It's overwhelming when you walk into the art store and visit the painting aisle. SO many brushes, paints, and papers to choose from. Which ones do you go with?! Why is everything so expensive?! This is just a hobby, it shouldn't be this confusing!!
Believe it or not, it's not you, it's the materials you use when learning watercolor.
🔔 Important Fact: When painting in watercolor you're using an earth element. Water. Most pigments are also created using ground up minerals from the earth.
Most of the "cheaper" supplies that lure you as a beginner are made with synthetic elements. Mixing something natural with something synthetic rarely gives great results. Add your own apprehensiveness and well, the painting looks like mud and you give up. But hey, little money wasted right?
To make good watercolors it takes natural materials. Just like good food takes fresh ingredients.
I'm going to give you my list of the bare bone supplies needed to start off successful with watercolor. If you're willing to hang in there with me, and trust me, you WILL find your mark and method within this medium!
Buy the best materials you can afford & choose quality over quantity
Most academic and student grade materials are full of fillers such as glues and plastics which hold back the true nature of the medium.
This applies to most art supplies.
Working with academic grade materials will inevitably frustrate you and make you think you can’t paint in watercolor.
It all starts with the paper!
Student grade vs Artist grade paper
Student grade paper is made:
wood pulp or a combo of wood and cotton.
Not acid free or archival, generally
Can not take the abuse most beginners have on paper
Best student grade paper
Artist grade paper is made with:
Cotton has long fibers to help absorb water and hold together
Best artist grade paper
Pad vs. Block vs. Sheet
Glued on one side, typically student grade
Will need to peel off, baptized and taped down to board then left to dry before painting
Glued on 2 or more sides
Sheet doesn’t need to be removed to be painted on
When done you have a folder for current WIPs
Challenging to transport
Must cut down to a more obtainable size for exercises
Will need to be sized - baptized and taped down to board then left to dry before painting
Hot Press vs. Cold Press
Very thirsty paper
Holds water longer
Looser fibers than hot press
Can take a lot of water and abuse
We will use cold pressed paper to start
On to the paints!
Student grade vs Artist grade paint
Student grade paint is:
Filled with synthetic fillers and binders
Less color choices
Not as permanent, fades faster, less pigment
Artist grade paint is:
Filled with far more pigment
Better flow and reaction
Tube vs Pan
Rich pigment already moist straight out of the tube
Very little work to rewet or mix
Use any size brush on any size palette
Can get messy
Can rearrange palette without breaking off paint
Takes more work to rewet
Small color space, so must use a smaller brush to transport color to mixing surface
Choosing your brushes
Usually made of nylon or some kind of plastic
Keeps shape and has bounce back
Doesn’t hold much water
Real animal hair
Absorbs tons of water
Doesn’t keep shape without care, and little bounce
Best of both worlds for the price
Holds water well
Keeps shape and has bounce back
Rounds Used for details and fine lines
Flats Used for washes and solid strokes
Sizes I Use Most
Round size 1
Round size 6
Round size 12
Flat size ½ inch
Don’t use craft brushes, fancy looking brushes, brushes for anything other than watercolor, or get a brush set. It’s better to get each one individually so you only pay for what you need.
Most budget friendly
Lots of wells to place paint
Hard to get paint to stick, it beads up
Can be frustrating to use and hard to transport
Paint sticks very well
Limited mixing space
Wells can be rearranged\removed
Easy to transport
Limited wells and mixing space
I use and recommend the metal palette. The ones I use are by Meeden. It gives the most flexibility and sits in the middle price point.
Setting it all up
Fill in palette
Fill half way, if slanted (a lot of plastic palettes have slanted wells), fill at the top of the slant, not the bottom
Leave mixing spaces open (the large flat open spaces)
Set up colors in the order of a rainbow or color wheel
Set up Workspace
Place paint, water, and towel on the side you write with
Brushes and other items can be placed on the opposite side
Paper in the center
Keep it Simple
You don’t need to make your set up elaborate, just functional
Have out only what you need
Try to set up where you can leave it out
Use a bag or box to place your supplies in for easy access and clean up
Notes on where to purchase supplies
*Do not purchase any brushes on Amazon. There's a risk they will be bent or unprotected. *If you have a local art store like Blick or Utrecht purchase there. Here in Des Moines we don't have any official art store because too many consumers chose the big box stores over them. Support your local art store, even if it's a big name one. Plus they will have far more options than Hobby Lobby or Michael's. *Use coupons when you can! Especially if you shop Michael's or Hobby Lobby.