Author Archives: Kevin McCain

How-To: Quality Art Supplies for Less

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Where to Buy Art Supplies and save Money

Yes, that title was read correctly. While the differences aren’t colossal, the differences add up as project after project after projects require supplies. And the less you pay for those supplies, the more of the money you actually make can be used for that other stuff…like… food.

Back in the day, the main options you had were either mail order or retail. Now, thanks to the internet, these aren’t your only two options. In fact, the internet is a fantastic resource for wholesale art supplies.

Wholesale is different from retail in one crucial way: you don’t have a business that needs to make enough to both buy more supplies (plus shipping and handling) and then pay for other things, like employees, all while trying to turn some sort of profit.

Another bonus about buying online: no gas money on your part has to be spent driving to the nearest store! Instead, one can order quickly within a small series of clicks and after the appropriate amount of time…voila! There are the needed supplies at your door for your next few projects.

Some places I personally like to go to are
1. Jerry’s Artarama
2. Dick Blick
3. Utrecht

How-To: Collect Art

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What to Look for When Buying Art


When buying art as an investment, there are a few things to keep in mind.

We’ve all heard stories about people who collect art and have it appreciate significantly over the years. Like the two married postal workers who collected art over a lifetime, whose collection is now valued at tens of millions of dollars. This couple basically collected what they liked and in the end it paid off. Their buying wasn’t random this couple took a smart approach to buying original art. They collected from artists early in their career, who were professional artists. Therefore, they paid lower prices. These young artists ended up becoming serious names in the art world. So this couple bought artwork they liked from professionals and their artwork increased significantly in value.
Disclaimer *Always Collect what you Like*

The first thing about collecting artwork is collect what you love and what you want in your home. Never try to collect artwork with plans of is being purely an investment. It’s always a gamble. Also this is not an article for high end art investment. That involves art experts, ten of thousands of dollars(many times much more) and a lot of nerve. This article is for those people who want original artwork on their walls that also might grow in it’s value.  That begin said there are common traits among artworks that appreciate with time. Below are some things to look for when buying.

What to look for in Artwork

Here are just a few of the questions to ask yourself when buying artwork.

  • Is the Artwork Original?
  • Where do I go to buy?
  • What am I looking for?
  • What do I want to collect?
  • What will appreciate?
  • Edition size is that a factor?

Let’s discuss a strategy to use when buying artwork that will increase in value.

Collect from Professional Artists

Discovered artists are those with a professional career, then for whatever reason, their work becomes highlighted and the prices for their artwork takes off. Understand that artists who are “discovered” aren’t hobbyists selling their art for pennies on the dollar at the local craft fair. Collect from professional artists, not hobbyists, if you hope to have a return on your investment. With reputable artists you will be able to search on the internet. Establish that they have a career and have been working. Bottom line always buy artwork from professionals.

The Collectibility Factor

A good example of collectibility and artwork appreciating with time is the artist Maynard Dixon. Dixon was never an unknown artist. He was always a known, working professional recognized in circles on both the east and west coast. He passed away and his painting had appreciated though his lifetime modestly. However in the last 35 years, the prices for his paintings have gone through the roof and he has more recognition among general art collectors.

Quality equals Collectibility

Professional artists are your best bet to guarantee their work has quality that can be recognized in the future.The opportunity to buy art is everywhere over the last few decades: art fairs, on the Internet, etc. With so many opportunities to buy art, how do we know if an artist is a professional?

Tips for verifying if an artist is a professional:

  • Do an internet search. (Use your smart phone if you’re at a fair.) If it’s a professional artist, they should be mentioned in several places on the internet.
  • Ask if the artist has a website. If not, that could be a red flag.
  • Ask the artist about their career and what they’ve done. Many artists like to exaggerate their accomplishments. Try to verify online.
  • Ask the artist about gallery representation. Who carries his or her work?
  • Did the artist receive professional training to be an artist?

