Monday 10 October 2011

The Integrity of the artist - the materials debate

Kalinga Trees - detail

There’s been an ongoing debate between some of my artist friends in South Africa about the quality of materials used to create their paintings. Some advocate a comprehensive list of materials to be attached to each work. This would be rather like the mandatory list of ingredients on food packaging. Personally, I don’t think that’s the way to go. It places the focus on what’s gone into the work in the way of materials as though using top notch materials will ensure a masterpiece. It ignores the artistic ability of the artist and the concept behind the work.

Contemporary art has produced much that has a short lifespan. When I was at art school, acrylic paints were fairly new. Many artists made use of cheap household paints and today many still do with varying degrees of success and longevity. There are many artworks that will exist briefly before self-destructing.

Here in Australia all kinds of art materials, both imported and locally manufactured, are plentiful. Cheap canvasses and paints can be bought from hardware stores, supermarkets as well as speciality art stores. Some products are to be avoided at all costs while others are of better quality. It’s really a case of buyer beware.

The Field - detail

The good news for me is that oil paints are more affordable here than in South Africa. In particular, the Australian brand, Art Spectrum provides artists with a wide range of wonderful high quality pigments.

The irony is that for an artist, using the best equipment actually makes one’s task easier. A good brush makes expressive marks with ease and if cared for properly, will last for years. Top quality canvas is a joy to paint on and with artist’s quality oils in particular; the colours are loaded with pigment making a little go a long way. One has only to compare the lovely grey that results blending Winsor & Newton artist’s Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna and Titanium White with the same mixture using student grade paints

When painting in watercolour, using inferior brushes and poor quality paper spell disaster. If you’re a novice you really need all the help you can get. You don’t want to add a fight with the materials to your list of problems when learning a new medium.

So use the best you can afford. In this way you show respect both for yourself as an artist with integrity and for your collector who has invested in your work.
*The images above are details of paintings that will be on show this coming weekend at the Woodford Biennial Art Exhibition.


  1. interesting topic. I generally only use Winsor & Newton, but just recently have dabbled with Luiquidex, I still think W&N is best. I like their canvases as well - but recently have painted a lot on wood panels which are great - they don't every warp!!! And think how many of the old masters are on cardboard or wood. And they've lasted a while

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