Painting Curriculum 3: Tools

This video is a comprehensive look at the broad range of tools, both traditional and unconventional that can be used in oil, acrylic, ink, watercolor, and gouache.

Brush shapes & types, palette knives, cleaning tools, and more are explained. Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artist Alex Rowe.

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Abstract Acrylic Painting Effects & Tricks

Video Walkthrough

  • How much does the price of the brush relate to the quality?
  • Brands aren’t that important when buying brushes
  • Go to the art store so you can physically touch the brushes
  • Choosing brushes is all about your personal taste and preferences
  • Acrylic brushes are softer and more delicate
  • Bristle brushes are coarser, but able to have more “power” as a brush
  • Brush shapes: filbert, flat, round
  • Liner brush: great for elegant lines
  • Brushes for Chinese painting
  • Water brushes are great for plein air
  • Cheap bristle brushes from the hardware store are good for gesso
  • Fan brushes are surprisingly versatile and give great effects
  • Palette knives: plastic vs. metal
  • Palette knives: flat vs. offset
  • Tools for scraping into paint
  • Literally anything can be a tool
  • 3D effects: syringes & pastry bags
  • Plastic dropper for ink gradients
  • Tube wringer is great for squeezing out every last drop of paint
  • Rags are good for clean up, but they are also effective as a painting tool
  • Blue shop towels vs. cotton rags
  • Window scrapers for glass palettes
Painting Basics Track: White on White Still Life, Palette
Painting Basics TRACK: Lesson 3, White on White Still Life


The complete Painting for Self-taught Artists Curriculum document links to every video that expands on the topics touched here.

Full Curriculum

Overview · Painting 1 · Painting 2  ·  Painting 3

Intro to Oil Painting, Lobster Still Life
Intro to Oil Painting: Part 2 – Step by step

Art Supplies

Prof Lieu’s Tips

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I would recommend staying away from straight white paint, that’s usually why highlights can feel chalky.

Depending on the lighting situation, I pretty much always add a touch of cadmium lemon yellow, or cerulean blue, etc. I rarely paint with straight white paint directly onto the canvas.

Painting Basics Track: Self-Portrait Palette Knife Painting, banner
Palette Knife Paintings: Mixing Flesh Tones

Same thing with black, mixing your own blacks is a really good experience and can provide a lot more nuance and variation in the dark areas. Two of my favorite black mixtures are:

  • viridian + alizarin crimson
  • ultramarine blue + burnt umber
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