This was a question that I was asked recently in a beginners class. Many think that the materials make a difference, but do they?
There is no doubt that some materials differ enormously in quality such as soft pastels for example, the cheapest ones are crumbly and don’t grip the paper. The combination of poor quality paper and pastel can really make a difference to the outcome. In a recent pastel lesson one learner came with some very high quality pastels and created some beautiful blends while another learner struggled with some budget pastels which created a pile of dust, not having the best quality paper either.
Suitability Rather Than Quality
Having said this it is more a case of having the right materials for the task rather than quality that really matters. If you are using pastels on a shiny cartridge paper, this is not the correct surface for pastels so results are not going to be the best. You might have some very good quality cartridge paper but it is still going to buckle if you use watercolour on it because it is not designed to hold large amounts of water. Watercolour paints need watercolour paper for the best results. Mistakes like this often lead to wasting high quality materials.
Experience is More Important than Quality
When we are learning to draw and paint we have to learn about the media, how it behaves, what I can do with it, what it mixes with, what surface it needs for the best result and so on. It is this hands on experience that is really needed first before we concern ourselves with creating finished pieces. This experimental phase often is best done with materials that are not of the best quality because it can free learners up to experiment with the concern of waste.
The Benefits of Keeping it Simple
Not one academic year goes by where a learner doesn’t come in with the latest art material or gadget. It is wonderful that there is so many materials and gadgets on the market but it can be very distracting for learners. Sometimes more is learnt with just the absolute basics such as charcoal and pencil.
Often the humble pencil and charcoal is overlooked and not fully explored. There are many ways in which you can use pencil and charcoal. Many learners who were more experienced had not mixed pencil with other media for example and not fully explored graphite sticks or carbon pencils. Don’t be bamboozled by the latest products on the market at the expense of simple materials.
Limitations are Sometimes Good
Sometimes having to work with materials that aren’t your first choice is quite a good learning process. I am not a huge fan of pastel but the art room I work in has loads of them. Being on such a strict materials budget as an art tutor means I have had to embrace pastel as a teaching method.
Fully Explore The Medium
I have discovered different ways of using the pastel and showing learners the diversity of the media. For example I started learning how you can mix pastel with other mediums and tint the page with pastel.
When Quality is Important
Once you have gained some skill in the media and you know that the material is for you then it might be worth buying good quality. Some materials are really worth the extra expense to get the quality, in my view watercolour paper, pastels and sketchpads are some areas where I have really noticed the quality difference once I upgraded. If you have plans to sell or exhibit work then it is time to upgrade.
What do you think, are quality materials necessary when you are learning to draw and paint?