These questions can quickly establish a working career artist from a hobbyist.

Buy Originals Art or High-Value Prints

We hear from several sources we should buy original art, whether as a potential future investment or as part of a determination to live life fully. Original art is art that is one-of- a- kind or part of an edition of hand pulled fine art prints(woodcuts, linotypes, etchings and engravings).

Paintings are easier they are normally one of a kind. Sculptures and fine art hand pulled prints come in editions of varying numbers. When looking at artwork that is part of an edition to, the size of the print run does matter. You want limited, numbered print runs. Scarcity creates value. You see this on Antiques Roadshow or other auctions. You see schoolbooks from the 17th century brought in to be appraised. To the dismay of the owners, the books aren’t worth very much because there are so many of them available.

Age does not equal value. These are over 100 year old books that aren’t worth anything. Age doesn’t automatically increase an object’s value.

On the flip side, in auction you might see an early 20th century child’s toy in mint condition where there’s only two or three left and they’re worth thousands of dollars.

Scarcity creates value

When buying art that’s in an edition, you always want low numbered editions.  Print sizes of about 200. The lower the number of images in an edition, the more likely that image will hold value. An edition with 1 to 10 prints is more likely to hold value than 1 to 250. 1 to 20,000 has no value.  Remember the scarcity creates value principle: the less there are in existence, the more it is worth.

Remember it’s okay to buy prints with larger editions, but buy it because you like it, not because you expect it will have value.

Be aware of Giclées prints. These type of prints can be original artwork, limited edition runs of some value, worthless knockoffs, or mass produced posters. So buy these with the expectation of them being art you like not art that will appreciate with time.

Buy what you like

Always buy what you like. As with the stock market, you never know what’s going to happen to the value of your painting. There’s no guarantee of huge returns.

If you buy from a hobbyist because you love the artwork, that’s fine. Always buy because you like it. Just understand it likely won’t have any resell value. It’s just like buying travertine tiles and installing them in your house: you’re doing it because you like it but you won’t be able to pull it up and resell it.

It’s worth repeating: always buy what you like.

You get what you pay for.

When you’re dealing with a professional working artist, there is a minimum price point to look for. To run a business takes money; for operating expenses, materials cost, travel expenses, and all the other costs that go into creating custom work. A price of say $800 for an 18×24 is lowest you can expect to pay for a professional artist. . Less than that price range is most likely a hobbyist. You will have to spend more money if you want art that’s going to appreciate in value.

Art doesn’t appreciate over night

Remember it takes time for artwork to build in value. It won’t happen overnight. Like investments it is a long term venture. So use these tips we have discussed and you will be likely to have artwork that will appreciate in value and bring you lots of enjoyment.

Oil Painting: How to Buy the Right Colors

Why is Buying Oil Paints So Confusing

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If you have ever had a to buy oil paints, gone to the art store and found yourself  staring at the paints wondering why so few have the same names for their paint colors. It’s a problem that has plagued the art world since they began manufacturing oil paint over 150 years ago. Companies are more interested in great sounding color names than accurate color descriptions. So let’s demystify some of the ambiguity.

Here are some ways of buying the correct colors

1. Every paint color  lists the pigment or pigments used to make that tube color(it’s required by law). Not only the pigment name is listed but also the color index number. So for instance I need to find a paint color Phalo Blue,  the problem is the manufacturer paint names for this color varies. Here are some of the common names across manufacturers : Thalo blue, Monestial Blue, Winsor Blue, Monastral Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue, Phalo Blue,  Heliogen Blue, Intense Blue, Old Holland Blue, Rembrandt Blue. I however know the color  pigment name is Copper Thalocyanine  and that color index number is PB15 or PB16(either works but one is greener and the other slightly bluer). By looking at the pigment name or the color index number listed on the paint tubes you can be sure you have the right color no matter what.

