So many different watercolor art supplies are available that choosing supplies can be overwhelming when a student is just starting out. So much to choose from! Some artists suggest that you need to buy this brand and never that one. Some teachers hand out a materials list with 25 different brushes, 30 other pieces of equipment, and dozens of paint colors. Nobody seems to agree. And the costs can be astronomical! What can you do?
First, be assured that you DON’T have to buy everything at once.
Second, however, don’t buy inferior equipment, whether brushes, paper, or paint, to try to save money! You need the right tools to have success in your painting. If you buy the cheapest brush you can find, for instance, because you don’t know whether you’ll like watercolor, I guarantee you will struggle with painting. Even an experienced artist will have trouble painting well with a cheap brush. It is so much easier to paint with the right tools for the job! Therefore, instead of buying lots of inexpensive materials, buy FEWER items that are BETTER quality. (You need not buy the most expensive equipment, either, as you can work up to the best quality as you go along.)
But how do you know what is ‘good’ quality? You probably can’t afford to try everything or experiment.
Below are my suggestions. I offer the ‘Bare Bones’ and ‘Extras.’ The lists are not written in stone; often I will tell you several good choices you can try. It’s fine to pick and choose – if you try something and it doesn’t work for you, try another option. After all, your goal is to make watercolors work for you. Don’t, however, give up prematurely or without giving yourself the chance to practice with these materials.
But wait! Where do you find art supplies to buy? While you can pick up some materials at local art supply stores, I LOVE to buy my supplies online! The variety offered is amazing! My favorite site is jerrysartarama.com. Order online, or call in an order if you prefer (800-827-8478). Other excellent online sources include dickblick.com or cheapjoes.com, and sometimes amazon.com; the different sources often carry a slightly different selection of items, although there is a lot of overlap. (Hint: If you think you might like to continue buying art supplies, make sure to sign up to receive emails from the first three – they offer REGULAR sales!)
Paint and palette – The easiest and quickest option is a travel palette already filled with pans of paint. (I would recommend a Winsor-Newton Sketcher’s Pocket Box with 14 half pans for $12.98 fulfilled by Amazon from Supplier Central, or $16.97 from amazon.com.) You can buy palette and paint separately also. The John Pike palette is a great option – it is very sturdy and has a cover, in case you want to paint outdoors or take your supplies to a class or workshop! (It is available from all of the above-mentioned online art suppliers. Today at jerrysartarama.com the price is $15.48; Amazon’s price is $37.20.) Paint in tubes to fill your palette could be limited to five colors to start out, especially if you are willing to begin learning the fun of mixing your own colors. You DO NOT ever need any white or black! As you progress, you can add more varied colors. (Available from jerrysartarama.com in 5ml. tubes, I recommend either Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Hansa Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow, Payne’s Gray, and Quinacridone Pink costing $32.71, OR Winsor-Newton Professional Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow Deep, Payne’s Gray, and Permanent Rose costing $32.23.)
Brushes – You don’t need to purchase a lot of brushes. Start with these four brushes: size #4 and #10 Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7020 Ultra-round brushes ($5.69 and $8.89, respectively, at jerrysartarama.com). Also purchase a 1″ Flat Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7550 wash brush ($11.79 at jerrysartarama.com). Finally, round out your first brush collection with a Creative Mark Original Scrubber #6 (today for $2.59 at jerrysartarama.com).
Brush easel – If you can afford it, get a brush easel to protect your investment in brushes. I like the Creative Mark Folding Long Handle Brush Easel (today $5.24 at jerrysartarama.com, usually $8.49).
Watercolor paper – Paper could be one of your more expensive purchases. But remember not to buy inferior quality! If you do, you invite unnecessary frustration in your painting and dissatisfaction with your final product. For my classes, I ALWAYS use Arches 300 lb. Bright White Rough watercolor paper, which is sturdy enough NOT to buckle when wet and can withstand rough scrubbing and lifting without damage. (Arches 300lb. paper costs $64.51 for 5 sheets – or $3.23 for each 11X14″ picture – on jerrysartarama.com.) Yet another good paper option would be an Arches Bright White Rough 140 lb. Block of 20 sheets. 140 lb. paper is thinner and less sturdy than 300 lb., but since it is a block, the sheets are held together until you separate them after painting, so they do not buckle. (Cost would be $37.25 for a 20-sheet 140 lb. Arches Bright White Rough watercolor block sized 11X14″ at jerrysartarama.com. – or $1.87 for each 11X14″ picture.)
