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Best Beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies

A simple guide to watercolors

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Beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies – all about one of my favorite mediums to paint with – WATERCOLORS! Today’s post is a little different from all of my previous posts. In this blog post we find out everything you need to know about watercolors while making your first purchase. This guide will be helpful to everyone who wants to get into watercolors but has no idea what to buy or what to start with.

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Beginner's guide to watercolor supplies  Simple guide to watercolors, waterciolor guide for beginners
Beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies

Different types/forms of watercolor

There are several forms of watercolor available in the market right now. Every time I go to an art store, I’m surprised by the wide range of watercolors they have – colors and formats! For a beginner, it might be pretty confusing when it comes to choosing the right form of watercolor. Here are some of them:

  • Watercolor Tubes
  • Watercolor half and full pans
  • Liquid watercolors
  • Watercolor Pencils
  • Metallic Watercolor
  • Watercolor brush pens/watercolor Markers

Not covered in this post as I have never used them:

  • Watercolor crayons
  • Dry color sheets like Viva color
  • Watercolor sticks
beginner's guide to watercolors

Watercolor Tubes and Half/Full Pans

Let’s dive into watercolors with the most used form. Most watercolor artists like to work directly from tubes, while others like to work with pre filled half and full pans. My first watercolor pan set was Winsor and Newton Cotman set with 45 colors, which by the way is super affordable for the range of colors you get.

My favorite method, when it comes to expensive/artist grade watercolors is to buy tubes and then fill them into empty half pans myself. This turns out to be much cheaper than buying half pans and you can also share the colors with your friends! Some artist grade watercolor brands that I have used and love are Daniel Smith Watercolor, Mijello and Schmincke.

I started off by buying a set of Daniel Smith’s 6 tubes of 5 ml each for a very affordable price from Jackson’s art supplies, as Daniel Smith is really expensive on Amazon Europe. You should definitely start out by buying a basic set before investing in more colors. You could also get a started with a basic Schmincke set, as the schmincke also has absolutely stunning colors.

My first Mijello colors were Compose Rose, Brilliant Pink, Melon Green and Lilac. I use them mostly for florals.

Beginner's guide to watercolor supplies
Mijello Mission Gold watercolor comes in cute pastel shades!

I buy empty half pans from Amazon and fill it with the paint from tubes. Then I stick some magnet stickers on the bottom and put them in a metallic tin (something like Altoids tins).

Watercolor Dot Charts

In case you don’t want to splurge into expensive watercolor, but would like to try them out first, check out the watercolor dot charts. Almost every expensive brand has this chart, where you get a dollop of every color available in their catalogue on sheets of paper. There’s plenty of color on these sheets to paint complete paintings! And, they are super affordable! Shown below are Schmincke and Daniel Smith watercolor dot charts.

Liquid watercolors

This has to be my most used form of watercolor. I have collected a huge color range and the colors are extremely bright. But they come with one disadvantage, they are not lightfast – meaning, they fade when exposed to sunlight for a longer period of time. Hence these are perfect for artwork that you are going to scan or store in a drawer, but if you plan on framing and displaying them, they might lose their brightness over time. I use Ecoline liquid watercolors and Pebeo colorex extensively in my artwork. A great US alternative is Dr Ph Martin’s concentrated watercolors.

Liquid watercolor

I pour a tiny bit of them into an airtight palette shown below and wait for them to dry. The palette comes with a lid as shown above, and can be carried whenever you travel. Beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies

Watercolor Pencils

Pencils but water soluble! You can use these if you are not confident of using watercolor, You can color with these pencils and then use a wet brush to convert it into a watercolor painting. I use them mostly to do sketches before I start painting. They are much better compared to a regular pencil because they don’t leave marks like normal pencils – they blend out when they come in contact with water. Beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies
I own few colors in Cretacolor Aqua monolith woodless pencils and an entire set in Faber Castell. The pencil shavings from Cretacolor watercolor pencils can be mixed with water to create watercolor! So, there is zero wastage!

Watercolor Pencils

Metallic colors 

You can use metallic watercolors to add a bit of extra glamour to your paintings. They add a delightful contrast and look best when used on darker colors or darker paper. They rewet like watercolor and can be applied with the watercolor brushes. You can also use them with calligraphy nibs to do some creative calligraphy! This one is from a brand called Finetec (also known as Coliro).