Below I list some of the paint colors whose names vary the most between manufacturers

The paints that vary the most in terms of paint names are the following:

Thalo Blue – copper phthalocyanine – PB 15 or PB 16

Hansa Yellow Light – arylide yellow – PY 3

Hansa Yellow Medium – arylide yellow PY 74

Hansa Yellow Deep – arylide yellow PY 75

Thalo Green – copper phthalocyanine -PG7 or PG36

Thio Voilet – quinacridone  – PR122

Thalo Rose- quinacridone  – PV19

Dioxizine Purple- carbazole dioxazine – PV23

Be Aware of Color Hues

“Color Hues”- Cadmium, cobalts and Chromes are all paints made with metals. Many companies make paints that look similar to these colors they are less expensive but don’t mix the same as the real paints. These are named “hues” such as Cadmium Red Light Hue. These paints don’t actually contain any cadmiums, cobalts or chromes. Don’t buy the “hues” if you can avoid it. They are harder to control as a beginning or intermediate painter.

Metal Paints are Always named Accurately

The good news is the Classic metals paints are always named by their pigments names. So for example it will says it’s Cadmium Red Light or Cadmium Red Light Medium, Cobalt Blue or Chrome Yellow and so forth, you will know you are buying the actual metals based paints

Painting Techniques and Tips: It’s all About the Angle

Direct Painting and All Prima Painting Insights

When painting no matter how long you have done it it’s always best to remember the basics. Sometimes this doesn’t happen either because you are just learning and still figuring out exactly what to do or you have experience painting and aren’t giving it much thought. It’s the most basic of concepts and yet it has one of the greatest impacts on the look of your painting, it’s the angle you hold your brush in relation to the canvas. Using a paint brush at an angle close to 90 degrees to the canvas will cause the paint you apply to  mix with whatever paint is on the canvas or if there is already thick paint on the canvas then applying paint this way will carve into the layers of paint on the canvas. However when painting with a brush at an angle that is almost parallel to the canvas it will lay the paint onto the surface differently, spreading it on almost like butter on toast, when using this stroke on an area with thick paint layers this will lay down paint onto of the earlier layers of paint beneath. Varying the angle of your stroke somewhere between these two extremes will give you slightly different effects, somewhere between carving through the paint and spreading it over the paint beneath. Experiment with the possibilities and your control over your painting will increase dramatically.

Why Get Outside to Create Landscape Art?

Studying the Landscape Outdoors

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People did it for hundreds of years.  To learn to paint the landscape an artist went out into nature to learn to understand depth, perspective and most importantly color. This was an important part of the training of any artist so they could produce landscape art that felt natural and believable.

Entering the 20th century photography became more affordable. Many artists began to use photography as reference for their landscape painting this trend continued to become more and more common until by the later part of the 20th century most artists used just photography and didn’t even bother going outside to learn to paint. Many times they hadn’t visited the location they were painting they were painting from other people’s photographs. The problem with using this photography is the art suffered from using photographs.

Some of you may be asking yourselves why is using photography a problem? What does it matter if one uses photography to paint a landscape. The are several problems the biggest is no photograph sees color as well as the human eye. Our eyes can see and detect color in a way that cameras can compete with on their best day. They have yet to make a camera that can compete with the human eye. The next problem in photos are the way they reproduce shadows. In photographs shadows lose their depth so it’s always very evident when someone has painted from photos because the shadows in their paintings are flat and lifeless.  Photos are always taken with a photo lens that has a camera distortion. Different lens lengths will all distort the photos differently. If you don’t correct this distortion by leaving this in your paintings it will be a clear sign that you used a photograph. This is why it is better to learn to create landscapes by being out in the landscape. Artists learned these drawbacks of using photographs so artists began to return to nature.

A movement started back in the 1970’s to get artists back out into nature and learn to draw and paint better landscapes. This movement was called painting or drawing in “Plein Air”,it’s a french term for drawing or painting outdoors. I believe in the importance of Plein Air painting and drawing though I find it  a little ironic that we have come full circle to learning to paint the same ways they did over a hundreds of years ago.

