Art Tools of Khoo Cheang Jin

Today we feature Khoo Cheang Jin from Penang. I got to know of him during the Penang Sketchwalk 2012 and he was also at Bangkok Sketchwalk 2013. He would also come to Singapore painting occasionally.

Firstly, can you give an introduction to the readers?

My medium for expression is watercolour but I also use sketches to record my surroundings. My favourite subject for painting is places with heritage buildings.

I love art since young and the passion never dies off. While practicing Architecture in Penang I would allocate times during weekends for my family and for art.

Qn: Can you give our readers a rundown of the brushes you use?

Although my brush case is almost full, there are only a few brushes that I use frequently.

I have from left to right:

  • No 6 Rembrandt 310 Pure Red Sable
  • No 6 Goldie 2210 Red Sable
  • No 8 Goldie 2210 Red Sable
  • Unknown old brush
  • No 12 Da Vinci 5519 Red Sable Special Inlaid Liner
  • No 10 Pyramid Synthetic Hair
  • No 4 Rembrandt 136 Squirrel (sword point)
  • No 1/2 Pyramid Synthetic Hair (sword point)
  • No 2 Saintograph flat brush, Unknown round brush
  • No 5/8 Daler HP 28 Squirrel
  • No ¾ Rowney S. 164 Ox Hair
  • No 6 Rembrandt 132 Squirrel

Qn: Which one is your favourite brush? Or the one you use most often? Why?

I would often begin with No 2 Saintograph flat brush or No 6 Rembrandt 132 Squirrel for broad areas (eg. Sky). No 5/8 Daler HP 28 Squirrel, No 6 Goldie 2210 Red Sable and No 8 Goldie 2210 Red Sable for the main works, and No 12 Da Vinci 5519 Red Sable Special Inlaid Liner for the fine details and lines.

Qn: What brands of watercolour are you using? Why do you have a preference over this particular brand? What do you think about their characteristics?

My first encounter with artist grade watercolour was Winsor & Newton, and it still remains my favourite brand for its transparency. However it is not available in the Penang market so all these years I have also tried other brands such as Schmincke, Holbein, Old Holland, Rembrandt and Rowney.

Really, there’s no fixed brand in my bag and I have been painting all these years with mixed brands. But one thing I must make sure they are artist grade watercolours.

Qn: How do you choose the colours? What are the must-have colours for you?

I usually go for 7 or 8 colours that I use frequently, and these few colours stand the test over the years where they most suited my painting.

My favourite colours are Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Sap Green and Vermilion. The other less use or only as highlight would be Permanent Yellow Deep, Scarlet Lake, Turquoise, Sepia and White. There are also other colours such as Purple, Rose etc which I keep in the bag but not on the palette. Only rarely I squeeze a little bit on the palette when I need them.

Of all the colours, there are 2 key players in my palette, the Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. With these 2 colours, I could come up with different shades of blues, browns and greys, and add other more regular colours with that would be sufficient for me to complete a painting.

Qn: Is there a particular way that you use to arrange the watercolours on your palette?

As Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna are my 2 key players, I always put them side by side and in the central position. One side of the Ultramarine would be Cobalt Blue, followed by Cerulean Blue and Turquoise. Next to Burnt Sienna would be Raw Umber and Burnt Umber, followed by Greens. I would place Yellow and Red away from the dark colours to keep them as fresh and clean as possible.

Qn: That palette container looks familiar. Where did you find that? Usually I see people using metal palettes. Is there a reason why you decided to go with this plastic palette? How do you keep it?

My previous palettes were also plastics (the normal white ones you would find in art supplies). This particular palette was a gift from Kiah Kiean, bought in Taiwan.

It is very compact with 21 compartments for colours arranged in 3 rows with an air-tight lid (well, almost air-tight). The whole palette can be put inside the metal mixing tray, closed up as a compact metal box. When the tray is open, it has 4 mixing areas and you could fix the plastic palette to the tray. Below the plastic palette is a holder where you could hold it with your thumb on one hand and paint with the other.

Qn: How about watercolour paper?

I love Arches watercolour paper (smell is awful!) but this is not available in Penang, I only managed to obtain some from friends. So most of my paintings were done on Saunders Waterford, some (very few) on Bockingford. I always go for the 300gsm rough texture as it suits my style of painting.

Qn: Can you talk about your water tray? It looks like they can be detached into two pieces.

I can’t remember exactly when I bought this water container, must be around 20 years back, either in Straits Commercial (map) or ArtFriend.

It is very handy with 2 containers (1 full and 1 divided into 2) stack up to become one to save space for storage. The big compartment is the main washing tray while the small ones help me to keep some clean water when I need it.

What's in your pencil case?

Nothing special really. I have some pencils, clutch pencils, twigs and sharpened ice-cream sticks, pen-knife and erasers.

Qn: Can you talk about your easel?

I have been looking for easel for quite some time but they usually either not for watercolour or too heavy to carry.

I bought this Holbein aluminium watercolour easel 2 months ago at Straits Commercial and I love it, although not perfect. It is not heavy, easy to set up, can be tilted from horizontal to up right.

The shortfall is the extended spine is not long enough for full size watercolour paper. Even half size in vertical format would have problem. To overcome this, I use 2 metal clips, tied with rubber bands. The clips help to hold the board in position and the rubber bands will be pulled until the little knob at the central spine of the easel to hold it. Under normal circumstances (not tested yet under strong wind condition) it is pretty stable and I’m happy with this little innovation.

Qn: Is that dark shade bag a special artist bag? Where did you get that?

It’s not particularly for artists, many designers use it too. I got it from one of the art supplies in Bangkok.

Qn: So what do you put inside that bag?

I use it to keep my watercolour papers and boards. The size nicely takes in my half size board, and there are also some pockets to store the little utensils.

Qn: Do you use any sketchbooks for drawing? If so, what do you use?

I usually have 2 sketchbooks (sometimes 3, no wonder my bag is heavy) for different purposes.

I would use my Moleskine for more precious sketches, and a normal type for practice sketches, or for subject of less significant. I sometimes also use my DIY watercolour sketchbook when I want to do fast watercolour sketch.

Qn: Say you have $120 USD budget to buy some art materials. How would you spend it?

I guess I’m quite happy with the painting equipment I have now, so I would spend on some watercolours and papers. Love to have a good, big size flat sable hair brush, but it would be way over this budget!

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