Is there really that much difference between using cheap oil paints and the high quality stuff when you throw it around as much as i do?
It sounds a redundant question but actually the more expensive something is doesn't always mean it's better. And certainly when you're first starting out as an artist, unless you've got a second income, you're only going to be able to afford cheap paint. Particularly if you get through as much as I do! So does it matter?
I am self taught. That has brought with it all sorts of benefits and creative freedoms but definitely a few drawbacks. The first few years as a professional artist were easy, chaotic, brilliant but easy. Why? I didn't have a clue what I was doing and it didn't seem to matter. I just needed to create and I was having fun doing it.
But as the years went on I had a crisis in confidence. I was moving out of my comfort zone and seemed to be getting into all sorts of problems with the paint. I had cracking, shrinking and sometimes the paint layer fell off completely. I realised that without a much better knowledge of materials, processes and colours I wasn't going to progress.
So I went back to basics. What is paint? How does it work? Is there any real difference between cheaper and expensive paint?
I bought a few books, some pigment and some oil. That should have told me everything. Yes? No, not really. It took me about three years to get really good at paint. The usual experimentation. The usual failures and a fair amount of dubious paint mixes.
Now though, the paints are looking good. So what did I learn?
Well I certainly learnt that there is a huge difference between cheap and expensive paint. To make paint affordable manufacturers compromise on hues instead of original pigments and pack the paint with fillers to make up the volume. Purer colours give better refraction in the light passing through the paint layer. Making colours that vibrate. Colours that feel.
I also learnt that making your own paint is the real key to taking your work to a whole new level. And if you want to push the boundaries of what is possible, then you're definitely going to need to make your own paint.
By having complete control of all the ingredients I have been able to invent new paints and new techniques. I hand mull my paints, using the purest pigments and the correct companion oils. My resins in particular have taken much experimentation to get just right.
Without this knowledge and control the fire paintings simply would not be as rich and complex as they are now. It was only through figuring out that a certain resin when added to the paint mix burnt with a very "sooty" edge to the flame, that I was able to add so much carbon depth to the paintings.
Equally by using handground colours or good quality tubes with a blend of two different alkyd resins, I can flick in each blade of grass individually. Creating a depth and clarity I simply couldn't get with a brush alone. That blend of alkyd resins alone has taken years to perfect. Achieving the stringing effect that oil paints simply aren't designed to do.
With the purest pigments I can make the purest paint. And only then can I be truly accurate with my mixing. There is so much confidence to be gained from using colours that you know are accurate. It's equally reassuring knowing what will happen to these paints as they age. I invest a huge amount of time in every single artwork and it is good to know the paint I use is the best it can be.
So back to my original question. Is there much difference between cheap and quality oil paint? Absolutely. And my own learning curve taught me that you should always buy the best paint you can afford. Even if it means you have to forego a few of life's luxuries along the way to afford it.