Some of the most common inquiries I receive are questions about what type of supplies I recommend. Today, I am sharing my list of recommendations for beginners who are wanting to explore the world of watercolor painting. You can get started with just a few basic supplies, especially if you are up for mixing your own colors. A lot of artists will only recommend the highest quality of supplies, and while I do agree that you can see a noticeable difference when you are painting with lower quality brushes and paint versus high quality ones, I also realize that not everyone has hundreds of dollars to spend on art supplies — so I am going to share some affordable supplies that I have found to be the best quality for the price, plus a few “splurges” in case you do want the top of the line picks! For ease, I have included links to purchase these items online via Blick or Amazon*.
First up, paint! You can choose between pans (dry) and tubes (wet) for your watercolor pigments. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and I encourage you try out both to see which you prefer.
Pans: Pan colors are convenient if you like to work on your projects at a coffee shop or outside. They are easy to transport, and you can work directly from the tray they come in. They dry out quickly, so when you’re ready to pack up and head back home, there’s no mess. You will need to add water to the “cakes” to pick up the pigment.
Tubes: You will notice that wet pigments come in teeny tiny tubes and that’s because a little goes a long way. One benefit to this is that you can invest in some nicer quality pigments and mix your own colors. All you need to get started would be a primary red, yellow, and blue — from these three colors you can create a whole world of colors! Stay tuned for our upcoming post which features a refresher on color mixing!
Recommendations: For pans, I use both the Koi Watercolor Pan Set as well as the Angora Watercolor Pan sets. These are both affordable and yield great results. I find the Koi colors to be more pigmented (plus the field sketch sets come with a refillable water brush and mixing tray!), but sometimes I prefer the soft nature of the Angora sets. The Windsor and Newton Professional Watercolor tubes are favorite among watercolor artists and will yield some beautiful colors. They are more of an investment, but remember, these will last you a long time and you can create your own colors so buying your three primary colors is a great option!
Next up, brushes! To get started, I recommend picking up a couple of ROUND brushes. Round brushes are ideal because they allow you to get both thick and thin lines, and can create a variety of shapes that lend themselves naturally to things like leaves and flowers. If you are more drawn to creating your own modern patterns instead of floral designs, I recommend picking up some FLAT brushes as well. You will want a couple of sizes to choose from. Here’s a good list to get you started:
Size 12 ROUND
Size 6 or 8 ROUND
Size 6 or 8 FLAT
Size 2 ROUND
Recommendations: You don’t need to get the most expensive brushes out there (watercolor brushes can get extremely pricey!). For beginners, I recommend choosing the synthetic brushes versus the natural hair brushes to get started. The Simply Simmons brand is a nice beginner option as they are affordable and decent quality (especially for the larger sizes!) Once you find a size and style you like best, you can start to invest in a couple of nicer brushes (the Princeton Heritage line is a good option). You will notice a difference in the quality of the strokes when you upgrade to a nicer brush, but since everyone will find that a different size/shape works best for their style, I still recommend starting with some basic brushes first. Some cheaper options do tend to have hairs that come loose easily and stick to your paper which is a total pain, so be selective!
Tips for maintaining the shape of your brushes: Be sure to wash your brushes and reshape them to dry after each use to preserve their shape. Don’t leave them sitting in your water cup as this will squish the bristles and distort their shape (RIP so many brushes of mine over the years!!) Lay flat to dry and store with the bristles facing up.
Finally, you will need some paper! A heavy weight watercolor paper ideal - I stick with a 140 lb / 300 g minimum (the weight of the paper is displayed in lbs or gsm— the higher the number, the heavier the paper). You will want to use a heavy weight so that it can handle all of the water being added to the surface without rippling or buckling. There are a few options for surface texture as well. They are:
Hot Press: Hot press watercolor paper provides a SMOOTH finish
Cold Press: Cold press watercolor paper provides a textured, SEMI-SMOOTH finish
Rough: Just like it sounds, a rough watercolor paper has a ROUGH textured finish
Recommendations: The Canson 9 x 12 inch XL Cold Press Watercolor pad is great for beginners! It’s a quality paper, great weight, and inexpensive! You can also buy larger sizes of paper by the sheet - this is a great way to try out some different textures and see what you prefer. They can range in price quite a bit - so try some of the “student grade” options first. For a treat yo’ self options, I love the Arches Cold Press Watercolor Pads. They just feel luxurious and like I am channeling my inner French Impressionist!
You will also need a mixing tray or palette! This is especially needed if you are going to work with wet pigments. You can buy a variety of trays at any art supply store (the butcher tray linked is one of my favorites), or use an old dinner plate (as long as it is white or light colored so you don’t have trouble seeing the colors you are mixing!).
I hope you find this list helpful! Your local art supply store should offer a great range of watercolor supplies, or you can shop directly from the links referenced. We will be featuring more tutorials and exercises soon, so check back for more helpful tools and resources!
*Links to Blick and Amazon are affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the brands that help support The Scribblist.