Hi everyone! Here’s an updated Watercolor Materials List and beginners advice for your reference. I get questions about materials almost all the time so I hope this finally answers your questions! I believe in sharing knowledge and helping others get a good start in painting so I’ll do what I can to help.
KINDS: Watercolor paper comes in 3 different kinds, Cold Press (or “NOT”), Hot Press and Rough. These paper types vary in teeth or grain. Cold Press (or NOT) is the most common variety found in art supply stores. It has enough grain to give a light textured look. I also think this is the easiest to use for beginners. Hot Press (HP) is smoother than Cold Press. Rough, as the name suggests, is rougher than Cold Press, ideal for sketchier and dry strokes. What’s the best kind? All of them are great. The best kind of paper for you will have to depend on your personal preference or what goes with your style.
FORMS: Paper comes in different forms. They come in Block, Pad or Individual Sheets. Since paper buckles when wet, some artists use Blocks in order to hold paper from buckling. But if your sheets are thick enough, you seldom have to worry about buckling. There are also watercolor sketchbooks like Moleskine.
Blocks have glue blind on all sides. This holds the paper from shrinking or buckling (but not 100% of the time). This is Arches.
LEVELS: Something that you might find useful when buying — Each material, paper, brush or paint, has a “level”. They’re the following: a) Academic or Scholastic, b) Studio and c) Artist level.
Academic/Scholastic is meant for beginners or student work. Since it’s not for very serious use, the quality is just good enough to create a decent picture but not ideal for archival use. Studio level is a little higher, quality is mid-range. Some brands don’t have Academic/Scholastic level ones and their lowest is Studio. Some Studio level materials are acid-free, archival or can last for long periods but in terms of craftsmanship, Artist level is still the highest. For Artist level ones, you’re sure that pigments are concentrated, paper is acid free and buffered, etc. and it is more immune to abuse (scratching, rubbing, etc.) As a result, Artist level materials can be very expensive (ex. a $100 brush — yes it exists!). What level should I buy? If you’re starting out, try Academic/Scholastic or Studio first. You’ll make a lot of mess and waste at the start, trust me on this! So I don’t recommend buying Artist level yet. If you want to produce paintings to sell, present or to keep forever, definitely buy Artist level.
KINDS: The most essential paintbrush for watercoloring is the Round Brush. The nice thing about the round brush is that it has a sharp tip for details and if you add pressure to the brush, you can create wide strokes. There’s also the Flat/Wash Brush which holds a lot of water and as its name suggests, it’s ideal for creating washes or filling large areas. There are a lot more brushes you can use, these are just the basic. They come in different sizes as well. In the photo above, the rightmost brush’s tip is not sharp anymore. If it comes to this, time to replace it with a newer one.
BRISTLES: If you’re starting out, try synthetic bristles. Watercolor brushes usually come in brown, orange or white-nylon bristles. Nylon is firmer compared to the brown ones and 100% synthetic. The “browner” or softer bristles are sometimes called synthetic sables. They work just like sable brushes but of course, since its composition is part synthetic, it’s not as expensive and the quality isn’t at par. If you’re ready to splurge, you can try animal hairs like 100% sable, kolinsky, sheep, dog, racoon, horse, etc. Make sure your brushes spring back up after you wet them. The bristle type is often written on the label.
3) WATERCOLOR PAINT
Watercolor paint comes in 2 forms, Pan Sets or Tubes. Which is better? Neither. Both are great! The difference is in usage. Pan Sets are more portable, whereas Tubes might be a hassle to carry but it’s easier to mix colors in volume. What people suggest is squeezing out Tube paints to the wells of your palette, mixing the colors you’d like to use (if applicable) and leaving them there to dry (but not crackling dry) before using.
If you’re a beginner, I always suggest Prang. It’s available in 8 colors or 16 colors in Pan Set form. Prang’s colors are vibrant and they feel like high quality paints even if they’re just scholastic/academic paints. If you’re ready to move up to an Artist-level set, I usually suggest Windsor and Newton. It’s affordable for the quality it offers and available almost everywhere. The main difference between Academic-level vs. Artist-level paint is the pigment content. You’d notice that more expensive brands take longer to consume and you tend to use less paint because the pigment is more concentrated. There are other great brands out there so don’t limit yourself. Please note that there is no universal “perfect” brand. The perfect material for you is like searching for your soul mate. What works perfectly for others might not work for you and vice versa. Keep searching and researching!
This is a Prang set.
4) OTHER STUFF
Palette - If you are using tubes, you will have to use a palette for mixing and storing your squeezed paint. There are portable ones like this one, which I use. You can fold it and carry it with you. And there are ones that are available in round or rectangle shapes with larger wells, more ideal for studio use.
Masking Fluid / Frisket - Masking fluid (or frisket) is a liquid used to block out areas of a watercolor while you paint, thereby retaining the white of the paper or the previous color that was painted. It’s a solution of latex in ammonia and is removed by gently rubbing it off either with your fingers or an eraser, once the painting is dry. (source)
Mediums - I’ve actually never tried using them before but I’ve been reading up and other artists use the following: Gum arabic, iridescent medium, granulation, aquapasto. If you want to know more about them, you can Google them up. :)
Water and Paper Towels or Tissue - Clean faucet or tap water is fine! No need to use mineral or distilled water. If you’re the adventurous type, you can get water from the sea, brooks or streams. Just be prepared for surprises.
5) A FEW TIPS
(1) Be adventurous. Just because an apple looks red doesn’t mean that you have to paint the apple with just red paint. It’s not bad to mix all sorts of colors to create an image. It’s great to try out different painting styles. You can study past/master work, contemporary work, you can mix all sorts of mediums or with watercolor until you come up with something interesting for you. Great things come when you experiment.
(2) Start cheap and work your way up. It’s a great feeling to transition from low grade materials for a few months to higher grade materials. You’ll be able to see the difference and it makes you more keen and discerning. It drives you to research and find out what you’re doing right or wrong, it helps you become adaptable to different surfaces and materials, and it adds a sense of tension and difficulty to your work… All of this contributes to the expansion of your skill set.
To be honest, I learned a lot about painting just by looking for materials for and by myself. It’s occasionally disastrous but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. So stop asking the next artist “what brand are you using?” and start creating and start discovering things for yourself.
(3) Don’t be in a hurry. Excellent results don’t come out immediately. There will be bad days no matter how long you’ve been with the craft, so always make sure that you are enjoying every minute of it. If it’s giving you a bad time, relax and take a breather until you’re ready to get back to it. Whether or not you have the talent for it, you won’t get anywhere if you stop doing it. Also, research and thinking is important. Almost everything can be found online. I never went to art school or had any formal training in painting. Much of what I know is from my own experience and advice from others and the internet.
I think that’s about it for the basics! Watercolor is one of the more economical mediums. You don’t need to buy so much stuff and you can paint anywhere and not make a mess. Materials are generally cheaper than oil or acrylic as well.
WORKSHOPS / PAINTING LESSONS
I hold watercolor workshops a few times a year (usually from March-June in Ortigas). If you’d like to learn how to do watercolor first hand, how to use these materials or get help in finding which material is best for you, etc., just email me email@example.com to apply and I will notify you whenever I’m opening group/private lessons in the future.
Yey! Happy painting and stay creative! :D