To learn more about drawing or painting landscapes take one of my outdoor art classes or painting workshops where we visit wonderful places around Idaho and Arizona the learn the art of creating wonderful landscapes.

How to Commission a Painting


Commissioning A Painting

Where do You Start?

What is a Commissioned Painting
If you have a specific location, family member or beloved pet or wildlife you would like to have painted you need to find an artist to make your custom painting. Just like any custom made or built item you need to find someone to make it as well as find out the cost and discuss the date for the project to be completed. Once you find the artist you want to create your image the artist then creates your painting and you have your custom image to enjoy. That sounds all good and well but how do you find an artist to commission a painting.

How to Find an Artist to commission
Not all artists do commissioned paintings. Where do you find an artist for your commission? You want an artist you can count on who does commissions and has a good reputation with creating them. You can certainly start by searching on the internet for artists but that can be a hit and miss option. The simplest place to start is with your local or nearby art gallery this gives you a chance to find local artists and find out from the gallery owner which of the artists does commissions. Another way is to search art magazines such as Southwest art, Art of the West or American Artist magazines these magazines showcase national artist with solid reputations and consistent quality. Just remember that the more established and well know the artist is the likely the more expensive the commission will cost. Whichever way you use to locate the artist whose artwork you enjoy and who does commissions you will then need to discuss you project, the cost and the date needed to have the artwork completed. To make sure the commission is an enjoyable experience a few things will help and it’s all in the details.

The Devil is in the Details
When you remodel a kitchen or replace your carpet you want the project to run smoothly. Just like with any project, things run smoothly when the details are clear. Those details should be worked out in a contract.
Don’t work with artists that don’t create contracts for their commissioned paintings. With commissioned artwork you want a contract that details the cost and date of completion and any other particulars of the project. Some artists have simple contracts they use, the contract details the description of the desired art work , the cost and the date of completion. The contract is signed; the artist does the painting and sends it off along with an invoice. It’s simple, sweet and to the point. However some projects require a more comprehensive contract or more detailed contracts help avoid misunderstandings. These contracts can have several steps outlined in the project.  These detailed contract help to avoid misunderstandings between the artist and client.
When I am working on a commission painting there are several steps which are outlined in my contracts. These steps are detailed and the client is involved in each step along the way. There is a date for client approval of a rough sketch, final drawing, small comp painting and then the final painting. This way there are no surprises for either the client or myself. This also allows for small corrections to the project throughout the process so everyone is happy with the final project.  A good contract as well an open dialog between both the artist and the customer will make the commission process run smoothly and ensure an enjoyable experience for everyone.
To learn more or commission a painting visit

Oil Painting, Extended Color Palette

Extended Color Palette

Sometimes More Is More

Painting with a Larger Palette

  As many of you who have read my blog or taken my classes know I normally encourage students to use a limited palette of colors. As you become a more advanced painter it’s good to learn to use a more extensive collection of colors. Here I have over 32 colors. I use more primary and secondary colors to fill the spaces between the primary and secondary colors.  I also use colors that have been lightened with white such as light yellow, light red or pink, light violet, light blues, light greens, and lightened orange. These colors will lean warmer or cooler versions of each primary and secondary color.  I lay the colors out chromatically or the the way they progress around the color wheel. I then layout a collection of earth tones followed by a collection of neutrals and white and black. By using a combination of more variations of hues(example yellower orange red, orange red, primary red, red violet, blue red violet I have five different variations of red), Tints(colors mixed with white), shades(darker colors mixed with either black or burnt umber example Paynes Gray is a dark grayed blue made from mixing Phalo blue with Burnt umber), grayed colors(colors with lowered intensity I use grays that lean red,blue,yellow,orange, green and violet and are very neutral. Mixing these with colors can be a quick way of lowering intensity), Browns( darkened yellows, reds and oranges these are great colors to warm dark color mixtures) these give me chances to use more sophisticated color mixing methods and create a wider range of colors.

