When I first began painting I used whatever materials I could afford. However I quickly recognised there was a big difference in the quality of certain materials.
The first upgrade to my materials was the pastels, using just whatever our local office supply store had in stock. Someone had informed me that the local photography store had art supplies and I began to buy Grumbacher pastels, which the store stocked the new formula and by luck had a huge cache of the old formula pastels, which even to this day I will buy sets of the old stock whenever I can find it because the quality was that good. It wasn't until moving to NYC that I discovered Sennelier, the company that invented the soft pastel for Degas and oil pastel for Picasso. I have experimented with various brands, and while there are some very fine handmade pastels from England, the price point, the selections of colour and shape of the French made Sennelier are far better. The same could be said of Oil Pastels.
When I transitioned to painting my artist uncle, Armando gave me some linen and acrylic paints. However acrylics frustrated me and I ended up creating a shameful muddy colour. It set me back because I felt frustrated by painting. I decided to try oils since that is what most of the masters in art history used. Painting over my acrylic mess, I instantly fell in love with the application of oils. Over the years I have used acrylics, mainly as underpainting, but lately I have made several pieces using acrylics as a way to speed up the process. I enjoy the quick drying time however I am not sold on their use in my studio in the long term. Besides, there is something about oils that feels natural versus the plastic quality of acrylics.
As for surfaces, it's a mixed bag. Even low quality canvas is good. I have grown to trust and like Dick Blick's canvas brand, it is heavier and the stretcher bars are of higher quality. I have linen I use here and there when I feel I have time to hand stretch my surfaces. One good tip for artists is to buy your linen from fabric outlets. I used to go to the garment district in NYC and pay half the price for far more linen than what one could buy in art stores. In fact, one should really look through hardware stores and other alternatives for certain materials, such as odourless mineral spirits, linseed oil, and larger heavy bristle brushes. And if you have the means to rip your own wood for stretchers, it's far cheaper, just remember to curve the edges where you would stretch the canvas over. A squared edge will crack your paint.
I have experimented with so many brands of paints that I couldn't possibly keep track of every brand. From my experiences with pastels I understood quickly that buying better brands was the way to go. Even so the price difference was huge. Back in the day I could buy the cheaper brand for around $3.50 a tube, versus $5-6 for the student grade of a better brand. In truth one cannot hardly tell that my first paintings were made with student grade, if at all. I would make a pilgrimage to the larger art store in Albuquerque and discovered they had ample tubes of damaged paint at a highly discounted price. I got to experiment with new and better quality paints.
I would like to note that discovering art with a limited pallet was perhaps the best lesson life could have given me. I literally own every colour that is made by an expensive French brand, which makes colour selection a breeze. Yet when you are learning, if you really wish to master colour, I feel it is wise for younger artists to stumble their way through mixing their own colours based off of relatively few colours. All the tubes of colour I have allows me to create new combinations of colours, but I still look at the colours I used in my early days in awe.
I also only recently began using black. Prior to using black I would go as dark as Paynes Grey, and often incorporate greens and blues as the darker spectrum of my pallet. I think white and black makes an artist lazy in creating darker and brighter spaces in their compositions.
Over the years as money was available I was able to begin to buy better quality paint, the first brand I used that was of better quality was Utretch, a paint that came from NYC (I have ceased using them). But once I was no longer in the city on a more daily basis I bought what was available at the local art stores, mainly Winsor Newton, a British brand with a long history. As I got turned on to buying from catalogues or on my visits to Pearl Paints in China town in NYC, I would pick up random brands of paint.
I have artists friends who are particular about their brands, whereas I believe the best paints are found throughout various brands. For an example Gamblin makes the best silver I've ever seen. But what surprises me are those artist friends who are pretty famous and command high dollar who use brands I certainly tried and rejected for their lack of quality.
The price of high quality paints is steep. I can spend a couple of hundreds of dollars and only have six tubes of paints to show for it.
The brands I use are of the highest quality of paints. The brands I use (in no particular order) are mainly:
Old Holland, Netherlands
Other Brands I use are:
Winsor Newton, British