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 Fine Art for Sale



The Quest of Purchasing Oil Paints
by Susan A. Wenz-Denise

Palette and brushes

It may be the fact that I am a shopper at heart, or simply my love of painting, but I get a real charge out of buying oil paints. The selection makes my mouth water, and I get absolutely giddy when I realize there is a sale or a bargain to be had. I haven't always felt this way, as there were times when I lacked the knowledge and thus the confidence to stand up to the rows and rows of oil paint selections. I often found myself at the mercy of a cocky know-it-all salesperson. Knowledge is power, however, so I eventually gained a good grasp on the technical specifics of oil paint and learned what my own particular preferences are through education and experience. Now I find that I secretly enjoy the thrill of turning the game around on the salesperson, shocking them into realizing I am not an ignorant customer, but a painter who clearly knows what she wants. Toward that end, I would like to show you elements of the oil paint selection process that I find to be the most valuable in establishing the knowledge and power required to cast down the arrogant sales clerk that may be lurking in your art store.

Setting a Precedent

I find that showing you already possess some educated involvement with oil paint is the most important strategy when beginning your art store adventure. Looking to get the upper hand, the salesperson will be expecting to ask, "how can I help you" and in turn get an ambivalent response with little relevant content like "uh, I need….oil paint". That scenario will only set you up to be the vulnerable shopper. Instead you want to show this person that you know what you came into the store to buy. Tell the salesperson upfront that you are looking for a specific type or brand of oil paint even if you are a beginner, and assert yourself. This way, you won't be conned into buying the most expensive paint in the store, and you might even impress them.

Artist Grade vs. Student Grade

In order to be confident in the type of paint you are seeking, you must evaluate the purpose of your painting and how much expense you want to incur in your endeavor. Specifically, you must consider artist grade versus student grade oil paints. Student grade oil colours are blended replicas of the real thing. They tend to come in larger quantities and are quite economical. You may choose to use these paints if you are a student, a beginner, or hobbyist. Or perhaps your budget allows only for economical paint, but in any case realize that if you haven't worked with professional oils you most likely won't notice a difference with student grade ones.

For discerning connoisseurs that won't settle for anything less than the best, professional or artist grade oil colours can be expensive, and are certainly more costly than student oils. They are commonly catalogued into six series by rarity and value, Series 1 (or A) being the most plentiful and least expensive, and Series 6 (or F) being the most rare and most expensive. Artist grade paint also tends to come in smaller tubes since they are mostly pure pigment bound only by superior oils, and therefore extend a long way in contrast to student paints. When using them to their fullest potential, you will certainly notice the difference in hue quality and intensity of professional paints.

So, when the salesperson asks you, "Can I help you?" you will then be prepared to say "Yes, would you please show me where the student grade (or professional grade) oil paints are?". If my theory proves correct, once the salesperson understands that you have already chosen student grade paint, he/she will become more helpful yet still retain a sense of respect for your confidence. If you choose to opt for the superior quality of artist grade paints, prepare yourself for the gasp of surprise your sales clerk may emit when told what you are seeking. Many times I have had a salesperson tell me I must be mistaken, and try to steer me toward the student grade oils because the artist grade ones are "so expensive" and "only for professional artists". It's funny, but I find a little satisfaction in reasserting my quest for professional oils. Eventually they catch on that it will most likely mean a bigger sale, and back off. Hopefully, with the help of this article, you won't have to rely on the salesperson any more, and will be able to go the rest of the selection process on your own, without any interference from the ego bully.

Knowing the Manufacturer

Even better than showing the sales help that you know what type of paint you want, you'll seem even more confident in your decision if you can take it a step further and request a specific manufacturer. Just like the rest of the retail world, certain brands provide particular qualities indicative of their reputations. Learn what brand you will mostly likely prefer, based on cost, purpose, and specifications, before you head out the store. To help you, below are the most popular and commonly stocked brands, including a pricing guide. (Imagine the powerful confidence you will impart when you are able to tell the clerk "Yes, show me the Winsor & Newton Winton Oils, please.")

Winsor & Newton Artist's Oil Colors $$$$$
(professional) World renowned, Winsor & Newton is my favorite brand of professional oil paint. They contain thehighest level of pigmentation consistent with good handling properties, unsurpassed covering power and permanence.

Old Holland Classic Oil Colors $$$$$
(professional) Comparable to Winsor & Newton Artist's Oil Colours in price and quality, Old Holland prides itself on intensity of the colors and great covering power. They contain no fillers or waxes and only lightfast pigments are used.
Holbein Artist's Oils $$$$ (professional)
Pure pigments at a lower price, Holbein boasts consistent viscosity, color, tone, application, and adhesion.
Schmincke Mussini Oils $$$ (professional)
Schmincke Mussini Oils contain natural resins for a balanced drying process with reduced aging and long-term cracking. Good for painting in layers and for glazing techniques.
Rembrandt Extra Fine Oils $$ (student)
Rembrandt oils are well known for their economical color strength and excellent lightfastness.
Gamblin $$ (student)
Gamlin Artists Colors Company is dedicated to making artist's colors at reasonable prices. They contain lightfast pigments blended with linseed oil and create colors with luscious working properties.
Winsor & Newton Winton Oils $ (student)
Winton Oils combine fine raw materials and modern techniques to suit any painting style at an economical price.
Color Selection

When you finally find yourself in front of the brand and type of oil paint you have been seeking, all you have to do now is choose some colors. Your sales help may not be with you at this point, but color selection is mostly subjective so don't be intimidated. Go with your gut instincts based upon the subject or genre you will be painting. There will most likely be color keys available in the store to choose from, or you can ask your now humbled store clerk to help you choose. You may want to start out with basic colors first, and experiment later. As such, here below are some tips on buying colors appropriate for certain palettes: 

High Key Basic Palette 

Impressionist's Palette  

Transparent Glaze Colors 

Landscape Palette

Special Landscape Colors 

Old Master Palette

Get to Know Your Colors

Now that you have your preliminary colors, use them and get to know them. Eventually, you'll learn to add colors that will compliment your painting style. As I said earlier, color selection is subjective, so the possibilities are limitless. And next time…you'll secretly enjoy your trip to the art store like I do!

Copyright Susan Wenz-Denise, 2001. Please do not copy in any manner, print or electronic, without permission from the author.

Reprinted with kind permission of the author.

About the Author: Susan Wenz-Denise is a fine artist with a BFA degree in Studio Art, and a minor concentration in Art History. She attended the College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle. NY for Studio Art where her painting skills were refined and her conceptual sensitivities matured. Since graduating she has exhibited a series of her work in two NYC galleries and is now working on a new series of oil paintings. She plans to begin exhibiting again by Autumn 2001. She is also a contributing editor at Suite 101

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