  A wider range of colors is a good thing to help achieve those nuances of hue and chroma. The downside is you have more opportunities to put the wrong colors together which will destroy your color structure. A limited palette of colors helps to control the color structure. The reason is because most all of your mixed colors have combinations of all of the primary colors in their mixtures. Because each mixed color has a combination of the primary colors the is an immediate color harmony. You are also limiting your ability to mix many color that are artificial and will never be seen in nature like neon colors or colors and others. You want the added benefits of an unlimited color palette but not the downside of making too many color mistakes that will destroy your painting.   So how do you control your color structure and your color mixtures?

Answer: Use a “color unifying method” there are three common methods of controlling color mixtures. Use on of the three listed below.

A. Use a unifying color such as brown. The classic artists used this method all the time and still do today. With this method every mixture has a little brown in it. Say Burnt Umber, you would add this color to everyone of your color mixtures.

B. Use three primary colors (red, yellow and blue) in every color mixture.

C. Always mix two complimentary colors in every mixture (example primary color mixed with complimentary secondary color, or two complimentary tertiary colors.

Using these methods will help you from having your color mixtures from becoming a complete mess. You will need to pay special attention to you color relationships to keep them clear another words if your warm colors are in the shadows than make sure all your light families of colors are leaning to the cool side of the color wheel. This approaches will help you control your color mixtures and paintings.

Example of My Unlimited Color Palette

I use Pretested-Grumbacher, Gamblin, M Graham or Winsor Newton Paints. Here are my colors. I don’t always use all these colors but this is an example of my unlimited oil colors.


Naples Yellow(mixed, Cad yellow deep + white)

Cadmium Yellow Lemon

Cadmium Yellow Medium

Cadmium Yellow Deep

Indian Yellow

Yellow Ochre

Raw Sienna


Cadmium Orange

Orange Light( mixed, Cadmium Orange + White)

Burnt Umber


Light Pink(mixed Cad Red Light + White)

Cadmium Red Lt.

Cadmium Red Medium

Cadmium Red Deep

Alizarin Crimson

Thalo Rose

Burnt Sienna


Thalo Violet

Dioxine Purple

Light Purple(mixed, Dioxine Purple + White)


Cobalt Blue

Thalo Blue

French Ultramarine Blue

Light Blue Warm (mixed, Thalo Blue + White)

Light Blue Cool (mixed, Ultramarine Blue + White)

Paynes Gray


Green Light Cool(mixed, Phalo Green + white)

Green Light Warm (mixed, Sap Green + Cadmium Yellow Medium+ White)


Olive Green (mixed, Sap Green + Cadmium Orange)

Sap Green

Thalo Green


Mixed grays(whatever suits me at the time)

Other Colors

Titanium White

Ivory Black

Mixing Colors: Paint and Tinting Strength

Mixing Colors:

Tinting Strength of Colors

All colors have a different tinting strength. For instance on our palette yellow have the least tinting strength you will need  more yellow(about 2/3 more than red to get an orange mixture .  Now I don’t want to start getting into recipes just note you will generally need more yellow. Blue is higher in tinting strength than red in general. A word of caution our green blue has the highest tinting strength of any color the palette  you will normally use ten times less Thalo blue to a mixture or less so for a green it would be 10 to one: 10 parts yellow to one part Thalo blue(green blue) a little of this blue goes a very very long way.

Just in general to get a feel for what I am saying about tinting strength or portions of color, lets talk about creating grays with black and white, to get a #6 on the value scale you can usually mix equal parts white and black, to mix a step# 7 you need to add 4 parts white to 1 part black, to mix a step #8 you may need to add 16 parts white to 1 part black,  to mix a step #9 you may need to mix 40 parts white to 1 part black to get to step 10# you may need to add 100 parts white or more to 1 part black. You should see that as you go higher up the value the amount of white needed doesn’t just double or even triple it rises quickly the higher you make the value.  This tinting strength principle applies in general to any paint color.  if I have a red that is a #6 on the value scale and I want to make it a #10 I could need as much a 100 parts white to one part red.

