Whether you are an artist setting up a studio or you are looking for a gift for an artist, these 10 essential items are what you need to start painting. Having everything you need at your fingertips is so important when you’re creating art.
Who made this list?
This list of essential art studio items is my own. I am a professional artist who has been working for over 15 years and I’ve learned what’s best by trail and error. I’ve learned from workshops, instructors and lots and lots of reading. It’s not a list made up by a paid writer who gets their info from online reviews.
These 10 items will set you up to be creative. It’s for both acrylic and oil painters.
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1. Studio Easel
I’m jumping right into this list with a big item – this wonderful easel – because it’s probably the most important item in a home art studio. Any artist would appreciate having a real easel to paint or draw with. I have this exact one and it’s sturdy and doesn’t take up too much room. It’s also a too-good-to-be-true price point!
In the image below you can see that this mid sized easel can easily hold a larger painting. That’s a 36″x36″ painting I’m working on.
2. Good Daylight Lamp
Next on my list is a good daylight lamp. Lighting in a studio can fluctuate with the weather – rain, clouds, it all affects the light in a studio. But with this lamp you’ll be able to paint anytime, even at night.
Why is lighting so important? Proper lighting allows an artist to mix and put down accurate colors. And consistent lighting allows the artist to continue the painting day after day and make consistent color and value choices.
You can see this very lamp in my studio image above, it’s attached to the easel I recommend in No. 1.
Professional fluorescent/incandescent swing arm clamp-on lamp
3. Palette and paint scraper
Glass Artist Palette and Paint Scraper to clean the palette.
To read more about glass palettes and why they are the BEST palettes for aratist, you may want to read my extensive post about ready-made glass palettes (below) and the option of fitting a palette box with glass.
I’ve tried every other kind of palette available and now I only use glass palettes. I have three – it’s all explained in that other post.
Glass palettes can SO easily be cleaned with a razor paint scraper like the one below. Just scrape the paint off the glass, then wipe with a paper towel and you’re done. It couldn’t be easier!
4. Artist Tools
Tools – paints, brushes, and palette knives. An artist needs a variety of tools. This is the category that is pretty much wide open when it comes to choices, but that’s what makes it fun. It can take years of discovery to figure out which brushes and paints one prefers.
Grumbacher Pre-Tested Oil Paint, 10-Color Set This is a well respected brand of paints and used by many professionals. (I use some Grumbacher but I also mix in other brands, that’s part of the journey of an artist!)
Golden Acrylic Paints, Set of 9
Robert Simmons Signet Brushes This is my favorite brand of brushes. It’s a great set because it has a variety of sizes and shapes – round, filbert, and flat. I have hundreds of paint brushes and 90% of them are Robert Simmons Signet Brushes.
Stainless Steel Palette Knives Palette knives in different shapes are used for different things while painting and this set of 5 includes a shape and size for every purpose.
5. Canvas or panels
Of course an artist will need a surface to paint on, and the most common painting surface is stretched canvas or a panel with canvas adhered to it. If this is a gift I would start with a few stretched cotton canvases by Frederix, which is a very reliable consistent brand.
Frederix stretched canvas – 8×10 inch / 6 pack. Canvas comes in many sizes, from 3″x4″ all the way up to 60″x72″.
Artist Painting Canvas Panels – 8×10 Inch / 12 Pack
6. Turpentine and painting medium for oils only
You can skip these two items if you are painting in acrylics. Acrylic paint is water soluble so clean up is easy with water. You can also thin acrylic paint with a little water or you can use acrylic medium. Oil paint requires turpentine to clean up (including cleaning your brushes) and medium for thinning.
7. sketch book and pencils
An artist should always have blank paper and pencils or pens around. The variety here is almost limitless! I’ll start with my favorite sketch books, I sketch and write ideas in these. An assortment of pencils with sharpener and eraser is essential to go with the sketch book.
Strathmore 400 Series Recycled Sketch Pad, 9″x12″ This is the sketch pad I go to again and again, from sketching to journaling about my art, this 9″x12″ pad is the perfect size. They do come in many more sizes.
Faber-Castell Graphite Pencil Set with eraser and pencil sharpener. Pencils come in a variety of softness and hardness, this set gives you all 12 varieties to try out. This is a very respectable brand that’s been around for a long time.
Case for your pencils, eraser and pencil sharpener I keep it simple because this is just a utilitarian case but they come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes. Just be sure you get one that’s LONG enough for pencils. And remember, simple is better.
7. paper towels or rags
Viva paper towels leave behind the least amount of fibers when you use them on your canvas. Old t-shirts cut up into smaller pieces make great rags. I use rags to apply thin washes to canvas or to wipe out mistakes.
8. View finder or view catcher
The Artist’s View Catcher. Also called a view finder. This is a great little tool. You adjust the rectangle to be the same proportions as your canvas, then you look through it and choose your view. This tool is especially handy when you’re outside painting plein air because there is SO MUCH to see, it limits your view to just what you want to paint. It’s also handy to have inside for still lifes and painting the figure from life.
9. Black apron
Professional Grade Chef Apron – Black An artist’s apron needs to be BLACK. Why? Because the color of your apron will cast a reflection onto your paints and/or canvas, depending on how close you are to your palette. Even a white apron will change the lighting conditions of your palette. Black is the answer, it absorbs light and doesn’t cast a weird tint on your palette.
Well, books are essential in my book. (ha) They are wonderful for inspiration and motivation. To me, that’s essential.
Check out my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE BOOKS about artists.
I have about 300 art books. Most of the first two varieties I describe below.
There are so many different categories of art books: There are big coffee table books where you can study the details of a painting, there are biographies about artists where you can see how famous artists lived and solved their painting challenges. And there are instructional books, which are never as interesting but sometimes necessary.
These are the 10 essential art studio items I have found I need to create art. I hope you find my list helpful whether it’s in a studio or in a corner of a room you can call your own.
Many artists call for a taboret which is a piece of furniture to keep all your paints and brushes in, and usually the palette sits on top of that. I try to keep my studio fresh and open I don’t find that I need an additional bulky piece of furniture. I put my palette on a vintage rolling typewriter table. I keep all my supplies in either a closet with shelves or in a smallish wood cabinet close by.