Watercolor Materials

Watercolor painting supplies can be somewhat addictive. I try and resist but I often fail. The following list is my preferred set of art supplies. Not all are artist quality, sometimes student grade is fine and I haven’t found it affects my painting results at all. These are all my personal preferences. Other watercolor artists may have slightly different lists. If you’re already painting and have your own supplies or preferences please work with those.

Watercolor Paper

Good Quality 100% Cotton Watercolor Paper

This is by far the most important material when starting to paint in watercolor. There are many different brands of watercolor papers but I recommend any one that is 100%. Each brand comes in different weights and finishes and I suggest 140lb cold press. Most, if not all, watercolor paper manufacturers will have this type.

A 9×12 pad or block is ideal. However, the cheapest way is to buy 22″x30″ sheets of paper and then tear it into smaller pieces. I routinely buy sheets and tear them into quarters for my preferred size of 11″x15″.

Arches cold press 140lb paper is a lovely paper to use for learning. Other good brands of Fabriano Artistico (my current favorite), Winsor and Newton, or Saunders Waterford.

Good quality paper is a must and will make the painting experience so much more enjoyable.

Student Watercolor Paper

Sometimes we will be doing practice exercises that don’t call for the best paper. I recommend the Fabriano ‘fat’ pad which contains 60 sheets of 9″x12″ 25% cotton paper. It’s a steal at around $20 and one of these lasts me almost a year.

Watercolor Brushes

Pointed Round Brushes

The best watercolor brush always comes to a point and holds a lot of water/paint. These properties let us make long juicy brushstrokes but also let us use the point for detail and precision work. They’re very versatile and a good one should last for a couple of years.

However, you can take out a small mortgage for some watercolor brushes. The best ones are made from Kolinsky sable hair and are indeed a dream to use. I use Escoda Reserva pointed round sables which aren’t cheap but are definitely worth it. I use mostly a 10 or a 12 and you can do 90% of your painting with one of these.

Synthetic sable brushes have improved enormously in recent years. I’ve found the Escoda Versatil and the Princeton Aqua Elite brushes have a lot of the properties of the best sables but at a fraction of the price. If you’re new to watercolor and are not sure whether you’ll like it (I bet you will though!) try one of these to start with.

A final alternative to a sable brush are the Silver Black Velvet brushes. These are made of squirrel hair and, although their bristles are somewhat floppier than sables, they hold a lot of water and point well.

Softening/Smoothing Brush

Although you can paint perfectly well with a single brush sometimes it’s handy to have another one on the go for softening edges. Ideally it would be the same as your painting brush but a synthetic round is fine for this too. One of a similar size to your

Wash Brushes

Sometimes we want to cover a large area of paper with paint and need a brush with more covering power. Sables are eye-wateringly expensive at these sizes but alternatives do exist.

I like a mop or quill brush which are usually made of squirrel hair. They hold a lot of water and point well and can cover large areas with ease. A good size for medium size paintings is one with around 10mm diameter on the ferrule.

Detail Brushes

Putting in small details can be easier with a smaller brush. I like a synthetic brush for this as they hold paint well but don’t hold too much water. The Escoda perla series have fabulous points and one of these can last for years. I have a fairly large one for detail (12) but a size 8 or 10 also works well.

Watercolor Paint

In the studio I exclusively use tube paints. Their soft consistency makes mixing faster and easier. If you have pan paints handy then please use those but I find them hard work if I need intense color.

I have no particular allegiance to any one brand. Any artist’s quality watercolor paint will work well. I have a lot of Winsor and Newton and Da Vinci on my palette but mainly because I can buy them in the larger 27ml tubes which works out cheaper. I also have Holbein, Daniel Smith, Blick’s own brand, Turner and a couple of others.

Student brand watercolors can be hit or miss. Some of them are very good but others substitute pigments with cheaper and lower quality pigment which makes painting harder. I’ve found the Lukas Studio 12 tube set to be good. It contains all the right colors and comes in reasonable sized tubes. All for around $30.

As for the colors to buy I work with a pretty limited palette. Almost every color we will need is possible with these colors.

Basic Watercolor Palette

  • Lemon Yellow (or a greenish yellow like Hansa yellow)
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Naphtol red (or an orangey red like Cadmium red, Pyrrole red or Vermillion)
  • Quinacridone rose (or a pinkish red like quinacridone red, permanent rose or permanent alizarin crimson)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cobalt Blue (or Phthalo blue at a pinch. It’s an intense pigment and tends to get into everything – including the carpet)
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Black (I use lamp black but ivory black is fine)

Optional Watercolor Paints

I have these because I like their consistency and how they look on the paper. Also the cobalt turquoise lets me get intense greens on the few occasions they’re needed.

  • Cadmium orange
  • Cerulean blue (a greenish blue, granulates well)
  • Cobalt turquoise

Watercolor Palette

And by this I mean the surface we use to put out our paint and mix.

Nothing fancy is needed here but you palette must have good spaces for mixing and spaces to squeeze out the tube paints. A cheap plastic folding watercolor palette is fine for this. One word of warning: when new the plastic palettes may cause the paint to ‘bead’ up. After a few uses this should stop happening.

Miscellaneous Things

A mechanical pencil. I use a Faber-Castell 0.7mm pencil but a 0.5mm one is fine.

A small spray water bottle for keeping our paints moist and also adding texture to our paintings.

Kneaded eraser

Paper towels

Water receptacle

Masking tape for taping paper to a board if you’re not using blocks. Non-essential but I like to use it to leave a white border around my work.