This is something to be aware I have seen students going through all the right steps to get a certain color only to forget this principle. They end up fighting to get a light gray a number #9 or something on the value scale. Normally they have this huge puddle of gray and they have used up their white puddle and their mixing puddle is a step #7 needing to lighten but 2 steps in value. I sit down squeeze out more white take a pea sized bit from their color puddle and add 6 to 7 times as much white and there is the color they needed . What went wrong is there wasn’t enough white in their mixture. To try and  make the entire puddle light enough I  would have had to add a 150ml of white to their puddle to make it light enough but instead I took just a bit from the original mixing pile so I could add the needed amount of white to get the right mixture .

The best way to avoid burning through more paint than you are prepared to use try this method of keeping in mind the tinting strength of your paint and you will be able to control the accuracy of your color mixtures but you will also control how much paint you use. Further this is a tip to help your control your color mixtures even better.

Start with the color you need for the color mixture to be or the value you need it to be so if I am painting a sky and I need a light blue I will start be pulling out a small pile of white paint. Then I add small bits of blue to that white until I have the value of light blue I want  if I need to make the blue greener or more violet add small bits of green or purple to shift the hue it shouldn’t take much the value shouldn’t shift much unless you are adding a very dark blue even then a small amount of white will lighten the value of the mixture to where you will need it. If you are creating a dark mixture start with your dark color and then lighten it as needed with lighter colors to control the value shifting the hue and chroma as needed this will help you control your color mixture much easier. So always remember the tinting strength of the paints you use.

Using Black and White a Cautionary Tale

   How to Use Black and White in Oil Painting

    One thing that happens with mixing paint is people reach for white or black too quickly when they are mixing colors. The biggest thing to remember is white or black will desaturate your color mixtures very quickly. When mixing your colors mix your hue first remember the colors your mix together will affect the value and chroma of the final color mixture. Get as close to the color you need before you add white. Also remember when you add white the color will get lighter but will also get cooler oranges, yellows and reds will shift more than other colors. So if I am adding white to an orange mixture the mixture will get cooler. After adding white I will have to add a warm yellow to shift the mixture warmer. It’s intuitive like with cooking you make the soup and then taste it sometimes it needs a little more salt, pepper or whatever. It’s the same thing with mixing color. Just remember to add white at the end of your mixture. To avoid times when you might add white to early in a mixture. If I am creating a very light blue green for instance and using a dark blue such as thalo or ultramarine. These colors are so dark in value it is hard to see what the color is doing when it is so dark. I could lighten the mixture with lemon yellow but that will also shift the mixture more yellow. I might add a little white to make the blue higher in value just so I can see the hue a little clearer and control my mixture much better.
The paint color Black has gotten a bad rap over the years. There are two camps those that swear that black should never find its way onto your palette and others that say good paintings can’t be done without it. I say good paintings can be done with or without black. I do enjoy having black on my palette. You can certainly paint without black and many great artists don’t use black. However there are just as many great colorists and impressionists who used black including Degas, Manet, Zorn and others. The best thing to remember is add black to a color mixture containing one or two other colors. Avoid having white in the mixture since that will lower the chroma or intensity of the mixture considerably. Use black with a transparent color like alizarin crimson or ultramarine blue and others this will give the black more translucency and add some depth to the black. Also remember in your mixtures that black is nothing more than a very dark low intensity blue. So remember black is a blue use it that way in your mixtures.
By understanding how to use white and black and how they affect your color mixtures you can use them effectively to lower and lighten the value of your colors while controlling their intensity. This will give your paintings more depth.