If you’re interested in learning to paint with watercolors, figuring out which supplies you need to buy can be a little overwhelming. Remember that this whole series is from the perspective of a somewhat beginner (read part 1 here). According to how much time and money you’re planning on spending, there are a variety of paints and products you can buy.
1. Watercolor Paints
First, let me talk a little bit about watercolor paints. I used to think that if you wanted to be at all serious about watercolors you needed to use the tubes of paint. While there are a few advantages to the tubes, that is completely not true! There are a lot of quality pans of watercolors that are artist quality and these are definitely what I would recommend for a beginner. They are so easy to use, and require almost no time to prep or clean up. The tubes of paint are more expensive, messy, and you have to plan in advance which colors you’ll be using and spend a lot of time preparing your palette.
I got this set of watercolors from my mom for my birthday this past fall and I LOVE it: Sakura 24-Piece Koi Assorted Water Colors Field Sketch Set with Brush. The price is reasonable for high quality paints. The colors are vibrant and blend well, and I really love the selection of colors. If you’re shopping for watercolors at an art store, I would expect that most artist or professional grade sets will also be great quality. I would just definitely recommend starting out with 24 colors or more.
I also have a smaller travel set of Winsor & Newton Watercolors that are also great quality. This set is great for painting earth tones like these cacti, but if this was the only set I had, I would really miss out on some of the other colors. Here are a few other sets that I’ve personally tried and LOVE. A few are a little more pricey, but the quality will be better and the colors will be a lot richer.
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor pan sets
- Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 Color Set Japanese Traditional Solid Water Colours
- Van Gogh Set of 12 Half Pans
You can also use tubes of paint. These can be purchased in sets or individually at the craft/art store. What I have done and recommend is to buy one or two tubes here and there if you’re looking for a specific color, or if you’re planning on painting something that will require a lot of one paint color. I have also gotten a tube of black watercolor paint because for me I found that it was easier to work with. As a beginner, I wouldn’t recommend paying more than $3 or $4 per tube. And if you’re interested in picking out just a few colors to try, Dick Blick is the most amazing resource. They have the best selection of brands and colors and the prices really are the best. Winsor & Newton Cotman (Intense Blue is one of my favorite colors of all time!) is a great brand to start out with. I also really love Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolors, Mijello Mission Gold (they have such unique and vibrant colors), and Daniel Smith.
2. Watercolor Brushes
Shopping for watercolor brushes always seems to confuse me. There are bins of brushes at the art store labeled for different mediums and divided into different levels like beginner, student, artist, and professional. What’s weirder is that sometimes the higher quality brushes actually cost less. Who knows. Really you just want to make sure that your brushes are pretty good quality, they are intended for watercolors, and they aren’t shedding into your work. Sometimes you might just have to try a couple (coupons and clearance are my best friend) to see what kind you like.
You also really don’t need that many brushes when you’re starting out. Here are the 6 brushes that I regularly use:
1. A mop brush. This larger fluffier brush is great for laying down light colors and large shapes.
2. A large round brush. I use this one the most. It’s great for laying down larger shapes and colors, and has a lot of versatility.
3. A smaller round brush. Another favorite. Great for details and edges, but it doesn’t cover a very large area.
4. A very small detail brush. Great for adding little textures and details to your work.
5. A filbert brush. This brush is a cross between a round and flat brush.
6. A flat brush. Great for sharp edges or creating angular shapes.
I haven’t personally tried these brushes, but this THIS would make a great starter set.
3. Watercolor Paper
You can use watercolors on any kind of paper, but you will get the best results with watercolor paper. Sometimes I’ll sketch out an idea on plain printer paper just to save money, but the paper will crinkle and the colors don’t blend together quite the same way.
I like buying watercolor paper in person so you can really see the look and feel of it. Some paper is more textured, and all watercolor paper is some shade of off-white.
The biggest thing to look for in watercolor paper is the weight. 90 lb paper is a little thinner, and more likely to crinkle a little, but it is significantly cheaper. The better quality paper is 140 lb cold press paper. This is a thick textured paper ideal for watercolors. Strathmore Cold Press 140-Pound Watercolor Paper is a high quality paper, and a great place to start.
4. Other Tools and Supplies
The great thing about watercolors is that they really don’t require a lot of space or supplies, and there are a lot of things you probably already have that you can use along with watercolors. Here are a few of my favorite extra supplies and tools.
1. Palettes: While your watercolor sets may already include palettes, it’s nice to have a few extras. They’re cheap and easy to find, and they allow you to blend and test colors easily. (UPDATE: Since I first wrote this post I’ve discovered how much better porcelain palettes are. The watercolor paint doesn’t just bead and fall to the center of the well. It sticks to the side and is SO much better for blending and creating colors. I literally have 8 of the 7 well flower porcelain palettes from Dick Blick and I highly recommend them!)
2. Washi tape or Painter’s Tape: This kind of removable tape is great for taping your paper down to your work surface without any damage, and it’s also useful for blocking out edges or areas that you don’t want painted.
