layering easier and faster.

Watercolors offer a more transparent look and create a washed-out effect—just don’t let your painting get wet afterward because it might wash away!

Oil paints dry slowly and force you to be more patient. They’re also a bit harder to handle, so they generally aren’t recommended for beginners.

Regardless of which type of paint you choose, you can create amazing works of art. Experiment and find the one that best suits your style and will enable you to grow as an artist.

Here are some recommendations to help you get started:

  • Apple Barrel Assorted Colors: There’s a reason elementary schools all over the country use Apple Barrel paints. These acrylics dry fast, so you can get more done in a shorter session. If you accidentally paint your shoes, a little water, soap, and a paper towel will remove it. This set includes 18 colors, but you can mix them and create hundreds.
  • ARTEZA Acrylic Paint Set: This 60-color set makes it much easier for beginners who haven’t quite gotten the hang of mixing to create new colors, but also saves you time as a result. Arteza also offers individual, large paint pouches, so if you use one color a lot, you can order it in bulk, without having to reorder a whole pack of paints.
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Paint: This set of watercolors includes 12 colors, one brush, and a case with a built-in palette mixer. These aren’t those cheap dollar stores watercolors that look like makeup tins, either. They produce vibrant tints with that classic watercolor transparency, and you won’t need a whole pitcher of water to use them.
  • Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colour Paint: These oil paints give you consistent and uniform brush strokes. Oil paints are generally a lot more expensive than acrylics and watercolors, but this set manages to offer powerful tints at an affordable price.

Brushes and Wedges

15 Santa Fe Art Supply paintbrushes in their case, and 15 Virtuoso fine paintbrushes.
Santa Fe Art Supply; Virtuoso

Your brush is almost as important as the paint you use, and there are many types of brush tips. They differ in length, width, and shape. Because each type of brush offers certain advantages, it’s important to understand the differences if you want to elevate your art.

Flat and filbert brushes push paint around and create large areas, while round and liner brushes are better for detailed work. However, you can use a filbert brush for detailed work and, if you’re patient enough, you can cover a whole canvas with a liner brush. It all depends on what is easiest and most efficient for you. You should use the brushes that are the most comfortable for you.

Wedges offer unique ways to push paint around your canvas. They’re perfect for thicker mediums, like oil and acrylics. Some of them have teeth, while others have flat or round edges for different styles. Most wedges are made of flexible silicone, which is easy to clean.

These are some of our favorite brush and wedge sets:

  • Santa Fe Art Supply Paintbrush Set: These brushes work great with any type of paint. This set comes with 15 tips, including a fan, flat, filbert, round, tapered, wide, and fine brushes. Each brush has a 12-inch wooden handle for easy gripping at any angle, and synthetic bristles that stay in place.
  • Virtuoso 15-Piece Fine Paintbrushes: This set is perfect for those highly detailed sections. It includes five round brushes, five liner brushes, as well as three flat, and two spot brushes. The bristles are incredibly fine and shed-resistant.
  • Princeton Catalyst Silicone Wedge: With two rounded and two flat sides, these wedges are great for all kinds of paints (except watercolors). They’re even FDA-approved for food, so you can use them to frost a cake. Princeton also sells a wedge with toothed edges instead of flat, if you want to push paint around the canvas and leave a little behind.

Easels and Canvas

The U.S. Art Supply French-Style Easel and FIXSMITH 12-Pack of canvas panels.
U.S. Art Supply; FixSmith

Easels offer many advantages over painting on a flat surface. If you have to hover over your painting, shadows can make it difficult to see what you’re doing—particularly on more detailed work. However, an easel that’s facing the right direction allows ceiling lights to shine at an angle that illuminates your painting. An easel also helps you keep your arms away from the paint. If you accidentally rest your wrists on your wet painting, it can be disastrous and take forever to fix.

Canvas is an important tool in any painter’s arsenal. It’s more like fabric than paper and is designed specifically to hold paint. You usually buy canvas pre-stretched on a frame, or in a roll or panel. Traditional stretched canvas is more expensive because of the wooden frame, but you can hang it immediately after it’s dry. Rolls and panels are cheaper but harder to prepare for display—they’re perfect for practice, though.

