If you are new to watercolors, this list of supplies can seem overwhelming. I suggest bringing whatever supplies you have on hand to our first class in addition a few watercolor "round" brushes and the supplies on this list that I've marked with an *.
Shopping for art supplies and books is one of the best things about being an artist but it can also be overwhelming if you haven't figured out your favorites yet. Below is a list of watercolor supplies that I love and recommend. These are recommendations for paintings, not for sketching. If you are looking for sketching supplies, please scroll down to the heading "Sketchbook Supplies for Adults."
You can click on any item listed to go to a link on Amazon.com.
I like palettes with plenty of deep wells for my paints. I have a ceramic palette at home. It's nice and heavy and a joy to paint with. But I also have several plastic palettes. They are easier for transportation and less expensive. There are many choices out there and these are just two suggestions.
Plastic Palette *
I recommend Arches paper. It is more expensive than a lot of other options out there but the results are sooo much more satisfying. Inexpensive papers are made from pulp, while good papers are made from cotton or linen. Stay away from any paper lighter than 140 lbs. My ideal paper is Arches, 140 lbs, 30 x 22 (which is considered a 'full sheet' in watercolor terms and can be trimmed down to smaller sizes). I find that the paper on these full sheets is of an even better quality than Arches 140 lbs paper bought in pads or blocks. Some people however prefer the blocks because they are easier to transport. I love both cold press (bumpy) watercolor paper and hot press (smooth). Cold press is the most commonly used paper and watercolor paint loves it. Hot press gives a completely different result and is a bit more challenging to paint on, however, for precise work (such as botanical illustrations) it is perfect since there are no bumps to make your pencil or brush skip. All papers listed here are 140 lbs. If you feel more luxurious, you could order the 300 lbs. paper. It is a dream to paint on, doesn't need stretching, and costs about twice as much...
Arches Full Sheets Cold Press
Arches Blocks Cold Press 12 x 16
Arches Blocks Cold Press 9 x 12 *
Arches Full Sheets Hot Press
Arches Blocks Hot Press 12 x 16
Arches Blocks Hot Press 9 x 12
I also recommend a watercolor sketchbook. My favorites are the Stillman & Birn Beta Series and Zeta Series. I like both the hot press (smooth) paper and the cold press (bumpy). Pick the one you would like to use for your studies:
Stillman & Birn Zeta Series Hot Press
Stillman & Birn Beta Series Cold Press *
There are hundreds of colors to choose from and you'll have an adventure experimenting with the perfect palette to match your expression. To get started all you really need is a good red, yellow and blue (suggestions: Transparent Pyrrol Orange or Quinacridone Rose for your red; New Gamboge or Hansa Yellow Light for your yellow; French Ultramarine or Phthalo Blue for your blue.) However, that is a pretty limited palette. Here is a list of colors I am currently using. Pick up as many or as few as you like. My favorite brands are Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton. I use both tube paint and pan paint but I recommend tube paint for my general watercolor courses since the wells are bigger and allows for more mixing and larger experimentation. Since paint colors by different manufacturers can be quite different from one another even if the names of the colors are the same, this list of colors link to the color in the brand of each color that I prefer. These favorites of mine are linked to Amazon but paint colors are a personal choice. Look around for what appeals to you! Besides Daniel Smith, other artist quality brands include: M. Graham Watercolor, Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor, Sennelier Extra-Fine Watercolor and Schmincke.
Hansa Yellow Light *
New Gambouge *
Yellow Ochre *
Transparent Pyrrol Orange *
Cadmium Red Medium Hue
Alizarin Crimson *
Quinacridone Rose *
French Ultramarine *
Phthalo Blue *
Manganese Blue Hue
Cobalt Teal Blue
Sap Green *
Burnt Sienna *
There are brushes for watercolors, for oils, for acrylics, for pastels, etc.... Be sure you buy brushes that are for watercolors.
There are natural fiber brushes, synthetic brushes, and brushes that are a mix of natural and synthetic fibers. And the price can vary between $2 and $200 plus!
Then there are shapes of watercolor brushes, each best suited for a particular technique.
Then there are sizes of brushes and to complicate it more, sizes aren't standard. A size 2 brush in one brand might be 3 times bigger than a size 2 brush in another brand. So there's that.
I recommend having a set of very small brushes for details in small paintings or sketchbook art. I have the Anna Mason Series in size 000, 0, 1, 3, and 5. In the U.S., this set is only available from http://www.windriverarts.com/Brushes.htm#Brush_Sets_. Once you click on this link, the page will show you several options. Choose the Anna Mason set that offers all five of sizes ( 000, 0, 1, 3, and 5). These brushes are wonderful for details and are the only brushes I use in my sketchbook studies.
For larger paintings, my favorite brushes are the Black Gold Quill Brush 311 series. I like having a size 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 of these lovely round brushes with a sharp tip. Unfortunately they are not available on Amazon (how is that possible?!). They are available at Daniel Smith, which lucky for us has two locations close at hand, one in Seattle and the other in Bellevue.
4150 First Avenue South
Seattle, Washington 98134
15112 N.E. 24th Street
Redmond, Washington 98052
These brushes have blended synthetic hair (medium tensile strength), with two toned lacquered wood handle. There are other brushes you may add to your collection as your skills and interests grow but these brushes will be a solid set. I do about 80% of all my painting with my Black Gold Quill Brushes. If you choose to explore other options, just stay away from brushes that cost less than $10/each. They will frustrate you with their shedding hairs and poor quality.
Other tools for a good watercolor set up are:
A stretching board — preferably 1/2" thick white gator board, about two inches bigger in both height and width than the watercolor sheet you will paint on. For example, I love to paint on full size watercolor sheets (30 x 22) so I order my gator boards to be 32 x 24. I order mine from Tsuga Fine Art in Bothell. You could call beforehand and let them know what size you want so that they can have your boards already cut for you when you go pick them up. Here are some sample sizes and prices. Let Ken know you are ordering these for a class you are taking with me.
24x32=32.00 (for a full sheet)
17x24 = 17.00 (for a 1/2 sheet)
Tsuga Fine Art
10101 Main St.
Bothell WA 98011
Heavy duty staple gun + staples
Masking fluid (Winsor-Newton, Pébéo, or Incredible White Mask recommended)
Rubber Cement Pick-up (handy for removing mask)
An easel so you can draw and paint at an angle. This allows you to control washes beautifully. Although quite large, I love the SoHo Urban Artist Adjustable Drawing Board Adjustable Drawing Board. A smaller great choice, perfect for smaller paintings and sketchbook exercises is the Daler Rowney Artsphere Easel.
A lightbox for tracing images. Some people feel that using a light box is "cheating" but botanical art demands precise, clean drawings with little erasing and minimal smudges. For that, I do recommend a light box and specifically I recommend the Tracing Light Box, AGPtek 17"(A4 Size) LED Artcraft Tracing Light Pad Light Box For Artists,Drawing, Sketching, Animation. It's affordable at a fantastic price of $36 and it is thin enough to be able to use between pages of a sketchbook.
Kneaded Eraser *
HB Pencil *
Water Containers (like empty yogurt containers) *
Paper Towels *
Small towel to dry brushes and watercolor paper during stretching
Buying supplies becomes an addiction so start with what you are comfortable getting and don't feel the pressure to buy all the favorites listed here. Happy shopping!
Since I've been sharing links to Amazon.com for art supplies for years, I've decided to become a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, which means when you use the links on my website, Amazon pays me a fee for sharing the Amazon love. Win-win!