3. Extra Water: As you paint your water will inevitably become cloudy and usually it will turn brown. This may not seem like a big deal, but it will start to blend with your colors and affect your work. I like to always have two cups of water: one for rinsing my brushes, and one to use with the paints. Mason jars are great for this as well.
4. Salt: I’ll talk more about this later, but adding salt to wet paint is a really fun way to get a unique texture.
5. Rubber Cement: You can also purchase an Art Masking Fluid to use with watercolors. Basically you paint it on your paper to keep certain areas white, and then when you’re finished you gently rub it off. I’ve found that rubber cement is much cheaper and works pretty well.
6. Pencils and Erasers: It’s great to lightly sketch out designs and edges on your paper before you start painting, so it’s important to have a few decent pencils and erasers.
7. A Paper Cutter: I have this Fiskars 12-Inch Paper Cutter and I LOVE it! It helps you cut your large (and expensive) sheets of watercolor paper into halves or quarters. I also always save the extra strips and edges to use to test colors and brushes while I paint.
8. Paper Towels: It’s great to have paper towels nearby while you are painting to blot extra water, and to clean your brushes in between colors. You can also use paper towels to dab away paint in areas where you maybe applied too much, or to get a certain affect.
9. A White Crayon: You can paint over white crayon marks to get an interesting look and affect.
10. Straws: You can blow through a straw to scatter paint across your paper, or other interesting affects.
*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. I recommend all of the products that I am sharing, and all pictures and thoughts are my own. I just think that Amazon is a great way to share my favorite products with you. Plus, I receive a very small commission for items you may purchase through these links.*
I’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite watercolor supplies? Do you have any tips or favorites?
Sarah Nenni-Daher says
Rubber cement? Brilliant! I use the crayons and have even tried a little melted wax, but never rubber cement.
I like using a medium-sized wash brush, too, but maybe you use the mop instead of a wash for that? I will have to look into the mop.
One other thing I really love using is a piece of an old club card or credit card – talk about amazing fine lines! Used to scrape the paint, it allows for unbelievable detail.
Great write up!
Thanks Sarah! I've never tried using melted wax or an old credit card – great ideas!!!
moois van me says
recently i started using watercolor paint. And what I really like to use is a brush you can fill with water. it makes it so much easier to work relaxed in the sofa instead of on the table with a glass of water.
That's a great tip! I have one of those brushes, but for some reason I haven't quite got the hang of it. I always end out using too much water. But sitting and painting on a sofa sounds amazing!
Really cool article! Thanks for sharing it helped me a lot with my beggining! 😀
Havalah Turner says
When I started watercolor painting a few years ago, someone had given me a kit of tube paints from Winsor and Newton. After that I have slowly bought more paint tubes because I had no idea about kits that were good quality. I wish I would have no when I started, because like you said tubes can be pricey. But, I was taught to squeeze paint on paint trays (like you have above) and let them dry hours before you want to use them. Then they become like the paint in the trays and you can use that paint until they run out. It's great actually because they last a long time and I have yet to have to replace any of my tubes. But I definitely agree, that kit is a great way to start out and I wish I would have know about them. I'm super excited about your series, I know a few watercolor techniques, but I always love to learn more.
That's such a great tip, Havalah. I have a few tubes I use for certain colors, and after I read your comment, I made a designated palette just for them. It's definitely a great way to get more use out of your watercolors and not waste them. Thanks for sharing!
Denise Murtha says
Hello my friend. Shared on FB!!! Great post.
Great post! I am just starting, and am not nor do I intend to ever be an "artist". A couple of additional sources for serious cheapos…like me…Target carries good watercolor paper with the kids art supplies (Kid Made Modern…$3 for 20 sheets), and HomeGoods/TJMaxx carries tubes of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and brushes cheap, especially around the holidays.
I love watercolors because there are so many pretty things you can paint with them without being an "artist" – great tip about the Kid Made Modern paper. I love that line of art supplies, but I had never checked out the watercolor paper before. I'll also be looking for more supplies at HomeGoods and TJMaxx 🙂
Lauren Lanker says
Yay! What a practical post for us beginners; love the tip about using a paper cutter to cut up larger sheets into smaller (less intimidating ones). I'm so going to do that. And I can't wait for your next posts in this series. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insights with us. (The tip on getting a set of 24 colors or more was ON POINT.)
I always end out cutting my paper up into smaller pieces, sometimes to a fault. When I really like a piece and want to frame it, sometimes there isn't enough of a border. And more colors is always better 🙂
Kelly of Simply Kelly Designs says
I think I am going to get the water color set you are using when I get back from all my traveling. Thanks for the recommendation and all the Instagram inspiration!
Yay Kelly! They are so much fun, even if you're just doodling! Thanks! I hope you've been having fun on vacation and at SNAP!
Just thinking about starting. Thank you for your suggestions. I would like to get new posts . Thanks again.