When I first decided to dive into painting with watercolours, I found the selection of supplies rather daunting. There are literally thousands of different paints, brushes and paper to choose from.
So, before I started my watercolour journey, I did a lot of research on the internet and YouTube to see what artists were painting and how they set up. There were so many styles, techniques, skill levels and setups that I found it to be very confusing. So, I decided to start by taking a workshop with a teacher who painted in a style that I liked with a simple setup. That teacher was Jess Rice.
Since then, we have worked with Jess to create a course designed to take all the worry out of your decision-making and give you a step-by-step path to creating your own watercolour style. That course is Create Wonderful Watercolours.
So, if you are just starting your own watercolour journey with us, this list will help you make some sensible choices about supplies. In the course, Jess uses a wide variety of artist quality paints, brushes and paper. You can choose to purchase all the same supplies that he uses, or you can substitute with other brands that suit your budget. We recommend buying the best quality you can afford. If you already have some watercolours, you can use this document to compare and substitute with similar supplies that you already have.
Jess’s setup was unique compared to many other artists because he doesn’t tape his paper to a board. He paints on loose sheets of watercolour paper placed on a towel. The idea is that the towel gets damp and helps to keep the paper flat as you paint. It also is a great place to wipe your brushes and absorbs spills and splashes. So, you’ll need an old towel large enough to cover your painting area that you won’t mind getting covered in paint.
You’ll need a palette to hold your paints with an area to mix colours. This can be an old dinner plate or a more elaborate watercolour palette with paint wells and a mixing area.
Two containers for water to clean and rinse you brushes.
Other supplies include masking fluid and an applicator which is used to preserve white spaces on your paper while you paint over it. These can be purchased from the art store where you buy all your other supplies.
A pencil for transferring sketches to your watercolour paper. You’ll also need an eraser, and we recommend a “kneaded eraser” which is very soft and won’t damage the paper.
A hair dryer will also come in handy to speed up the drying time between painted layers.
Paper is arguably the most important material in watercolour painting. When I started, I decided to save some money and buy inexpensive student grade cellulose paper. What a mistake! It buckled and warped when I painted wet-on-wet. The paint didn’t flow smoothly and often left harsh lines at the edges and my colours looked dull. Artist grade cotton paper performs much better than cellulose or wood pulp, even using student grade paint, and it will stand up to multiple washes and scrubbing. In the end I switched to cotton, and it’s made a huge difference in my paintings and my enjoyment in the process.
Jess has a loose painting style which works best on larger sheets of watercolour paper. He uses 100% cotton paper from a full sheet size 22” x 30” in both cold press and rough texture. He also rips them down half sheet 11” x 15”. You will need a minimum of 6 sheets to complete the course, but we recommend you buy a few more if you want to practice each technique more than once. Feel free to substitute any 100% cotton paper in sheets, pads or blocks in 9” x 12”, 10” x 14” or 12” x 16” sizes. In the course we supply drawings in multiple sizes to fit different paper. These are the brands Jess uses:
· Arches 140 lb / 300 GMS cold press
· Fabriano Artistico 140 lb / 300 GMS cold press
· Fabriano Artistico 140 lb / 300 GMS rough
· Strathmore Watercolour Cards, 140 lb / 300 GMS cold press, 5” x 6 7/8”, 12.7 x 17.4 cm
If you ask 100 artists which brushes are the best for watercolours, you’ll get 100 different answers! My first brushes were a moderately priced set of Princeton Aqua Elite synthetic sable brushes sized #12, #8 and #4 round and a 1/2” flat. As I practiced, I began to learn what each brush could do and slowly added different shapes and sizes to serve different purposes. I now have more than 30 synthetic and animal hair brushes in my collection but I still find myself using those original 4!
In the course Jess paints with Kolinsky Sable and synthetic brushes in the following sizes. You can substitute with any good quality brushes in similar sizes: #14, #8, #6, #5 Round and a 1” Flat
Paint is a very important part of the watercolour experience but not all paints are created equal. Paints basically falls into two categories: student grade and artist grade. Student grade paints generally contain less pigment and more filler than artist grade so the colours are not as vibrant and they often don’t flow or mix as well. Artist quality paint not only flows and mixes better, it also has more rich, vibrant pigments that last and won’t fade over time.
Another consideration with paint is whether to buy tubes or dried pans. There are many pros and cons to both. Watercolour pans are in small convenient cases that hold many colours, but the paint is dried and needs to be rewetted before mixing or painting. When adding water, it dilutes the pigment which makes it difficult to mix large quantities of bright colours. Tubes on the other hand contain wet paint that is ready to use making it easy to squeeze out larger quantities of rich pigment for larger paintings.
In the Create Wonderful Watercolours course Jess uses many different colours from two artist quality brands of paint; Daniel Smith and Tri-Art which are listed in our free download.
If you prefer, you can start with a smaller palette of paints and add more as you get more experience mixing colours. We recommend you use a warm and cool shade of the three primary colours; yellow, red and blue. Here are six colours from Jess’s palette to start with:
· Aureolin Yellow
· New Gamboge
· Rose Madder Permanent
· Alizarin Crimson Permanent
· Cobalt Blue
· Phthalo Blue red shade