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Starting out in watercolour, or any art medium, can feel daunting at first. The amount of information available can be overwhelming, and we can develop some serious analysis paralysis when deciding what we truly need.
In this post, I will briefly go over my top ten supply recommendations in watercolour. This list is a general overview for beginners. I will be adding more detailed product comparisons according to different budgets in future videos (I will link them in the video description once they are posted so you can easily find them).
10: A Pencil
Watercolour can be loose, or planned. My style, and other realistic styles involving wildlife and portraits, begin with an accurate sketch.
When starting out and still practicing your skills, even as an experienced artist, mapping out a sketch can be helpful in planning your subject. When I sketch first, I ensure that my proportions are correct and that my composition is placed how I would like it.
Pencils ranging from HB-3H are my favourite. They go on lighter and are easier to lift with an eraser or cover with paint. Dark pencil marks will show through your art, so make sure not to press too hard or use dark pencil if that isn’t the effect you’re looking for.
9: Kneadable Eraser
Rubber erasers, also known as kneaded erasers or gum erasers, are my favourite type of eraser to use with watercolour, and in drawing. They can be shaped to erase a narrow section or flattened to lighten larger areas at a time without rubbing or ruining the surface of the paper.
I often use an eraser to lighten my sketch so that the pencil lines will not show through, especially in lighter areas of the painting.
8: Water Containers
I don’t need to talk much about these! I prefer to use two, one for dirty water when I initially rinse my brush and one for cleaner water. You don’t NEED two containers, I just find that I have to stop painting to change my water less often when I use two.
I love this plastic container with the textured bottom for getting the paint out of my brushes. Any glass or plastic container that you already own will do! Just make sure you don’t accidentally drink your paint water (it happens!)
7: Panel or Board
I use a masonite panel to tape my watercolour paper to, they’re very cheap usually around a dollar or less. Taping watercolour paper to a board prevents warping, especially when you are using a lot of water. Cardboard is too flimsy, and a masonite panel is portable and tiltable (unlike most desks).
Artists tape, masking tape, or painter’s tape all work for me. The most important thing is to wait until your paper is completely dry before removing any tape. You can also blow-dry the tape to warm it up and loosen the glue, making it easier to peel away.
The tape should have enough tack to hold your paper to your board even when wet, but not so tacky that it ruins the paper when you remove it.
5: Masking Fluid
Masking fluid is used to preserve the whites of your paper, or the sections that you want to keep light between layers.
I use a cheaper brush to apply the fluid, making sure to put a little coat of dish soap on the brush before applying the masking fluid, and washing it again immediately after use. This helps to prevent the masking fluid from ruining the brush.
It also comes in pen form that is handy for creating thin lines.
I feel like a broken record sometimes, but like everything else in watercolour, masking fluid needs to be completely dry before you paint over it or remove it.
I prefer to mix my colours on a ceramic palette because they are non-staining and give a truer impression of the colours you are mixing, and hold more water if you are pre-mixing a colour for a larger wash.
For storage, it really depends on where you paint and how. The metal tins are great for most purposes because they can store full or half pans and are quite portable. The plastic palettes tend to have larger paint wells, which is nice if you paint larger and use big brushes. They do have a tendency to have the paints loosen or fall out though, and it is harder to interchange colours in the same way you can with pans.
A palette has two meanings in watercolour.
1) A place to store your paints
2) A surface for colour mixing
Paint could have a video on it’s own, but the basic thing you need to know is that it either comes in pans or tubes.
A half pan is 2.5 ml, full pan 5 ml, and tubes tend to come in 5 and 15 ML sizes with some exceptions. As you develop preferences on your watercolour journey, you will know if you prefer to paint from the tube or from the pan. Personally, I pour tubes into pans because it is cheaper than buying pans individually, and I find I waste less that way.
I have links to some great starter sets on my YouTube video.
A common mistake people make when buying brushes is thinking that more is, well, more. We look around the store and see one brush for $20 or 10 brushes for $20 and are inclined to choose the 10 pack. In watercolour, this is a mistake. Cheap packs of brushes tend to be too stiff, shed hair, and will generally frustrate you and even ruin your painting.
One quality watercolour brush can last for YEARS. To start, I recommend a size 12 or size 10 round brush. I have included links for some of my favourites in the video description.
I left this for last because in my opinion, the type of paper you use is the single biggest factor in the outcome of your watercolour paintings (outside of practice and more practice!).
Papers not intended for watercolour simply will not work as well. The most common papers for watercolour are 140lb (weight means how thick. A smaller number is more likely to warp) either Hotpress or Coldpress.
I will make a separate blog explaining the difference in detail, but to start, Coldpress is the generally easiest for beginners. My favourite papers are 140lb, 100% cotton, coldpress. (Product links in video description).