How to clean a palette

You don’t have to use mineral spirits or turpentine to clean your palette and get rid of the excess oil paint. In fact you don’t have to use any hazardous or complicated cleaning agent at all. The best way to clean a palette is actually by using ordinary baby oil. Here is how you do it.

First wipe away the excess paint that remains on the palette using your palette knife. I like the broader, angular type that you see in the picture. It works well for scraping up the smallest amount of paint on the palette. If you don't have a palette knife, I can really recommend that you buy one. It's not expensive and handling paint becomes much easier.

A few drops of baby oil is enough
Then you simply dab a few drops of baby oil on the palette. The more paint you remove with your palette knife in the first stage, the less baby oil is needed now.

There are several baby oils on the market, but I'm not aware of any oils that are better than others. However, you might want to avoid the overly perfumed ones, or else your whole studio will start smelling like a kindergarten. 

Finally, wipe the palette clean using a paper towel. If you have a palette with a rougher structure it is better to use a lint free cloth instead since paper towels are easily torn by the wooden fibers. I use a palette with a lacquered finish which is perfect to clean with paper. 

All that remains is a nice, clean palette

Avoiding lead white

Oil painting has traditionally been very hazardous. The list of dangerous materials is long – so long that many people avoid oil painting alltogether. This is really unnecessary, since just a few easy steps can make oil painting just as harmless as painting with water colors. For all the steps, see the "Safety issues" tag.

The first step is an easy one. It is simply to avoid lead white. This was the dominant white paint until the invention of Titanium white in the late 19th century. Lead however, is very toxic and when you compare the different qualities of white paint, lead white doesn’t give you any significant advantages. When reading older books on painting, lead white is often mentioned as something compulsory for a painter and a paint with a set of unique properties. I look at it this way: all paints have unique properties and lead white doesn't make you paint like Caravaggio, just because he used lead paint (and just a reminder: Caravaggio died of lead poisoning)

Use Titanium white when you need opaque white with a neutral or slightly glossy surface, Zinc white when you need less opacity and a slightly matte surface, and Transparent white when you need transparency, for example when painting atmospheric haze.

Which hardness is best for a graphite pen?

Graphite pens come in nineteen different types of hardness. That is a lot to choose from!

The softest graphite pen is the 9B, the medium hardness is the HB and the hardest is the 9H. If you got a graphite pen at school, it was probably an HB. The B’s (from B to 9B) give away a lot of graphite, producing darker lines and wear out a lot faster than the H’s (from H to 9H), that give away less graphite and produce lighter lines.

When you come into an art store to buy graphite pens, the choice can sometimes be a little overwhelming. If you’re new to drawing, perhaps you end up the way I did when I started drawing – with a lot more pens, different hardness and different brands than you originally planned for. Nowadays, I buy a lot less when it comes to different hardness of the pens, but the kinds I buy, I buy in great quantities. So the question is, what did I learn?

I learned that you don’t need the full scale of graphite pens. Instead of having the pens producing lines with different tones, I realized that it’s much better to learn how to draw different tones using different pressure with your hand. In that way you don’t end up changing pen ten times a minute and you can concentrate a lot more on what you’re actually drawing. So instead of buying all the 19 different types of hardness, I only use three. The ones I use are the 4H, B and 6B. I’m not saying this is the perfect mix for everyone, but the idea is that you use one pen with a fairly neutral hardness, from say HB to 2B, that you use for the midtones in your drawing. You also need a pen with harder graphite to produce lines that are light, but never grainy. I use a 4H, but you can choose any pen from 2H and upwards that suit you. My third pen is a soft 6B that I use for the dark tones of the drawing. The 2B goes a long way, but when I need a really dark tone the 6B does it for me. 

Welcome to the Atelier

Welcome to the "Ateljé" (Atelier in Swedish)! This blog is a little side project of mine. I'm working as an artist and industrial designer in Sweden and I thought this would be a place where I could start publishing some basic courses in drawing and painting, as well as more advanced works. I know, it's quite a task for a side project, so I probably won't update the courses five times a day... But eventually it will grow to something big. Enjoy!