I have no ideas what I’m looking at!?!
There are too many choices!?!
I don’t know what I should buy!?!
I hear this a lot from beginners and even remember feeling it myself when I was first pursuing watercolors.
Let me preface this with the fact that this is for beginners. Those who want to start with watercolors but are completely overwhelmed and have no ideas where to begin. If you have experience already you may want to research comparisons about specific supplies.
I’ve said before I live in rural PA. There are a lot more corn fields than art supply stores. There is a small fine arts store and a craft store about a half hour away but the options are limited. The fine arts store can get anything you need and the owner is great but sometimes I like to see something in person before I buy. The craft store seems to be dropping watercolor supplies that they used to carry like my favorite size for beginner watercolor paper and masking fluid. In order to have a decent selection of supplies I need to travel about an hour.
In my Adult Beginner Watercolor Class, I provide all the supplies needed but I also go over my recommendations so that students can build up their own supply. Some of my students asked that I join them on a shopping excursion to “teach us how to shop for watercolors.” I was happy to oblige since I’ve been wanting to make the trip myself and I do love a trip to an art supply store. (The most fun shopping there is.)
In our area Pat Catan’s is a pretty good place to go. They actually carry some very nice watercolor paints that not many places stock and their selection of goodies (extra stuff you really don’t need) is fun.
I understand why someone would feel overwhelmed. The brush selection alone is enough to make you go cross-eyed.
They carry lots of watercolor paints but not many people know where to even start with the wide selection. And watercolor papers galore…
So here is my “How to Shop for Watercolor Supplies” list.
You can get away with generic brushes for some paints but I stress that you DO NOT want to do this with watercolors.
Basic brushes for watercolor are round or flat and come in a variety of sizes. You want a brush that has a good point (and keeps a good point), is soft, and holds a good amount of water. So it really is important to get brushes specifically labeled “watercolor.”
I have personal experience with:
Simply Simmons (not an affiliated link but I order them through DickBlick.com)
I’ve used both of these with my students. They keep a pretty good tip after repeated use and work well.
Most brushes are sold individually so as far as sizes I suggest:
Round #4, 6, and/or 8 (#2 if you like detail or a #10 if you like to work big)
Flat #1/2, 1 in
(As you progress you will want to try out different brands and sizes to pick your favorites.)
Watercolor paper has a texture and thickness to it that allows the pigment to move and the paper to absorb water with minimal warping. Two important things to look; one is the lbs (pounds) and the other is “cold-press” or “hot-press.”
I prefer cold-press. It has a nice texture that I’m used to and works well. Hot-press is smother which I’m not comfortable with but some people like it.
As far as the weight (lbs/pounds), typically the choices are 90lbs, 140lbs, and 300lbs. Technically this has to do with how much a certain number of pages weigh, in other words the thickness of the paper. PLEASE do not waste your money on 90lb. It is flimsy and I don’t feel like it even acts like watercolor paper. You can’t use much water before the paper starts to fall apart and the fun of watercolor is its fluidity.
140lb is a good one to start out with as a beginner. In fact I still use it for most purposes. For beginner projects I like to use 9×12 size. Or if you like to work large, 11×15 is the size I use myself.
I like this one:
(Once you really get into this, or if you have the budget, the really good stuff is Arches 300lb.)
This is a tough one. There are so many choices and everyone has an opinion. But I use Reeves for my students/beginners. It’s a good starter one while learning the basics and becoming familiar with the material. It moves like watercolor should, has good color, and mixes well.
Here’s the link for a set:
After you have been working with watercolors awhile, you may start to feel as though the paints are holding you back. When that happens you will want to move onto Windsor Newton or Daniel Smith. I don’t have personal experience with Windsor Newton but I do with Daniel Smith and they are impressive! It really takes your work to another level!
It’s important to have a surface to attach your paper to so that you can minimalize the warping (300lb will not warp as much). If you use masking tape or painters tape to secure your paper while working then leave it attached while you let it dry, it will help lessen the warping.
Though you can buy some nice boards, I use simple foam core (from Walmart), a full board cut in half. It has reasonable water resistance and is light.
Here’s my set up:
I put this in the “extras” because for my students I use a wax coated paper plates. I like them because they’re easy and cheap. I didn’t invest in a palette of my own until I knew how I liked to work with watercolors. This is a personal preference.
For me I found that I wanted a palette with lots of slots for pure paints and wells and flat spaces for mixing. But I also wanted one that would travel since I take an Advanced Watercolor class of my own through the Meadville Council on the Arts.
Masking an area to keep it clear of color is a technique you will run into after not much time into your watercolor adventure. So I’ll include it on this list. Masking can be done with masking tape but I really do like masking fluid. You are able to “paint” the fluid onto white paper, let it dry, paint watercolor, and let dry. When you remove the masking fluid pure white paper is left.
These aren’t necessary for beginners but they are easy to work with and add detail that may ease some frustrations. I haven’t tried many pencil brands out but Prismcolor is a really good one.
Hope this helps! If you have anything to add to this list I’d love to hear it.
Yep, you guessed it. There are affiliated links here. If you click on one of these, it won’t change your cost any but I will get a portion to help support this thing I love.