Finetec

Brush Pens

Technically not watercolor but these brush pens can be used as watercolor as well. Their main use is in hand lettering, fashion illustration etc. But they have been extensively used by artists in illustrations, urban sketching and more. You can draw with these brush pens and then add water with a brush to create a watercolor effect. Shown below are Ecoline Brush pens and Tombow brush pens, both which are quite well known among watercolor artists. Since this is also one of the easiest form of watercolor, I thought it should be included in this beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies.

Beginner's guide to watercolor supplies, brush pens

Here is a comparison of all the different types of watercolor. The last one is technically not a watercolor type, but is a TomBow brush pen which blends when you apply water. Beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies

Brushes

This Beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies would be incomplete without a seciton on Brushes. Choosing the right brushes for your painting is as important as choosing the right colors/paints. The kinds of brushes that work for Acrylic/Oils might not work well for watercolor. So, make sure you buy ‘watercolor brushes‘ and not brushes meant to be used with other mediums. The bristles vary with different brushes.

Now, there are various brands of brushes out there, some inexpensive and some super expensive. If you are new to watercolor, start with a cheap brush set, get used to the brush usage and care (this is important). Then go ahead and invest in an expensive brush, you will immediately notice how different and wonderful it feels to work with an expensive brush (they are pricier for a reason!)

My favorite non-expensive but quality brush set is Winsor & Newtom Cotman series. These brushes are wonderful for beginners and they all the brushes you would ever need to start painting with watercolor. If you are ready to invest in an high quality brush, I would suggest buying the Escoda travel set of 3 brushes. I have a set myself and it is the best thing I ever purchased. If you don’t want to buy sets of any kind, I would highly recommend owning a number 6 or 4, a 0 or 1 for tiny details and a mop brush because they can hold a lot of water and are perfect for florals and landscapes.

Paper

Maybe the most boring topic in this beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies, but also the most important one. A lot of beginners get super confused when it comes to picking paper! The behavior of the watercolor depends on the type of paper you are using. It is highly recommended that you use watercolor paper for watercolor paintings.

What is watercolor paper?

Watercolor paper is a specialty paper that is thick enough that it can absorb a lot of water compared to normal paper. They also come in different textures (rough and smooth) and the way they are treated (hot or cold press) and weight (thin or thick).

watercolor paperthin paper bleeds
This is what happens when you use normal printer paper with watercolor. Move the slider to check the back of the paper.

Which is the best one?

Frankly, this depends on your preferences! Some like smooth paper (hot press) but some like slightly textured (cold press) and others like highly textured ones like Khadi. Cotton paper is very efficient at absorbing water whereas cheap paper isn’t. But, if you are a beginner start with cheap paper, so that you won’t feel guilty about practicing and wasting paper! Another option would be to buy rolls of paper and cut them into tiny pieces.

A key thing to remember is to get watercolor paper with appropriate thickness. I like my paper to be at least 250GSM or higher. You can usually find this number on either the front or the back of the watercolor paper pad/sketchbook. I like Strathmore Series Watercolor Pad, which is 300GSM to do all my non commission work. They are not expensive, so I don’t mind experimenting on this paper.

I also like to have some expensive but awesome paper handy – Arches watercolor paper block and Moleskine Sketchbooks are my favorites!

Khadi paper – look at the texture of the paper!

Travel Sets

Watercolor is one of the most travel friendly mediums! You can pour them into a sealable palette and carry them everywhere – but make sure they have enough time to dry in the palette before taking them on an adventure. There are a whole lot of travel sets available which contain the basic colors that you need. You can also make our own travel sets with half pans.
Instead of brushes, you can use waterbrushes, which have a tiny bit of water in them, you can even carry them in your carry on luggage!

Winsor and newton travel set with Pentel Water Brushes are the two things which I constantly carry for outdoor painting.

I hope you liked this blog post on beginner’s guide to watercolor supplies and now have an idea about what’s available when it comes to watercolor. There are definitely a lot more things that might be available by the time I hit publish on this post, mainly because how we make art is evolving each day. Just know, you don’t need all these things to create art, just start with basic supplies because whether you create or not is more important than how or what you create!

If you want to learn more about painting, check out my painting videos here. I also have more painting videos on my Youtube channel.

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