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% cotton. 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.

For beginners a 9×12 pad or block is ideal (maybe a little larger if your budget covers it). However, the cheapest way is to buy 22″x30″ sheets of paper and then tear it into smaller pieces. I routinely buy 22″x30″ sheets and tear them into quarters for my preferred size of 11″x15″. I also use both sides of the paper if I’m just experimenting with ideas and not painting something for sale.

Fabriano Artistico Enhanced Watercolor Block - Traditional White, Cold Press, 9

Fabriano Artistico Enhanced Watercolor Block – Traditional White, Cold Press, 9″ x 12″

Fabriano Artistico Enhanced Watercolor Blocks have the same consistent, high-quality paper customers have come to know and love. They now also feature improved color lifting capabilities, increased surface resistance, and a vegan-friendly sizing! – Fabriano Artistico Enhanced Watercolor Block – Traditional White, Cold Press, 9″ x 12″

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

Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper - 22

Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper – 22″ x 30″, Extra White, Cold Press, Single Sheet, 140 lb

This brilliant white sheet is made naturally without the use of optical brighteners. Each sheet is 22″ × “30 (559 mm × 762 mm). Sheets have two natural deckles and two cut edges. – Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper – 22″ x 30”, Extra White, Cold Press, Single Sheet, 140 lb

Note: The link above is to Blick’s where I do buy a lot of supplies. However sometimes there are good deals on Fabriano Artistico paper at Cheap Joe’s or Jerry’s Artarama (e.g. buy 3 get one free). Right now (June 2022) I can’t see anything worth pointing you to. When I do I will update.

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

Student Watercolor Paper

Fabriano Studio Watercolor Fat Pad - 9

Fabriano Studio Watercolor Fat Pad – 9″ x 12″, 60 Sheets

Made from a blend of 25% cotton and lignin-free cellulose, the paper in the Fabriano Studio Watercolor Fat Pad is internally and externally sized. For beginning and advanced artists and fine art students, and a wide range of media. Tapebound. Holds 60 sheets of cold press, 140 lb (300 gsm) paper. – Fabriano Studio Watercolor Fat Pad – 9″ x 12″, 60 Sheets

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 less than $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.

Escoda Reserva Kolinsky-Tajmyr Sable Brush - Pointed Round, Short Handle, Size 10

Escoda Reserva Kolinsky-Tajmyr Sable Brush – Pointed Round, Short Handle, Size 10

Escoda Reserva Kolinsky-Tajmyr Sable Brushes are crafted using only the tail hairs from the male Kolinsky found in Siberia. Renowned for their springiness and capacity to retain liquids results in a brush that many artists consider to be the world’s best. Following a 75-year tradition, these exceptional brushes are crafted by hand to offer the finest points and sharpest edges available. Each is produced with a perfectly balanced, lacquered wood handle and a nickel-plated ferrule. – Escoda Reserva Kolinsky-Tajmyr Sable Brush – Pointed Round, Short Handle, Size 10

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 (and I can’t imagine why not!) try one of these to start with.

Princeton Aqua Elite Series 4850 Synthetic Brush - Travel Round, Size 10

Princeton Aqua Elite Series 4850 Synthetic Brush – Travel Round, Size 10

Create wherever you are with Princeton Aqua Elite Series 4850 Synthetic Travel Brushes. Developed for watercolor painting, Aqua Elite features Princeton’s NextGen synthetic fibers. They look, perform, and last like natural Kolinsky at a more affordable price. – Princeton Aqua Elite Series 4850 Synthetic Brush – Travel Round, Size 10

Escoda Versatil Brush - Travel Round, Size 10, Short Handle

Escoda Versatil Brush – Travel Round, Size 10, Short Handle

The perfect synthetic alternative to Kolinsky sable, Escoda Versatil Travel Brushes were designed with portability as their main feature. These extremely versatile brushes offer the same exceptional performance as their Escoda Versatil counterparts, but come fitted with brass caps that protect their delicate filaments. When removed, the cap fits on the end, transforming the brush into a full watercolor size. – Escoda Versatil Brush – Travel Round, Size 10, Short Handle

(Note: These are links to travel rounds which come with a handle that doubles as a cover. They’re very similar in price to the ‘normal’ ones and I find they handle just the same. I actually prefer these as I can use them both in the studio and out and about )

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. The bigger ones (14 and above) can also be used for washes.

Silver Brush Black Velvet Brush - Round, Size 10

Silver Brush Black Velvet Brush – Round, Size 10

A blend of natural squirrel hair and black synthetic filament combines to provide excellent carrying capacity with control, spring, and precise pointing. Black Velvet brushes are full bodied, with a wonderful snap. – Silver Brush Black Velvet Brush – Round, Size 10

Softening/Smoothing Brush (Optional)

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 main painting brush is a good choice.

Wash Brushes (Optional)

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.