You will also need a pencil (H) for sketching lightly before painting. Along the same lines, get a good eraser that will not scratch your paper (e.g., Factis ES20 Artists’ eraser at jerrysartarama.com for $.89). You may already have similar items.
Some type of water container is a must, but you needn’t buy one unless you want to. Use a jam jar or any plastic container you have on hand.
You also need paper towels, tissues, or rags to use when blotting extra paint or wetness.
To start with, these ‘Bare Bones’ supplies would cost you about $80, or a bit more depending on which choices you decide on.
The first extra I would recommend is masking fluid, used to preserve whites before you paint or to protect a painted area when adding darker color. I use Pebeo brand Drawing Gum ($6.85 for 45 ml. on jerrysartarama.com). You could also purchase Winsor-Newton Masking Fluid ($9.47 for 75 ml. on dickblick.com). When you use masking fluid, do not leave it on your watercolor paper for more than a couple of weeks. As time goes by, it gets harder to remove; eventually it will not leave the paper without damaging it.
Clear Scotch tape #810 (not original Scotch tape) is also a very effective way to mask or protect a portion of your watercolor painting. It should be applied when your paper is dry and can be burnished to prevent any paint from leaking under the tape. It can be carefully cut to the desired shape with an X-acto knife. Remove with a palette knife.
To lift off your dried masking fluid, you will need a mask pick-up, also called a rubber cement pick-up ($1.99 at jerrysartarama.com).
To apply the masking fluid to your watercolor paper, DO NOT use a brush. Even if you apply soap to your brush beforehand as some recommend, your brush becomes ruined; the mask dries on your brush, and you end up with globs of mask and little control in applying the masking fluid to paper. What a mess! Instead, apply your masking fluid with a ruling pen, which is easily cleaned. A ruling pen is available on jerrysartarama.com for $9.89, or try to find an Alvin 5.5″ #959 ruling pen. Ebay is an excellent place to find a vintage or new ruling pen. (Some of the best ruling pens were made in Germany.)
A Creative Mark Painter’s Edge 15T palette knife from jerrysartarama.com ($2.49 today, usual price $4.49) has many uses.
A cork-backed ruler is an aid to your sketching and, with the cork back, is elevated slightly off your paper to prevent smears and smudges from paint or ink. A 12″ stainless cork-backed ruler is available on jerrysartarama.com for $4.99. On amazon.com a 6″ metal cork-backed ruler costs $4.37.
Spray bottles come in handy to soften paint in your palette or moisten watercolor paper. Small spray bottles can be found in the travel sections in drug stores. At jerysartarama.com a Holbein spray bottle sells for $2.49. One of the best sprayers I have found, however, is an empty Windex bottle.
An X-acto knife (with cover, or retractable) is a desirable tool for use in watercolor painting. The cheaper #1 X-acto version with cover can be found on jerrysartarama.com for $3.64. My favorite version is the retractable X-acto #9, available from dickbkick.com for $12.68.
At some point, you will want to have a bag to help you organize your materials. I like a large carrying bag to corral everything, including my palette, AND a pencil box to keep my smaller items (pencil, eraser, tape, masking fluid, mask pick-up, 6″ ruler, X-acto, etc.) within easy reach. I got my pencil box at Walmart for $.99. You could use any large tote bag that you already have or get a bag that is designed to hold ALL your equipment and keep your John Pike (or similar sized) covered palette upright to avoid messy spills, such as the Pittman Field Bag (14X18X11″). Get the Pittman bag at jerrysartarama.com today for $19.99, or from amazon.com for $40.96.
Finally, I recommend getting yourself a simple, sturdy portfolio for storage or transport of your art or watercolor paper. Amazon.com carries a weather-resistant Prestige portfolio (23X31X1.5″) for $33.22. An similar alternative, with shoulder strap, is available on jerrysartarama.com – ArtOne portfolio (23X31X1″) for $46.19.
While there are many other FUN tools, like sponges, toothbrushes, combs, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, erasing shields, metal screens, canned air, watercolor mediums, etc., the above-mentioned items are a wonderful place to start your watercolor adventures! Remember to start slowly and enjoy the process.