You’re just getting started with watercolor painting but don’t know where to begin when buying art supplies? It can be overwhelming to figure out the best watercolor paints, which watercolor paint brushes you need, and the best watercolor paper.
I’ll help you put together a great watercolor starter kit that will allow you to start playing with your paints rights away.
If you are just getting started with watercolors, you should start with a watercolor paint set. You can choose tubes or pans. For most people, I would recommend looking at the best watercolor pan sets you can afford, and later add watercolor tubes to your collection if you like. In the future you can even experiment with vibrant liquid watercolors too!
Watercolors often come in two grades: student and professional. In most cases for beginners the student grade watercolor paints are perfectly adequate. And as your techniques improve you might want to upgrade to higher quality professional watercolor paints.
What is the difference between the student and professional paints? In most cases, the student paints have more binders and fillers and may use less of the expensive pigments. A student grade of this color might also use synthetic substitutes for the rare pigments. But most beginners probably won’t find too much of a difference. If you do, then it is time to upgrade!
Is there a difference between watercolor paint brands? Yes indeed. Some brands are definitely higher quality than others, but among the top professional watercolor paints it is more a matter of finding your favorite. Most professional artists prefer some brands over others, and their paint collection will be a mix of brands and pans and tubes. Check out this post about the top watercolor brands!
For example, M Graham paints are made with honey, are highly pigmented and intense. But some artists don’t like them as much because the honey can attract insects when painting outdoors. Other artists love it and will only paint with M Graham paints. Sometimes an artist will find that their favorite color vermillion red is from a manufacturer that they don’t normally use. That’s why it is fun to try out different brands to find your favorites. The best watercolor brand for beginners is highly subjective but I would recommend Winsor & Newton Cotman or Sakura Koi. Read on for more info.
How many colors do you need in your first set of solid watercolor paints? Well, you could really get by with just three primary colors but I’d recommend starting with more. I like to have a warm and cool tone of each primary color, plus a variety of browns. I rarely use black and white but they can come in handy too, especially for mixing with other colors.
Here are some of the best watercolor pan sets for beginners:
Winsor & Newton makes some of the best student grade watercolors around. This Cotman pocket box set comes with 12 colors in removable half pans. This small set is perfect for taking anywhere and can be easily stashed away in your home. It is also a top option for the best cheap watercolors. If you’d like more colors or larger sized pans take a look at the studio set with 24 colors. A Cotman box was my first paint purchase and is the best watercolor set for beginners.
If you expect to be painting urban scenes in the street or would like to take your paints into the garden, you might like this compact Winsor & Newton Cotman field box set that comes with built in water container and fold out mixing palettes.
Van Gogh also makes excellent watercolor sets. This 18 pan pocket set is perfect for the artist on the go, or use it at your kitchen table. The set comes with a tube of white and a tube of Payne’s gray, which is my all time favorite color. The tubes are great for mixing to make tints, tones and shades. This is one of the best watercolor pan sets for beginners.
Sakura Koi watercolor sets are popular with beginners and are an excellent option for solid watercolor paints that you can take with you anywhere. This set of 24 colors even comes with a waterbrush. The colors are vibrant and good student quality, and people love how easy it is to use and transport. The one negative is that the pans are not removable so once they are done you can only replace them with tube colors and not other pans.
Sennelier is one of the top brands of watercolors in the world and are on the expensive side. Try out the cheaper version with these student watercolor paint set with 12 colors. Or if you can afford it, invest in this metal 12 half pan set instead with professional watercolor paints. This small set can be reconfigured to squeeze in a few extra pans as well.
Curious about liquid watercolors? Click here to read about the best watercolor inks.
BUY WATERCOLOR PAINT SETS AT BLICK – click here for coupons and discount codes
Watercolor paper can be quite pricey, but luckily there are many good options for beginners to practice their techniques without breaking the bank.
If you are new to watercolor painting you might be drawn to smaller sketchbooks, thinking those are easier to paint on since the page is smaller and less intimidating. It is true that a small pad is easier to carry and store, and yes maybe that blank page isn’t as intimidating. However, many professional painters will recommend using larger format paper so that your strokes can be loose and free. Smaller, more precise paintings are actually more difficult in watercolor and require more practice anyway. And if you just want to practice your lines and shapes you have more space for doodling with the brush on one page. So perhaps the best idea is to go with a size larger than you initially think.
Watercolor paper – actually all paper – comes in different weights, or thicknesses which you will see described as something like 140lb or 300gsm. The heavier the weight the more water and paint it is able to hold without falling apart. Usually that also correlates to price as well with the heavier papers being more expensive. Look for paper that is at least 140lb for most watercolor painting.
