There is a school of thought that suggests beginners buy and use any cheap watercolour materials to get started. Having taught watercolour painting for many years, I do not agree with this. I see so many people struggling to get good results as their chosen materials are substandard. It just makes life hard. The results are poor and people want to give up. I suggest you purchase the best quality art materials you can possibly afford. You will save money in the long run and you will make progress faster.
You only need about three or four brushes. A large size, a medium and a small round. Maybe a 1/2 or 3/4 inch flat. A little rigger brush is useful for details.
The three brands of brushes I recommend are linked at the boittom of the page.. The David Taylor Escoda set is the set I use all the time. I also have an Escoda flat brush and a rigger but that is all I use for most of my work. The silver black velvets are affordable and superb brushes if your budget is a little smaller. They have a huge selection of shapes and sizes but I uge you to only buy three or four. The Ron Ranson starter set will encourage you to paint in a loose way and not to worry about fine details.
Don't purchase little brushes (except the rigger). They will force you to produce fussy, fiddly paintings. Buy the biggest brushes you dare! Your work will improve over night
This is the most important of all your watercolour materials. If you need to save money do not cut back on the quality of your watercolour paper.
The best papers on the market are 100% cotton (or cotton rag)
Yes, they are more expensive but 100% cotton paper makes an unbelievable difference to your work. The reason most people give up on watercolour is because they have used inferiour quality paper. I have been painting in watercolour for many years and I am still unable to get good results on cheap paper. Don't do it!
Any brand of watercolour paper that is 100% cotton will be good. However, my personal choices are Saunders Waterford and Arches.
Watercolour paper can be purchased in various surfaces and weights. Don't purchase anything thinner than 140lb/300gsm
200lb/425gsm or 300lb/640gsm are my preferences. They don't need stretching before you use them. Stretching is a process where the paper is soaked in water, then secured on all four sides to a board using gummed brown tape. The paper is very flat and tight when dry. However, using heavier paper does away with all that. I have never stretched paper in 30 years!
The different types of paper surface are:
- HP (hot pressed) This is a smooth surface, used for detailed paintings, calligraphy, pen and wash
- NOT/CP (cold pressed) This has a slightly textured surface and is used by the majority of artists
Rough or Extra Rough Much heavier feel to the surface, great for dry brush work and showing texture
If you are new to watercolour painting, I suggest you start with NOT (cold pressed) paper
It is much cheaper to buy your paper in individual sheets and cut them down. You can buy sheets in full imperial size.
Don't rush out and buy one of the fancy palettes out there. A white plastic or enamel tray or a white dinner plate is quite sufficient. However, if you want a palette that you can carry around with you, go for something like the one that has a lid. There are lots like this one on the market. Any one that has a large mixing area will be fine. Those palettes with the little individual mixing compartments are useless. You need space to mix your paints when you are using big brushes.
There are two types of watercolour paint - professional and student quality.
The difference is very noticable when you put two pieces of work side by side that have been done with different quality paints. Once again, purchase the best quality you can afford. How do you know which are professional and which are student grade?, you may ask. A good guide is the price. Good quality paints are made of minerals with other additives. Some minerals are cheap to mine and some are costly. This will be reflected in the price of your paints. If all the colours in the range are the same price, you can almost guarantee they are student quality and contain little or no real minerals. A range of paints that has different prices for different colours is almost certainly good quality professional paint.
For a professional range of watercolour paints, I always use and can highly recommend the Daniel Smith range. Royal Talens Rembrandt paints are also an excellent choice For a more economical selection, Royal Talens Van Gogh paints are superb.
Paint in tubes is more versatile than paint in pans when you are working at home. The little travel sets are brilliant when on the move and you only need a few colours. I have the little Windsor & Newton box (see below) - brilliant!
DANIEL SMITH Finest Watercolors. unsurpassed in lightfastness and permanence. They offer a
selection of truly unique colours.
VAN GOUGH Water Colour is a brilliant economic paint with a high tinting strength. Thanks to the purity and uniform viscosity, the colours are easy to work with. The palette has now been expanded to 72 colours
PRODUCTS FOR TRAVEL
f you want a little travel set to take with you on holiday or on sketching trips, I highly recommend the Windsor and Newton travel box. The half pans in the box are removable and/or re-fillable. You can put in and take out any paints you like. There is a professional set and a student quality set.
The Pro Arte travel brush set is superb value for money.
I hope this introduction to watercolour painting has helped you in narrowing down the products you need to get started. Don't believe anyone when they tell you that watercolour is the most difficult medium. That is total rubbish! It will be the most difficult medium to use if you work on cheap paper though! Watercolour sometimes has a mind of its own and you have to be able to embrace that. If you can, then you are in for some very exciting times -enjoy!
For some recommended books, go to my "book" page
The materials I recommend are listed below