Frequently Asked Questions :: Supplies


{the view from one of my work tables, taken in 2010}

One of the questions I get frequently is: What kind of supplies do you use in your work? So today I’m going to share a little bit of that with you. Art-making is a process of experimentation. I think it’s always smart to occasionally try new supplies (whether it’s a new medium or a new brand of medium), just to see if you might like something a little bit better. Taking advice or tips from other artists is also helpful. I have learned so much from the recommendations of friends.

Again, as always, my disclaimer: I do no speak for all artists here. I speak only for myself. These are the supplies I like & use. They may not work for you.

1) Paint. I use gouache. I occasionally also use acrylic (which mixes easily with the kind of gouache I use). I also occasionally use water colors. I like gouache because it is smooth, and it works well for me on a variety of surfaces. It is easy to both use thick (out of the tube with a little water) and to thin out (like water color with a lot of water). It does not have the “grip” that acrylic has, which can make it difficult when you are painting on a smooth, hard surface like masonite, but with practice that becomes easier. My favorite brand of gouache is Acryla. The color selection is lush and they mix nicely. It is more opaque than many gouaches. And that might be because it’s an acrylic-based watercolor paint. Many other gouaches are used with the binding agent gum arabic. Gouache is matte in finish, while acrylic paint can be a bit shiny. I like this, especially when I’m painting on paper.

2) Pens. One word: Micron. I love this pen, and I have about three in each width, from very tiny to thick. I do all my lettering with Microns. They are permanent and acid free. Finding the widths that work best for you (I tend to use .03-.08 the most often) can take some time, but I do use other widths for detail work or filler. I get most of my Microns at Flax Art & Design in San Francisco where you can pick and choose from a variety of sizes and colors.

3) Pencils. I use a regular old #2 for most of my drawings. And a good quality gum eraser. I sharpen often. I also use blending stumps and fixative.

4) Brushes. I don’t spend too much money on expensive brushes. I tend to use brushes that are about 6 inches long (I prefer these to long handled brushes), and I sometimes even buy the cheaper variety pack. I go through brushes very quickly (even expensive brushes). I tend to use angular, bright and flat brushes, along with liner brushes for detail work. Some of my brushes are so tiny that you can barely see the hairs on them! This is a great brush shape chart. I like brushes that are smooth (important for the kind of work I do), but also stiff (I don’t use water color brushes which can be softer). Experimenting with brushes is also important! It took me years to figure out what kinds of brushes work best for me.

5) Paper. I work on watercolor paper and regular drawing paper, depending on what I’m painting or drawing. I buy whatever is on sale, but I always look at whatever I buy to make sure it feels right (yes, touch the paper before you buy it!). I keep a variety of weights and colors around. I sometimes prefer painting on off-white paper rather than pure white because it scans better and looks less washed out.

6) Panels. I work on both wood panels and gessoed masonite panels. I like cradled panels the best because they are ready to hang. Sometimes I work on canvas too. I’m not wedded to any brand. I tend to buy what looks good quality and seems affordable.

7) Other. I also use Exacto Knives and scissors for paper cutting. I also use painters tape and a metal ruler for creating straight edges. I love circle and other shape templates. I use a Black and Decker Hand Sander to sand edges and smooth surfaces or add some distress to my work on wood. I sometimes also use transfer paper to transfer my sketches to the painting or drawing surface. When doing collage I use archival quality glue or glue sticks. Sometimes I use a glue gun when I’m making three dimensional work. I also own a miter saw to make frames for my paintings.


I didn’t go to art school, so much of what I’ve learned about supplies has been through experimentation. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m using the “right” materials! But I love what John Cage said once: “Art is whatever you can get away with.” And, as a mostly self-taught artist, that as been my story.

You can view previous FAQ’s here. Happy Friday.


365 Days of Hand Lettering: Day 334



On Getting Through and Over (And Out Again)


{My neighborhood on one of my first solo excursions out of the house yesterday.}

As you may know if you visit here often, I had surgery on my foot three weeks ago. I had this surgery because there were bone problems in my foot that caused a lot of pain when I walked, and those problems needed to be fixed. After surgery, for two weeks, I was in a cast. I had to elevate my foot above my heart 24 hours a day (and those who visited me know I broke this rule more than once). I won’t bore you with too many details of those first two weeks. After I got over the initial pain (foot surgery is notoriously painful for a couple days after), I spent much of my time (when I wasn’t reading or watching movies or visiting with guests) fretting because I was trapped on the living room sofa. I am a busy body, a pacer, a maker, a doer. And for two weeks I had to lie down, and at times that felt like torture.

Remarkably, those two weeks passed quickly. In addition to reading (a lot) and watching movies, I wrote and drew (as much as one can draw lying down). I also entertained many visitors. In all, 12 people came to call during those two weeks. Each of them sat in the Bertoia chair in the living room and talked to me, some of them for hours. Many brought food, some brought flowers. One brought vegan peppermint patties. All of them made me forget the fretting for a few moments each day.

{two of my dear friends, Leslie (left) and Jen (right) on separate visits.}

A week ago (two weeks in), I got my cast off and since then I’ve been wearing a special “shoe” (see below) that stabilizes my foot and helps me to walk while allowing my foot to continue to heal. In some ways the last week has been more challenging than the first two weeks. For one thing, walking is still a bit painful and slow, and without the protection of the cast, my foot (still tender) feels exposed and vulnerable. I’m supposed to be doing toe-stretching exercises but they hurt and make me queasy.

I’ve been out and about almost every day since I got my cast off a week ago, but only for little bits of time, and always with my partner at my side. Two days ago I got out of the house all day by myself for the first time. I had meetings and a lunch date. I worked at my favorite co-working space. I walked to City Hall and paid my property taxes. I took the bus (and proudly took a seat in the area for disabled people). It felt great and everything looked beautiful.

Later in December, the special “shoe” comes off and I can begin wearing tennis shoes again, and then starting in January I can wear all manner of regular shoes. Also starting in January, I can swim and ride my bike again — now without the pain that plagued me before surgery.

I have never been so excited to ride a bike or swim or wear regular shoes.

Happy Thursday.


365 Days of Hand Lettering: Day 333



Carson Ellis :: In Between Insomnia and Scandinavia


Most of you know my love for all things Scandinavian or Scandinavian-inspired, so you can imagine my sheer delight when I stumbled on this series of recent paintings by beloved illustrator Carson Ellis. Titled In Between Insomnia and Scandinavia, the series is inspired by depictions of motherhood in Norwegian historical novels, specifically the novel trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter.

The article, published in The Morning News, an online magazine of essays, art, humor, and culture, includes images from this body of work and an informative interview with Ellis. You can see the entire slideshow of paintings and interview here.


CATEGORIES: Inspiration