Painting Watercolors – Building Your Starter Kit
Is this your first time painting watercolors?
Maybe you have been painting with another medium like acrylics and oils and you’d like to try watercolors?
I’ll show you a great way to dip your toes into this medium and see if painting watercolors is something you enjoy. These minimalist watercolor tips on supplies will start you off with a high quality and budget friendly kit that gives you room to grow. Followed in future articles by techniques and exercises you can easily follow and start painting.
Keep these things in mind when starting out:
- Choose quality over quantity.
- Don’t buy kits, study the colors and build your palette.
Supplies for Painting Watercolors
If you live near an art supply store I would recommend you walk in and start perusing the isles. Even if you end up purchasing these items online, going into the store lets you browse various sketchbooks and see how they fit in your hand and what size you like best.
Artists’ grade paints have a richer pigment. They are made with the finest quality ingredients, including the purest gum arabic and honey. The pigments have higher tinting strength and pigment concentration opposed to students’ grade paints. Which means that when you’re painting watercolors, your paints will go much farther and have a much more vibrant color.
What I recommend for beginners: Build a palette of 8 colors. 2 sets of 3 primary colors, payne’s grey, and opera pink. Jump to the Know Your Colors section to get ideas on primary color options for you palettes.
Artists’ grade papers will allow your quality pigment to perform better and last longer. Non acid-free paper can yellow over time. The only time I would say you should use students’ grade is when you’re doing exercises such as lines or other shapes. Watercolor papers offer 3 different surface options and 2 weight options.
- Cold Press – This is the most popular surface, it offers some texture but not as bumpy as the rough paper.
- Hot Press – A very smooth surface
- Rough – A very bumpy surface
- 140lb – The most common paper used.
- 300lb – A thicker sheet that will withhold more water. It’s a bit pricier.
What I recommend for beginners: Purchase one sheet of Arches Cold Press Watercolor paper in either 16×20 in or 22×30 in. Then, break it up into 10 sheets of paper in various sizes. I show you this below. You can purchase one sheet of either of these artists’ quality papers for $4-$6.
The watercolor brush will be your tool to place the pigment onto the paper. You’re using quality paints and paper, you want to have a quality brush. Maybe you don’t want to break the bank so what do you do? You find a good compromise. Focusing on a couple of key features will help you pick out a quality brush at a price you desire. Such as the Isabey line of brushes.
Ask yourself, will you travel with the brush or just use it at home? How large is the paper you’re working on? What are you going to paint? What is your budget and how committed are you to the medium?
Watercolor Brush Options
My favorite series is the Isabey Original Siberian Blue Squirrel Quill Mop. It is unsurpassed in color absorption, making it a superb brush for large watercolor washes. It has a large, delicate point for unique brush strokes and line work. These brushes vary between $30-$150 dollars.
Alternatively the Cheap Joe’s Natural Watercolor Brushes vary between $5 – $50.
The best brushes are of natural fiber but synthetic brushes have also been made at a high quality and lower price.
What I recommend for beginners: purchase 1-3 brushes of the highest quality within your budget. Pick your sizes based on the shapes and scenes you’ll want to paint. If you have no idea what you’d like to paint and you just want to try some things, get a medium sized mop brush with a good tip that allows for both thick and thin lines. You can expand your set later.
20 years ago I purchased a Sennelier Watercolor Set and it came with an medium Isabey Mop brush and I fell in love with it. Since I have slowly added other sizes of Isabey brushes but I purchased them as I needed them That way, I create a brush set unique to my painting style. I’m not stuck with a large set up brushes that include ones I may never use.
As you’re getting started painting watercolors, build a simple palette with your favorite colors. Using colors you like will make you happier as you paint and will be more inspirational. This is why I believe you should create your own palette from the start instead of buying a kit with 6 or 12 colors.
When you’re working with Watercolors, understanding the pigments and controlling your water levels will be 2 of the most important things. It’s the one of the reasons some say watercolors is one of the most difficult medium to master.
Introduction to the Color Wheel
Yellow and blue makes green of course and it only gets more interesting after that.
The base of the color wheel are the three primary colors: red, blue and yellow. They are primary colors and can’t be created by combining any other colors. However, mixing these 3 primary colors together will produce a myriad of other hues. Study the color wheel below to see how these primary colors produce secondary and tertiary colors.
Building your own palette
In painting mediums there are a lot of options for blues, reds, and yellows. So to start take a look at some of my basic palette colors below and study their differences. What speak more to you? What inspires you? Make note of these colors and take it with you to the art store to see what these colors look like. It’s a great place to start.