Watercolor Art Supplies List

A list of the art supplies you need to start painting with watercolor

Watercolor painting supplies
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When you first decide to pick up a brush to start watercolor painting, the choice of art supplies available can be overwhelming and confusing. So here's an art supplies list of what you need for watercolor painting.

Watercolor Paint Colors to Start

Don't get seduced by all the paint colors available. Start with a few essential colors and get to know each looks and mixes. Buy a tube of these colors, plus a palette:

  • naphthol red
  • phthalo blue
  • azo yellow
  • phthalo green
  • burnt umber
  • Payne’s grey 

Or get a set of watercolor pans as these are also very convenient if you want to travel with your paints.

You don't need black for shadows as mixtures of the other colors will give dark colors. Nor white as the paper is used as the white.

Palette for Your Watercolor Paints

It's convenient to have a bit of each paint color squeezed out of the tube onto a palette, ready to be picked up with a brush. Because acrylic paints dry fast, you need a moisture-retaining palette not a traditional wooden one. If you squeeze paint out on an ordinary palette, a lot of it will dry before you've used it.

Brushes for Watercolor Painting

Quality watercolor brushes are expensive, but if you look after them they'll last for years. You're paying for the way the hairs in the brush hold the paint and spring back to shape. Get a large and medium round brush (that comes to a sharp point for painting detail), say a size 4 and 10, and a large flat brush for painting in large areas of color. (Brush sizes aren't standardized, check the width if it's given.)

Kolinsky sable is considered the ultimate hair for a watercolor brush.

Also get a small, stiff-haired, flat brush for correcting mistakes.

Pencil for Initial Sketching

If you like to sketch before you start painting, use a relatively hard pencil such as a 2H rather than a soft one, to lightly draw on your watercolor paper. A soft pencil risks being too dark, and smudging when you start painting.

Drawing Board

You'll need a rigid drawing board or panel to put behind the sheet of paper you're painting on. If you're going to stretch your watercolor paper, it's worth having several boards so you can have several pieces stretched at any one time. Pick one that's larger than you think you might need, as it's very annoying suddenly discovering it's too small.

Gummed Brown Tape

To prevent watercolor paper from buckling as you paint on it, use some gummed brown tape and stretch it on a board.

Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper comes in three difference finishes: rough, hot-pressed or HP (smooth), and cold-pressed or NOT (semi-smooth). Try all three to see which you prefer.

If you buy watercolor in a block pad, you don't need to stretch it as it's stuck down at the sides which help prevent buckling as you paint on it.

Sketchbook for Practicing

Part of learning to paint is to spend time practicing and playing, not aiming to produce a finished painting every single time you pick up a brush. If you do this in a sketchbook rather than on top-quality watercolor paper, you're more likely to experiment. I like using a large, wire-bound sketchbook in my studio, and a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook when I'm out and about.

Water Container

You'll need a container with water for both rinsing your brush clean and for thinning the watercolor paint. An empty jam jar will do the trick, though I prefer a plastic container that won't break if I accidentally drop it. You can buy all sorts of containers, including ones with holes along the edges for storing brushes that are drying.

An Easel

Easels come in various designs but my favorite is a floor-standing, h-frame easel because it's very sturdy and I can step back regularly as I'm painting. If space is limited, consider table-top version.

Bulldog Clips

Sturdy bulldog clips (or large binder clips) are an easy way to keep a piece of paper on a board, or for holding up a reference photo.

Watercolor Pencils

You can use watercolor pencils on top of a watercolor painting, for your initial sketch, into still-wet paint, anywhere really. When you add water to the pencil, it turns to paint.

Rags or Paper Towel

You'll need something for wiping excess paint off a brush, and for getting most of the paint out before you wash it. I use a roll of paper towel, but an old shirt or sheet torn into rags also works. Avoid anything that's got moisturizer or cleanser in it as you don't want to be adding anything to your paint.

An Apron

Watercolor paint will wash out of your clothes, but if you wear an apron then you don't have to worry about it.

Fingerless Gloves

A pair of fingerless gloves will help keep your hands warm but still leave your fingertips free to get a good grip on a brush or pencil. The pair I've got, from Creative Comforts, come only in a rather distinctive green, but they're very comfortable and don't get in the way. They're made from a stretchy cotton/lycra mix for a snug fit.