Materials & tools

I can’t wait to share a picture of my latest work with you on Monday but as its a birthday surprise, I’m having to hold back!

So I was working away and thought I’d perhaps be better making a purely ‘practical’ post about the materials I’ve found to be best over the last eight years.


It pays to buy the very best you can afford, even if that means you begin with only three or four: my most commonly used sizes are 0, 1, 3 and 5. These are all kolinsky sable and are expensive. However, not all sable is created equal! I’ve tried a few kinds and while most would work for laying down colour in washes or broader areas, I have to say that Winsor & Newton Series 7 win hands down. They retain an excellent point, come in standard & miniature sizes (very useful for the finer highlights ‘psmythies’ on small faces) and have in general lasted for years.

If possible, add a large squirrel mop when you can for the smooth membrane or proplasmos, depending on technique. A few scrubby, cheap flat synthetic brushes are invaluable for mixing pigment with egg-mid and scrubbing out mistakes…


If at all possible, use only natural pigment powder. Synthetic blues are particularly difficult to blend in but if unavoidable, can be ‘dirtied’ with a little raw umber. Photios Konyoglou, the great 20th century iconographer who revived traditional iconography, is said to have added a tiny amount of raw umber to everything, so that all colours ‘partook’ of each other.

It is entirely possible to paint with only four colours – the ‘tetrachrome’ scheme. Choose a good, well ground raw umber, titanium white, red ochre and yellow ochre and you can achieve an incredible range of colours. Raw umber and white will give you a warm grey, while black and white can almost appear blue! It’s certainly very stark. Be wary if mixing red and white, as it can appear too pastel pink. Far better to lay washes of white over the red, until you achieve the desired effect.

In terms of additional pigments, the ones I use most are a fine ground azurite blue from Kremer (less striking than lapis) but tricky to handle; Verdaccio from Zecchi of Florence and finally a warm ‘italian’ ochre fromStuart Stevenson.

With fewer than ten pigments it is possible to portray most traditional subjects and achieve a harmonious result, striking or sympathetic as required, at reasonable cost. Don’t buy masses of pigment as a little will go a long way – the smaller 10g jars will let you try them out without spending too much.

I hope this is helpful! Please ask if you’ve any questions 😉