If you’re working at a smaller size (9×12 or below ) you don’t *need* one of these. If you have a good synthetic 10 or 12 and make sure you load up your brush before you start a wash you should be able to get a good result.

Raphael Soft Aqua Brush - Quill, Size 2, Short Handle

Raphael Soft Aqua Brush – Quill, Size 2, Short Handle

The unique fibers in this new synthetic brush offer a fluid retention capacity equal to no other. The wavy, undulating shape of the fibers in the Raphael Aqua Soft brush creates spaces that hold water molecules — in contrast to conventional synthetic fibers, which are straight and slippery. – Raphael Soft Aqua Brush – Quill, Size 2, Short Handle

My current favorite wash brushes are the Escoda Aquario Gold mop brushes. But, unless you have a birthday coming up (as I did) these are not a budget buy.

Detail Brushes (Optional)

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. Having said that if your main brush points well you can use it for detail work as well.

Escoda Perla Toray White Synthetic Brush - Round, Short Handle, Size 8

Escoda Perla Toray White Synthetic Brush – Round, Short Handle, Size 8

Perla Toray White is the finest quality synthetic fiber available for artists working with oils and acrylics. It keeps an excellent edge for a soft, yet controlled application. Escoda cures each brush to increase the spring and resilience of the hair. – Escoda Perla Toray White Synthetic Brush – Round, Short Handle, Size 8

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.

If you’re on a budget or just starting out student brand watercolors, although cheaper, can be hit or miss. Some of them are very good but others substitute pigments with cheaper and lower quality pigment and lots of filler 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 or less.

Lukas Studio 12 Watercolor set
Lukas Studio 12 Watercolor set

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

Michele Clamp basic watercolor palette colors

(Note: All links are to Blick’s Da Vinci 15ml tube watercolors unless otherwise stated)

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. Payne’s gray I like for doing value studies. It’s a very blue gray (usually a mixture of ultramarine and black) but looks good.

Watercolor Palette

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

Nothing fancy is needed here but your 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.

Folding Watercolor Palette - 8

Folding Watercolor Palette – 8″ x 4″

The economical Masters International Folding Watercolor Palette is great for travel and storage. Constructed from lightweight, durable plastic, the white palette features 20 small color wells, five large mixing areas, brush holders, and a thumbhole. – Folding Watercolor Palette – 8″ x 4″

My personal palette is a luxury and cost more than my first car. It’s a pleasure to use but sadly doesn’t make me paint any better. It’s enamelled brass and hand made in England by Craig Young. Last time I looked there was a year’s waiting list for a new one.

Craig Young watercolor palette
Craig Young watercolor palette

I like the layout of this palette. It has a smallish number of large deep wells that keep the paint moist over a number of days (including a damp paper towel when you close it up helps with this). Also the mixing wells are curved so I can see the consistency of the paint at a glance. And you can close it up in between painting sessions nice and compactly.

Before I’d saved up my pennies for this one I used the Frank Herring compact plastic palette. Not as nice visually as the Craig Young one but functionally is just as good. Eventually after a number of years the hinges cracked but it’s good bang for the buck. As shipped it has a thumbhole but I glued in 4 extra empty pans to increase the number of colors you can use.

Frank Herring Compact Palette
Frank Herring Compact Palette

The type of palette people use is very personal and there are many other types out there. People use enamelled butcher’s trays, large porcelain studio palettes, aluminum folding palettes, even a white plate would do at a pinch.

Miscellaneous Things

A mechanical pencil.

I use a Faber-Castell 0.7mm HB lead but a 0.5mm one is fine.

Small Spray Bottle

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

Holbein Atomizer Bottle - 2 oz

Holbein Atomizer Bottle – 2 oz

This quality constructed atomizer bottle creates a stippled mist which is ideal for many painting techniques. This is a clear, 2 oz (59 ml) plastic bottle with a non-clogging nozzle. – Holbein Atomizer Bottle – 2 oz

Kneaded eraser

Now technically you don’t really need one of these. The hard white ‘school’ erasers will obviously erase pencil lines. However, some people have said that they can leave a little residue on the paper that stops the paint from flowing freely but I haven’t experienced that.

Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser - Large

Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser – Large

Excellent for erasing and highlighting with pencils, colored pencils, charcoal, and pastels, the Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser is the perfect artist’s erasing tool. – Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser – Large

Paper towels

Some people swear by different brands but I buy the cheapest. You’ll need these for adjusting the amount of water on your brush, cleaning your palette and, occasionally, lifting out paint from your painting.

Water receptacle

Again you’ll get different answers from a lot of people about what kind of container to use, what size, how many etc etc. I keep with the portability theme and use a small, folding, lantern container and change the water regularly.

There’s also a bigger size if you feel you need some more elbow room.

Masking Tape

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. You don’t need the fancy artist’s tape. I buy Scotch #2020 tape in packs of 9 from my local hardware store.

(Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I have road tested everything on this page and would recommend them anyway )