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 one 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 

If you don't want to buy so much paint all at once, you can get a set of watercolor pans—a collection of small boxes of color that comes in a set—which is also very convenient if you want to travel with your paints.

You won't need black for shadows—shadows are created best as mixtures of the other colors—and you don't need white either since the paper is used as the white.

Palettes

For most painting, you'll want to have a palette where you can arrange blobs of color so they're ready to be picked up with the brush. Because acrylic paints dry fast, you'll need a moisture-retaining palette rather than a traditional wooden one. If you squeeze paint out on an ordinary wooden palette, much of it will dry before you're ready to use it.

Brushes

Quality watercolor brushes are expensive, but if you take care of them they'll last for years. You're paying the quality price for the way the hairs in the brush hold the paint and spring back to shape: you'll be glad you spent the money.

Get both a large and a 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 (which comes from a kolinsky weasel rather than a 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 in the outlines 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. If your pencil is too soft, you risk the graphite bleeding through 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. Pick a board that's larger than you think you might need because it's very annoying suddenly discovering it's too small.

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

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

Watercolor Paper

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

You can buy watercolor paper in sheets or in a block pad. If you buy it in a pad, you won't need to stretch it since it is already stuck down at the sides to 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. What works well is a large, wire-bound sketchbook in the studio, and a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook when you're outside.

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 plastic containers that won't break is also useful. You can also buy all sorts of containers, including ones with holes along the edges for storing brushes that you are done with and are drying.

Easel

Easels come in various designs. You may prefer a floor-standing, h-frame easel because it's very sturdy and you can step back regularly as you are painting. If your space is limited, you can find a table-top version that will work just as well.

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: you'll want to remove most of the paint left over before you wash the brush when you're done. Paper towels work fine, you might find an old shirt or sheet torn into rags also works. Avoid scented paper towels or those that have moisturizer or cleanser in them, since 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, you won'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. Choose a pair that are comfortable, of a stretchy cotton/lycra blend that will fit snugly and won't get in the way.

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