Spotlight: Materials for Illustrative Painting

One of the main goals I have for The Scribblist is for it to be a source of knowledge and inspiration for anyone who wants to learn or further develop a creative skill. In addition to my workshops, I’ll be sharing free tips and resources for you here on the blog.

Today I am sharing my favorite supplies for illustrative painting. These are the materials I use to create my hand lettered and illustrated designs, which I sell as prints in my Etsy shop.


1. Holbein Acryla Gouache

Gouache is an all around confusing medium for a lot of people I meet. So what is it exactly? Simply put, gouache is an opaque watercolor paint. Traditional watercolor paints are transparent, meaning you can see the color of the paper through the paint, so you have to work from light colors to dark. Gouache is a little more forgiving (thank goodness!) and it allows you to work from dark to light (if your heart so desires).

You might be wondering, so how is it different from acrylic paint then? Great question! Some gouache remains water soluble, like watercolor paints, after it dries. Acrylic paint, while water soluble when it is wet, dries permanent meaning it now has a closed surface. You can add more paint over it without it mixing, and water will no longer dissolve the paint.

Acryla gouache is like a mixture of acrylic and gouache paint. It is a fast-drying, opaque acrylic based watercolor paint. You can mix it with water, and create different levels of translucency, but it is going to lean towards a more opaque matte finish. Once is dries, like acrylic paint, it will have a closed surface so you can layer more paint on top of it. Bonus, unlike watercolor paint, you can use this on dark surfaces and maintain the bright, punchy colors. It comes in SO MANY colors and you can mix your own as well. I love this paint because it is easy to work with, the colors are fantastic, and I like to be able to layer without having to worry about things mixing together and becoming muddy. A little goes a long way, and the tubes are small enough to take a few with you if you feel like painting out in the world.


2. Princeton Series 4850 Elite Brushes

I use a wide variety of paintbrushes, but lately I have been reaching for my Princeton Elite series quite a bit. My favorite of the moment is the 1/4” Stroke brush which is excellent for hand lettering or anything that needs a smooth edge. These brushes feature synthetic brush hair, which I typically prefer over traditional sable or other hair sourced from animals. They maintain their shape well, which is important if you’re using them for detail work. While this particular series is intended for watercolor painting, I find they work well for my Acryla gouache paints as well.

3. Arches Watercolor Blocks

I also use a variety of papers, but I do love my Arches watercolor block. They are manufactured from pure cotton fiber in France (so you can feel fancy and channel all of those artistic French geniuses while you paint!) and I find the paper to be very durable. They are available in a variety of sizes and surfaces, and the benefit of working on a block is that your paper isn’t going to curl as you are working on it. With water based paints, you are adding a lot of moisture to the paper. You need a nice, heavy watercolor paper to be able to handle the medium.

You will notice with watercolor paper that you have a few surface options, the main ones being hot press and cold press. Hot-pressed watercolor paper has a fine-grained smooth surface. Cold-pressed watercolor paper has a slightly textured surface. You will want to experiment with both to find what suits you and your work best. You will also notice there are different weights available (185 gram, 300 gram, etc). The higher the number, the heavier the paper. That means, it can take more water without buckling.


My general rule of thumb with all art supplies is to purchase the best quality that you can afford. Typically, the more expensive options are more expensive for a reason. They are made with higher quality materials, and result in a higher quality product. That doesn’t mean you have to have the best of the best across the board. Experiment with a few different brushes and see if you notice a difference between the $2 brush and the $20 brush. Try out different papers by purchasing a few “by the sheet” options. Acryla gouache is a mid-range product, but it happens to be my favorite because I like the end result for my particular work. For my brushes, I have a few nicer brushes that I reserve for specific use (detailing, lettering, and hard edges) and I have a ton of cheaper options that I use for applying paint to large areas, less detailed work, and because honestly, I am really rough on my supplies! Don’t buy everything under the sun all at once—try a few things out to get you started, and build your toolbox as you go once you learn which supplies suit your style and needs best.

Most importantly, remember to have fun! I’d love to know what some of your favorites are so feel free to share them in the comments!