A few years ago I was working as a grant writer and really needed a creative outlet outside of work. So, I grabbed a few girlfriends and took an abstract watercolor workshop. I was immediately hooked. I was not good at it at first, but it was so relaxing and time just didn't seem to exist when I was painting.
However, it was a bit of a struggle to find the right supplies. The paint wasn't vibrant enough, the paper didn't hold up well; these frustrations hampered my enjoyment of painting. Once I found the right supplies, it transformed my art practice. While supplies are a very personal choice (there are no right or wrong answers here), I hope the supplies that I use and love help you on your way to loving watercolor as well. In addition to just listing my favorites, I wanted to give you a quick rundown of the types of supplies out there so you have a good starting point if you want to explores some other types of supplies.
Types of Paper
1. Textures of Watercolor Paper:
Watercolor paper is generally available in three different textures. Hot pressed paper is very smooth, making it ideal for artists that like to paint very detailed images. Cold pressed paper has a slightly textured surface, making it versatile for various painting techniques. It allows the paint to sit on the surface, providing control and blending opportunities. Rough paper has more texture than cold pressed and is generally well suited to loose expressive styles where the texture of the paper plays a larger role in the artwork.
2. Weights of Watercolor Paper:
There are three different weights that watercolor paper is generally available in: 90 lb., 140 lb., and 300 lb. I find that 90 lb. is usually sufficient for a sketchbook or something you will be doing quick and light sketches on as it will start to degrade with too much water. 140 lb. is sufficient for most works, and 300 lb. can handle ALL the water without buckling, but is generally significantly more expensive.
3. Materials used in Watercolor Paper:
Watercolor paper is made up of cotton, cellulose (tree or plant fiber), or a combination of both. Cotton papers are the highest quality and the most archival since cotton does not contain lignin. Cotton paper maintains the most vibrant colors as well. Cellulose is used for mid grade or student quality papers.
My Favorite: Arches Cold Press 140 lb. paper
Arches paper can be a little bit expensive, but it is so worth it. The cotton content of the paper is higher, keeping your colors vibrant. The cold press texture helps me maintain smoother washes and creates interesting texture in my paintings. It can also be purchased in a block where the edges are glued down, preventing too much buckling of the page as you paint. If you are a professional artist, or painting a lot, this can also be purchased in large rolls of paper from Blick at a more affordable rate (you will need to stretch this paper to keep it flat though.)
Types of Paint
1. Artist Grade vs. Student Grade Watercolor Paints:
Artist grade paints have higher pigment concentrations, resulting in vibrant and long-lasting colors. These paints offer excellent lightfastness, ensuring your artwork remains vivid over time. Student grade watercolor paint is less expensive because it contains more binder and less pigment that the artist grade paint.
2. Watercolor Pans vs. Tubes:
Discuss the pros and cons of watercolor pans and tubes. Pans are portable and convenient, while tubes offer more flexibility in color intensity and mixing.
My Favorite: Daniel Smith
Daniel Smith's line of watercolors has so many colors to choose from, and as someone who doesn't love mixing colors I like having a lot of differing colors to choose from. Their paint also comes in tubes, and is beautifully vibrant and rich to use. While these are more expensive than the student grade counterparts, the tubes of paint las a VERY long time and the vibrancy of artist grade paints makes them more fun to use. You can see I use the tubes to fill the half pans in my palette for easier use.
Check out my amazon storefront below for all the colors I keep in my palette.
Types of Brushes
1. Brush Materials:
The type of brush that you use is truly one of the more personal preferences of painting. You can go with the more expensive natural brushes (often made of sable or squirrel hair) or a more affordable synthetic brush. Personally, I have never tried a natural brush because of the cost and I have always been happy with the performance of synthetic brushes. The one important part is choosing a softer brush than you would use for acrylic or oil painting.
2. Brush Shapes:
The other consideration is the shape of the brush. The options here are nearly endless and you should play around with this on your own to see what you like for your own style. To start I would purchase a medium sized round brush (size 6-8) and a larger flat brush (1 inch or so). Keep in mind brush sizing is inconsistent between brands, so this is just a rough guide. The round brush is very versatile, allowing you to paint details with the point and larger areas with the side of the brush. I like using the flat brush to get smooth washes over larger areas of the painting. The larger size of this brush will allow you to work quicker over larger areas.
My Favorite: Princeton Heritage Series
These brushes are affordable and durable. I've been using the same brush for years. Of all the brushes I have (and I am looking at 20+ in a cup on my desk right now) my Princeton round brush is my go to brush for every single painting.
Explore My Amazon Storefront!
I put together a comprehensive list of all of my specific favorite colors, brushes, paper, and other odds and ends I love to use for watercolor paintings. You can check out the storefront here: https://www.amazon.com/shop/erikadonaghy.art
I earn a small commission if you purchase supplies through my storefront and I would be grateful for the support.