What is the difference between student watercolor paper and artist or professional paper? Student or sketch watercolor paper is not made of archival grade materials, meaning that the paper will begin to discolor and deteriorate over time due to acids in the paper. However, they are perfect to practice on.
Typical watercolor paper has a rough, orange peel like texture. This helps hold the pigments, and gives your artwork that typical watercolor look. Beginners should start with the standard style and then later test out different types of paper. Hot press paper is smoother, and they also make extra rough textured papers.
Watercolor paper, especially the higher end papers, will often come in a block. This means the paper is sealed on two or four sides so that you can paint on the pages without too much warping and rippling of the paper. After the painting is dried, the page is removed from the top of the block by cutting the glue seal on the edges with a flat tool. Personally I don’t really like to work with blocks. I prefer to tape or clip my pages to a board, or you can tape them to your table. If you don’t use a lot of water when you paint, you don’t need to tape the pages at all.
Here are some of the best watercolor paper options for beginners:
Strathmore makes great painting supplies for beginners and professionals alike. I love their paper products. They have watercolor paper for students in two different levels, the 300 series and the 400 series. As you might guess, the 400 series is better quality than the 300, but both are 140lb and acid free. They come spiral or tape bound and the 400 series also comes in blocks.
If you prefer your paper in a more enclosed sketchbook format, check out the Strathmore journal sketchbooks. They make really nice watercolor journals, but I personally prefer the 500 series Mixed Media sketchbook. It does not hold water as well but if you like to draw as well as paint the surface of the paper is smoother.
Canson produces excellent painting materials for beginners, and I am a huge fan of their affordable watercolor paper. It is cheaper than most of the competition and is perfect for sketching and practicing new techniques. The paper weight is 140lb and it is acid free.
BUY WATERCOLOR PAPER AT BLICK – click here for coupons and discount codes
If you are just starting out with watercolor painting you might want to invest in a brush set. This will give you plenty of options for making shapes and lines and finding which size and shape of brush you prefer. However individual brushes can also be an inexpensive option if you just want to play with a few styles and sizes.
Watercolor brushes typically have short handles and long, absorbent hairs. The top watercolor brushes are made of of natural fibers like sable or squirrel hair. If that makes you uncomfortable or you can’t afford it, luckily there are also good quality synthetic brushes on the market.
Be wary of very low priced brushes, they may look nice but if they fall apart after you use them a few times they are not a good investment. If you are serious about learning how to paint with watercolors you should invest in at least one or two decent brushes. These do not have to break the bank however. I only use student level brushes, but I have found brands that I like that are also high quality.
The best brushes are made of high quality materials and won’t disintegrate with normal use. Look for brushes with sturdy handles and straight, tight bristles. Many brushes shed a hair or two, but you don’t want a brush that will leave a hairball on your painting.
No matter what kind of brushes you buy, you should be sure to take good care of them. Wash them after use and make sure they dry properly. Store them so that the hairs stay straight and aren’t bent or smushed. Treat them gently when using, don’t smash the bristles in the paint or on the paper. If you’d like to practice a rougher technique use an older or cheap brush you don’t mind damaging.
The latest trend in watercolor is waterbrushes. These plastic brushes have a water container built in that can be great for painting outdoors. Many watercolor artists use these brushes all the time. They are inexpensive so you could purchase one and try it out, they even come in sets with different size bristles. See below for more info.
If you prefer to purchase individual brushes instead of a set, I recommend starting with a few sizes of round brush. I think these are the most versatile brush shapes.
Here are some of the best watercolor brushes for beginners:
Da Vinci watercolor brushes are my favorite. I have many of the Junior line of synthetic brushes. This Da Vinci synthetic brush set would make the perfect brushes for beginning painters.
Many beginning painters adore the Winsor & Newton Cotman line of brushes. I have quite a few in my collection as well. The brushes are soft and hold paint very well. Find a four-pack of these brushes here.
As mentioned above, waterbrushes are the newest and hottest trend in watercolor. The attached reservoir holds water so that you don’t need to repeatedly dip your brush in a cup of water. This makes them great for plein air painting. They are also very popular for brush lettering. Get a set of three waterbrushes here.
BUY WATERCOLOR BRUSHES AT BLICK – click here for coupons and discount codes
I hope this list of watercolor basics supplies helps you put together your watercolor starter kit. Happy painting!
Want to learn more about how to mix your own colors and get tricks, tips and techniques? Check out these top online watercolor classes. And click here for more travel art supplies including brush cases and the best watercolor pan sets.
If you are looking for the best watercolor paints, take a look at this review of some of the top watercolor paint brands out there.
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