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Are you interested in learning how to use watercolor but are unsure of what supplies are best suited for beginners on a budget? Does the thought of going to the art supply store and having to decide what specific items to choose in a sea of different types of paper, paint and paintbrushes make you not want to start at all? Do you find all the information out there about watercolor paint, paper, paintbrushes, etc. confusing and, perhaps even, overwhelming?
I feel you!
When I was first starting my own watercolor painting journey, I wasted a lot of money on supplies that ended up sitting on my shelf unused. I also bought materials (especially paper) that made the whole learning process much more frustrating and longer than it could have been.
Though I'm still working hard at improving my skills, I've learned a lot in the years I've been painting with this medium, and I have a solid idea of what particular supplies actually helped me improve, as well as which ones I shouldn't have spent my hard-earned cash on.
In this blog post, I will share a list of items that all beginner watercolor artists should have on hand when starting on their journeys, as well as specific brands of products that I have personally used time-and-time again. I will also provide essential information throughout that I wish I knew when I first started with this amazing painting medium.
This way, you'll not only be able to make more informed choices when you're deciding which supplies to buy, but you'll progress your watercolor painting skills a lot faster.
Before I get into talking about specific supplies, I'd like to preface this by saying that I'm all for using basic, non-expensive supplies when creating any kind of artwork, especially when we're just getting started and/or when the piece is not meant to be sold.
It's important to invest in superior quality supplies once you start selling your paintings, but there is absolutely no need for you to spend so much money in the beginning.
If you have money to invest in it, then by all means go ahead and go for expensive supplies right away.
But I know I didn't have the budget in the beginning.
What's important for the beginner is to stay consistent with his/her practice and gain momentum. And it's very hard to stay consistent when we're worried about wasting our precious (and expensive) supplies.
Also, in many ways, the more limited your supplies are, the faster you'll grow.
There are several brands of art supplies that are on your side and create quality products for you to build up your skills without the need to spend a ton of money.
So please, don't make this an excuse not to keep working on your art!
Next, I'll be sharing a list of nine essential items to have on hand as you start your watercolor painting journey. Some of these you'll have to buy, but others you probably already have. :)
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Watercolor Supplies for Beginners
There are three main things that will affect your painting experience, as well as the outcome of your work when it comes to paper, and this is its weight (how thick or thin it is), absorbency (directly related to paper 'sizing') and texture (how rough or smooth it is).
These are the main things you should start noticing about your paper as you move forward. When we're just starting out, it's best to go for a paper that falls within a mid-range of each of these three things.
Watercolor paper is categorized into three main types: Rough, Cold-Press and Hot-Press
Because Cold-Press paper offers the best of both worlds, it's the paper of choice for many professional watercolor artists and it is the one I recommend beginners look for.
This said, it's important for you to know that characteristics will vary from brand to brand and you're going to have to do some exploration yourself in order to arrive at the specific brands/products that work to your benefit, enhancing your own art style.
In terms of thickness, watercolor can be found in lightweight, medium-weight and heavy-weight.
I would strongly advise against spending money on any kind of light-weight paper, as it tends to buckle, warp and is much more delicate, which is something we don't want when we're just getting to know a new painting medium.
Here are three specific weights that you can usually find at art supply stores:
Here are two of my favorite accessible watercolor paper brands. I used both Canson and Strathmore papers a ton at the beginning, and I still do!
There are watercolor artists out there that may shun lower quality watercolor paper advise beginners to start with the best 100% cotton watercolor paper right off the bat. I'm not one of them.
100% cotton watercolor paper may be awesome for professional artists already selling their work (especially if they're selling originals), but as beginners we are exploring and developing skills.
Superior paper brands like Arches are amazing, but they are much more expensive. I much prefer you paint a lot and not keep yourself from working because your materials are too precious!
The last thing you should know about in terms of paper, are the different formats that you can find it in. Watercolor paper can be acquired in pads with many sheets in them, in large sheets that you can buy in singles and then cut up in whatever size you'd like to work in, and in blocks.