We recommend the following supplies:

  • T-SIGN Aluminum Easel: You operate this easel like a camera tripod. All three legs extend from 21 to 66 inches, so you can easily use it on the ground or a table. You can also easily adjust the top clamp to accommodate different canvas sizes. It’s made of thick, but light (it weighs less than two pounds) aluminum, so it’s perfect if you need something you can easily transport.
  • U.S. Art Supply Coronado French-Style Easel: Offering a few more bells and whistles, this more traditional easel is made of beechwood. The legs extend from 22 to 71 inches, and even fold up, so you can place it on a desk or table. There’s also a handy removable drawer if you want to store your supplies right where you need them. This easel has a handle and shoulder strap for easy transport.
  • Studio 71 Traditional Stretched Canvas: Available in multiple sizes, this stretched canvas comes ready to use—no priming necessary.
  • FIXSMITH Painting Canvas Panel Pack: The canvas panels in this pack are stretched over paper boards, which are much cheaper than wooden frames. However, they’re also weaker and easier to deform. These are ideal if you want to practice, though—this pack of 12 is cheaper than one wooden frame canvas.

Palettes and Palette Knives

A stack of Hulameda disposable paint palettes and two with some paint mixed on them, and four Conda Palette Knives.
Hulameda; Conda

Mixing paints is one of the most important elements of any artwork because stores only sell so many colors. When you mix them, you can unlock the full-color spectrum.

Painting palettes are designed for mixing experimentation. They have multiple deep wells, where you can add and stir paints together. Cleaning a palette, though, can be difficult, and for most artists, it’s just not worth it. Disposable palettes are ideal—you just toss them when you’re finished.

You should never use the tip of your brush when you mix paints, as this will damage it. You’ll also lose some bristles in the paint. Always use a palette knife to mix paints. This will spare your brushes, and you can easily wipe the knife clean after each use. If you’re brave enough, you can also apply paint directly to your canvas with a palette knife. They produce a unique stroke if you want to shake up your style.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite palettes and knives:

  • Hulameda Disposable Paint Tray Palettes: Available in either a 12- or 28-pack, these thin plastic palettes are meant to be disposable, but you can clean and reuse them. The wells are deep enough to hold a decent amount of paint so you won’t run out often.
  • Strathmore Paper Sheet Disposable Palette: This palette paper is coated in a layer of wax to prevent it from absorbing too much of the paint. It also gives you a better idea of what the color will look like on the canvas.
  • Martin Universal Design Watercolor Palette: Specifically for watercolors and oil paints, this palette has 24 slanted wells for paint storage, two large mixing areas, and a removable mixing tray. The lid is airtight and leak-proof, so it will keep your paints fresh for weeks.
  • CONDA Palette Knife Set: These knives are numbered from one to five, with each being a bit longer than the one before it. The width and shapes vary, though; one even has a rounded tip. This gives you a lot of options when you use these to apply paint to your canvas.

Finishing Wax and Cleaning Supplies

Jacquard Products Dorland's 16-Ounce Wax, MyLifeUNIT Artist Brush Basin
Jacquard, MyLifeUNIT

When you’re done with your painting, it’s important to apply a coating to protect it from water and sun damage. These come in glossy or matte finishes and will give your painting a more professional, complete look.

And of course, let’s not forget all the brushes you’re going to have to clean. A brush basin is a good way to keep paint from drying on your brushes, but a cup of water will work, too. If your brushes are too caked with paint to clean easily, there are some special soaps designed to remove paint from bristles without pulling them out. Improper care can ruin your brushes, so it’s important to stay on top of it.

We recommend the following finishes and cleaning supplies:

  • Jacquard Products Dorland’s 16-Ounce Wax: If you add this cold wax to your completed painting, it will give it a nice finish and protect it from the elements. It’s especially good if you paint in an art journal because it prevents the pages from sticking together.
  • The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver: This stuff will remove even the most caked-in oil paint without tearing out half the bristles. To use it, just run some warm water over your paintbrush, and then swirl it around in this cleaner; repeat until its completely clean. It also preserves your brushes and keeps them in good condition.
  • MyLifeUNIT Artist Brush Basin: This basin has multiple wells with ridges, making it quick and easy to clean your brushes. It also has holes on one side where you can store your clean brushes until they’re dry.
Jonathon Heddings Jonathon Heddings
Jonathon is a writer for ReviewGeek where he handles writing for product reviews, round ups, and more. If he's not writing, he's testing out a new product, reading tech news, or attending University. Read Full Bio »