My Top Ten Studio Essentials

Whether it’s at a workshop or on Instagram, I’m often asked about several of my go-to tools that I wouldn’t paint without. Some ‘holy grail’ items I’ve swapped out for others as I’ve tested new products, but these ten I’ve only grown to rely on and more while recommending them more often.

As a disclaimer, none of these items are sponsored - I have bought every item with my own money, and am recommending them because they truly are the best that I’ve found.

Edge Pro Gear Paintbook

This may be the most significant studio upgrade I’ve made in the past year. I like being able to work just about anywhere, whether that’s a place in my house or over at a friend’s studio. The Paintbook wasn’t an investment I made lightly, but boy has it paid off. It keeps my space cleaner, more organized (thanks to a smaller footprint than other easels and palettes), but perhaps most notably it’s made painting on panels so much easier due to its magnetic reinforcements (see more on that under Galvanized Steel Backing). Panels were already my go-to painting surface, but with the Paintbook they no longer have any downsides or inconveniences for me.

More details at:
Side note: I have the Walnut color and it’s beautiful!

Aluminum Composite Panels (ACM panels)

This has been an enormous budget saver. Rather that buying bulky, expensive canvases that need stretching and are subject to warping, I made the switch to ACM panels this year and am not looking back. Initially I opted for some Trekell panels with lead-primed linen, but realized for the same price I can buy a giant sheet of ACM at the sign supply and prime it myself. 

ACM is easy to cut - all you need is to score it with an X-acto blade and it snaps clean. No need for any expensive equipment. Comment below if you’d like to see a future blog post on this, but it really is delightfully easy.

The only change in the surface is that I now don’t have linen on the panel - I prime the ACM using a lead alkyd primer, then dive in. I do miss painting on linen from time to time, but I can always buy some and mount it onto the panel myself if I really want to.

Best of all, ACM is super archival - no acids that can leach through the surface, and no warping. It’s also incredibly light, durable, and inexpensive.

Galvanized Steel Backing

This I think is the real genius of the Paintbook — you no longer have to paint around the knobs, pins or bars that hold your panel on the easel. Instead, so long as you adhere a ferrous metal sheet to the back, it will be held on magnetically. This has been so nice - no touch ups, no paint smears. It just works beautifully.

Edge Pro Gear sells their own backs that look nice and professional that can be attached to panels, but I wanted to engineer something a bit more cost effective, so I went down to my local sheet metal fabricator and asked them to cut up 30 or so 5x5” sheets, which I temporarily mount on the backs of the ACM panels with command strips. Rubber cement does work very well, but I’ve found that the command strips are just as effective, and look nicer once you remove the sheet after you’re done painting. Then I can simply reuse the sheet - no need to keep ordering new sheets.

Rosemary & Co. Brushes

Man have these brushes taught me a lot. Rosemary has a ton of different lines to get what you want, and the brushes are great quality. But what I’ve enjoyed the most is seeing what all of my favorite artists use.

Artists like to encourage beginners not to get too caught up in materials, but I’ve found that at a certain level the quality of the tool really does make a difference. I’ve tried brushes from Rosemary that initially I thought must be entirely useless — I couldn’t get them to cooperate to save my life — but ultimately unlocked a whole new way of working and freed me up to make so many new kinds of marks.

There’s always going to be a learning curve when you change tools. Some brushes felt too soft to control (hint: this is the point), others too light, some too stiff. But being able to make a variety of marks often comes down to being open to new tools and the marks that they specialize in, not imposing your will upon them.

(Comment below if you’d like to see my full brush lineup in a future post!)

Check them out at:
I have brushes from Casey Baugh, Daniel Keys, Richard Schmid and Michelle Dunaway’s set. I’ve mostly picked and chosen to make sure I didn’t have duplicates.

Edge Pro Gear LED Light (with Spare NP-F970 Batteries)

This one is more of a space saver than anything else. I’ve found it’s essential to have studio lights in one form or another, as regular lamps or overheads can still be too dim to show you what you’re working with. But what I used to use took up a lot of space, so I opted to invest in the Paintbook LED light, as well as some maximum-capacity batteries that I can rotate out in order to paint without disruption.

The result is that I no longer have to risk bumping into standing lamps behind me, knocking small lamps off the table, or having no space left on my desk because I have to put the lamps in one very precise spot to avoid glare.

The Paintbook LED has the added benefit of illuminating your palette with the same light as your painting, so you never have to worry that the color you mix won’t match its destination on your painting. I personally use the LED’s default ‘daylight’ temperature to best mimic North light, and I make sure that if I’m painting from a photo reference on my computer to turn off Nightshift, or any other app that lowers the blue light your screen emits after sunset, if I choose to work late.

I don’t doing things that could keep me from falling asleep on time, but it’s a sacrifice I’ll gladly make if I want to paint after dark.

More details at:

Murphy’s Oil Soap

Here’s a tragic turn of events we’re probably all familiar with: we take a break from painting, only to get on Facebook, start bingeing a show on Netflix, go to bed and return to find paint dried in the bruh bristles the next day. Murphy’s Oil Soap has been a godsend for this (inevitable) trap we fall into from time to time. It gently loosens the pigments without stripping or generally abusing the bristles, and has even managed to restore brushes I had long-since given up on.

Just leave them in to soak for a day, then clean as usual.

You can order Murphy’s Oil Soap here:

Gamblin Oil Colors & Gamvar

Okay, so not all of my paints come from this one source, but I really do love these paints and this company.

As artists we know to be diligent about working with certain pigments: I’ve been wary of cadmium and cobalt pigments ever since I met an artist who suspected a decade of favoring cadmium red was to blame for a brain tumor, and of course we all know to be careful with flake white.

Perhaps it’s just paranoia, but better safe than sorry, and Gamblin is incredibly dedicated to keeping their paints safe and educating their artists. They have a library of informational articles and videos on their website about best practices, the safety of various pigments, and even how to get your paints safely through TSA.

In addition to their paints and educational resources, Gamblin’s turpentine alternative, Gamsol, is the de facto solvent for any artist I talk to. I still know of artists who will use turpentine for use outdoors, but for all indoor painting, Gamsol it is.

And finally, I have always Gamblin’s varnish (Gamvar) due to its reputation among conservators and its ability to be applied much earlier (to the tune of 3 or so months) in the oxidation process than other varnishes.

View available colors, solvents and varnishes, along with safety info at:

A Kitchen Drying Rack

After a certain point, you run out of space to store drying paintings, so rather than dropping $100 or more on a professional solution for artists or installing more shelves, I went out and bought a $15 dish drying rack, which has become a perfect place for small paintings while they wait to be varnished.

The panels only come into contact with the rack on the sides, so no paint is ever disturbed and I don’t have to worry about one panel contaminating another if the paint is wet.

If you’d like to pick one of these up, check out:

Viva Paper Towels

At this point, what artist isn’t using them? Nice and lint free, they’re the standard for just about any painter I know.

These you can pick up at just about any grocery store, but if you want to have them delivered, visit:

Geneva Brush Stand

Finally, this is the most asked-about tool in my painting toolkit. I love it for keeping my workspace’s footprint small, particularly if I am at a workshop or some situation where the space truly is limited. It’s nice, elegant, stores the brushes in the center compartment while I travel, and keeps them from rolling around or getting surfaces messy while they’re wet.

Before I had my studio setup I often would paint on the coffee or dining room table, and was constantly having to clean oil paint off the surfaces because a brush had rolled off of my palette and onto them. No more!

Brush holder is available at:
My brushholder is the ‘Stained Black’ color.

What about you? Do you have any items you couldn’t paint without that I should try? Let me know in the comments below!

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