Blocks are interesting because they have a film or adhesive all around their edges and require you to use some sort of knife to separate sheets one by one. They are useful, especially for those looking to paint landscapes and/or enjoy working in plein air because they eliminate the need to stretch your paper on a board beforehand.
I would recommend beginners start with paper pads. I enjoy buying medium sized pads and cutting them to whatever size I need, sometimes creating 2-4 separate illustrations with one same sheet.
I'm going to be explaining a bit about the two things that you should know about at this point, which are different paintbrush shapes and hair.
First and foremost, I want to get something out of the way.
I feel there is the misconception amongst beginners starting out with watercolors that you should have tons of different types of paintbrushes in order to create a successful watercolor painting, and this couldn't be further from the truth.
When we're first starting out getting to know the medium, we might feel inclined to buy those huge sets of paintbrushes so that we can follow along with different watercolor technique tutorials and fun abstract exercises.
Though learning different techniques and exploring the beautiful effects that watercolor allows is very useful, when you really want to hone into your subject of choice (be it landscapes, still life, animals, portraits, etc.), and actually improve your skill, you're going to find that you only use a few (or even a couple) different types of brushes.
Once you have spent a bit of time practicing, you're going to arrive at your own favorite paintbrush type/size and, most likely, you'll be able to paint all sorts of things using only those two or three brushes!
So instead of buying one of those huge paintbrush sets with all the different types in it, invest in only 3-4 higher quality paintbrushes that you're actually going to use (and won't fall apart after a few paintings). I would recommend round brushes, as they are the most versatile.
Decide what sizes are right for you, depending on your subject of choice, as well as the level of detail you want to be able to achieve. I would recommend acquiring one larger (1-1.5 in) flat brush along with 2-3 sizes of rounds, just so you can have a way to cover larger areas at once.
But that's pretty much it!
Here are the main kinds of paintbrush shapes that you'll be able to easily find at art supply stores:
All of these can be found in all kinds of sizes. As your watercolor painting journey progresses, you'll likely hear about other types of more specialized paintbrushes like: the mop brush, dagger brush, rigger brush, etc., but don't worry about those for now!
An awesome type of paintbrush that you should know exists, especially if you enjoy painting outdoors or taking your art supplies along with you when you travel, is the water-fillable paintbrush. This one eliminates the need for a water jar as you paint.
*Click on the image to go directly to the product page at blick.com.
And lastly, in regards to brushes, you are going to be able to find them with three different kinds of hair: natural, synthetic and a mixture of the two. Paintbrushes with natural hair are usually considered higher quality and are created with hair from different animals (squirrel, camel, ox, etc.).
However, there are excellent quality synthetic paintbrushes that mimic natural hair and I would recommend these for beginners as they are usually more affordable and durable in many ways.
I only work with synthetics.
4. Paint mixing palette
If you buy a watercolor set like Sakura Koi set mentioned in number one, you don't really need to buy a separate palette, but you can get a plastic one with reservoirs like the one below for a small amount of cash.
5. Thick cardboard or mat
You can always tape your paper down onto your desk or table, but you won't be able to shift it and turn it throughout the painting process, which can be uncomfortable and annoying.
6. Artist's masking tape
If you paint simple illustrations that have little to no backgrounds or don't use wet-on-wet techniques very much, you can get away with not stretching medium to heavy weight paper.
7. Absorbent tag or paper towel
8. Cup or glass jar (or two)
If you choose to do this, one jar can be used to rinse your brush, while the other can be used to add water to paint mixtures.
Whether you decide to use only one, two or three water containers, just make sure you're keeping an eye on your water and changing it as needed. Using dirty water will affect your colors!
9. Scrap pieces of watercolor paper
I always cut up older paintings that didn't work out into smaller pieces for this purpose, so no paper is wasted.
Remember watercolor paintings require a bit more care and planning throughout the process, as they cannot be easily fixed.
10. Pencil and eraser
Also, make sure you have a nice, soft rubber eraser on hand. If you find your pencil work is too dark, make sure to lightly erase before starting to paint.
With these 10 supplies you'll be ready to get started on your watercolor painting journey.
I hope that you found this post helpful and don't forget to have fun as you work towards improving your skills.
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