Watercolor is an exciting and very versatile fine art media that can be intimidating for a beginner. To make your experience with watercolor more enjoyable, you will need to gather some basic watercolor painting supplies. The quality of your materials will greatly influence your results, so I recommend buying professional quality supplies. If you paint something you really like, you will feel better if it is done with good quality, archival materials.
You can buy individual sheets of paper or pads. For beginners, pads are the most cost-efficient solution. Paper also comes in different weights (90lb, 140lb and 300lb) and different textures (rough, cold press and hot press).
The weight number is actually the weight of 500 20″ x 30″ sheets of paper, the higher the number, the thicker the paper.
- 90lb paper is quite thin and more suited for studies and training; it will need to be stretched.
- 140lb is of medium thickness and the most commonly used; it will also need to be stretched.
- 300lb is more like cardboard and doesn’t require stretching, but is more expensive and will take longer to dry.
The surface or grain of your paper will have direct consequences on your results. Rough watercolor paper will add texture to your washes because the paint will settle in the little wells of the paper, and hot press paper, with its very slick surface, tends to make colors appear brighter, so they will also be easier to lift off. Cold press paper is somewhat in between rough and hot press.
Check both sides of your paper, as there’s often a slight difference in grain. Use the side with the texture you like the best.
Watercolor paint comes in two forms: pan or tube. Pans are very convenient and are great for traveling, but make it more difficult to gather enough paint for a very large or dark wash. With tubes, you can take as much or as little paint as you need on your palette.
Watercolor brushes come in different shapes and sizes. They can be natural or synthetic. The most expensive ones are the sable brushes.
To start, you don’t need many brushes, just a small round brush (#4,5 or 6), an angled flat and a big flat (2″ or more) for washes. My favorite brush is the angled flat brush, as I find it very versatile, depending on the angle, it allows you to paint large areas and small details.
An old, stiff brush can also be very useful to lift off paint to correct a mistake or lighten an area. I did find an old brush and did cut the hair closer from the ferrule (metallic part that holds the head of the brush) to make it very stiff.
Any paper lighter than 300lb will need to be stretched, as it will buckle with water if not. You can buy stretchers or staple your paper on foam board, wood, MDF or masonite panels. Your stretching surface should be acid-free to preserve the archival qualities of your paper.
5. Masking Fluid
Masking fluid is used to reserve white areas that are too small or too complex to paint around. It is either applied with an old brush or a latex brush. If using an old brush, masking fluid will be easier to remove if you rub your brush on a bar of soap with a bit of water before dipping it in the fluid. A silicone brush is very convenient, as you only need to take off the masking fluid once dried to clean your brush.
They come in many different sizes and shapes. My personal favorites are the traditional Chinese flower shaped porcelain palettes to hold the paint and the butcher tray for mixing. Separating the paint and mixing areas allows me to easily move the tray without risk of spilling the paint. Most palettes have wells for the paint and a flat mixing area.
7. Optional Supplies
There are many media you can mix with watercolors: wax crayons for resist, dry pastels, acrylic, colored pencils, etc. You can also use sponges, plastic cards and painting knives for texture, or spray water — the list goes on.