Happy Labor Day everyone! I celebrated my Labor Day yesterday by the pool with good friends and good food so that I could use today to get caught up on all things messy - but most importantly I wanted to follow through with my promise of bringing you two blog posts a month! Today I talk about supplies, where to buy 'em, and how to get started with all those things.
If you follow me on instagram, you know that I use a variety of brands and types of supplies. When you are just beginning and watercolor painting is truly just a hobby, I think it's mostly important to not worry about perfection or even what your end result is going to be.
If you are trying to really hone your craft, I do think materials are everything and can totally change your life when you find the right ones. At the end of the day though, I am NOT an expert, - and anyone who is an artist who claims to be one is lying. We are ALL students, for the rest of our lives. The moment we stop asking questions, is the moment we stop learning. These are just the things I like for ME, and what I have found works best for my work - my best advice is to EXPERIMENT, play, and GET MESSY! Everyone finds what works best for them and usually sticks to some habitual routine of that. But don't ever be scared to dive in - you aren't going to ruin your paper or the supplies, they are meant for playing with.
My number one favorite place to buy supplies is online through Blick Art Materials , Blick has many locations in major cities throughout the U.S., but you really can't beat their online deals and free shipping. They also have a much larger selection online. When starting out, it's important to actually go into an art supply store so you can pick up, touch and sample materials. I could literally spend houuuuuurs on hours going up and down the aisles - it's like Christmas for me, and I'm sure I make the people who work there mad because I pull everything out (oooops). But once you start working in a particular medium for professional work and you know what you NEED vs. what you just want, it's much more cost effective to go online and order it.
Locally, I LOVE The Art Supply Store off Central in downtown St. Pete - the owners are insanely sweet and helpful and I'm always able to find new things that I haven't yet tried. Another local favorite for me is Whim So Doodle also located in downtown St. Pete off 2nd Ave S. Whim So Doodle is great for my lettering supplies and fun stationery that helps keep my messy life organized.
This is a great beginner, intermediate and advanced watercolor brush that is inexpensive and if taken care of properly will last you a while! I still use these since I am still building my business and am slowly replacing them with the fancy ones as I earn more, but these are great and give off a professional, finished looking product. I also particularly urge the "pointed round" brush when learning watercolor because of the different ways it can be used. Pointed rounds have a thicker belly and then come to a thin point at the end; this allows for the belly of the brush to be used to cover larger surfaces areas and make thicker lines, while the point allows you to get into tiny areas and make thinner lines. Pointed rounds also come in a variety of sizes, the smaller the number the smaller the brush. I think it's important to have a variety of sizes so you can experiment and because it allows you to work large and small. My favorite sizes are 0, 6 and 14.
If you are looking to take your watercolors to the next step, then brushes are the difference between a great painting and a shitty painting - seriously, invest in the brush. I learned this lesson the hard way and spent years replacing cheap brushes, only to realize that had I taken the initial investment in my brushes, I wouldn't have spent so much replacing them. Using a better brush can also be the difference between understanding how watercolors work, or being so frustrated by it you give up. I still stick to the pointed round, but as you get more advanced you may want to experience with flat, wash and angled brushes which give you even more types of lines and can be used for more specific techniques - the shape of the brush at this point is really about the artist preference. These are definitely pricier, but worth it. My favorite brands for professional brushes are:
and the King of all watercolor brushes, (cough cough, Christmas present Mom, cough).
Through teaching my workshops I have found that paper is the #1 thing that many people have very little knowledge about in regards to watercolor painting, and one of the biggest things hindering them from finding any sort of success or relaxation in the process. The wrong paper can make you give up on watercolor painting forever.
Watercolor paper is made specifically for watercolor to keep the water from crinkling or ripping the paper. It ranges in weights and textures depending on what kind of a painting you are making, but it is 100% necessary for painting with watercolors. A heavier weight paper is going to allow you to literally put puddles on your paper without ruining it, while sketching paper or a thinner art paper is not necessarily made to get wet and will immediately be ruined or will dry all crinkly and weird.
There are two major types of watercolor paper: hot press and cold press; hot press is smooth and ironed out for more detailed work, while cold press is heavily textured and rough for more loose and organic work. I typically use Arches cold press watercolor paper for most of my work and hot press when I am doing lettering or wedding work.
My favorite paper for beginners and what I use in my workshops is:
Canson XL Watercolor Pads in the 9" x 12" size. It's a great price for starting out at only $5.99 a pad for 30 sheets, and has a good weight of 140 lb./300 gsm (this is pretty standard, never go lower than this weight).
I also love Fabriano Studio Watercolor Pads as a middle of the road type paper, Fabriano also makes an amazing high end paper that comes in larger sheets which are great for commissions or professional pieces.
My REAL favorite paper is the Arches Watercolor Pads - Arches paper is made in France out of a paper mill and is 100% pure cotton. I try to buy these babies when they're on sale or if I have a coupon because it is expensive, but the quality is unlike any paper I've ever used.
When it comes to paints, I switch between high end and low end paints depending on convenience and what colors I am trying to mix. When you're just starting off, don't spend a lot of money on paints, stick to condensed pan sets where you don't have to worry about how much you are using or if you'll run out. When working on more professional watercolor paintings or anything you plan on making a print out of, you'll want to use a higher grade and higher quality brand paint because of they're vibrancy and ability to withstand fading over time.
There are 2 main types of watercolors I use: tubed and pan sets. Tubed watercolors come in tiny 5 ml tubes, (sometimes larger), and you really only need a pea sized amount on a palette. Tubed watercolors are highly pigmented, concentrated, moist paint that can easily be mixed and are more likely to be fade resistant over time. They also can be reused once they are dried by just adding water. The tend to come in a much larger variety of hues and shades which is ideal for someone like me who creates custom wedding stationery and paintings. Pan sets are what you probably remember using as a kid, they come in little circles or squares in a pan, usually with a lid. These are much more transparent when you first use them and you typically have to work in MANY more layers to get the desired color that you want. It's not that these are cheaper, it's just that they are already dried and condensed so they lose some of their vibrancy. I still love using these when I'm playing and experimenting or if I want a softer, lighter effect. I also love these for traveling and sketchbook journaling.
My favorite pan sets for beginners are Grumbacher's Watercolor Pan Sets which come in varying ranges of color and amounts.
I also love these Koh-I-Noor Watercolor Wheel Sets, which have an amazing quality for their price. I actually use these with my students because they break apart and I can spread them out on the table for better sharing.
My favorite tubed paints are Holbein Artists' Watercolor Tubes, which again, are pricier, but you can't beat the colors or the quality. Also, these will last you FOREVER. Watercolor paintings don't use tons and tons of paint the way an acrylic painting might, so you get a lot more out of your tubes. I usually only order colors as I need them, not whole sets at once which makes it seem less expensive. Over time, you can really build up a collection.
Another favorite watercolor tube that is a classic is Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Tubes . These also come in a large variety of hues and shades, and depending on the color can be a little less expensive than the Holbein tubes, but again, build your collection over time - don't try to buy them all at once!!
"Palette" is that fancy artist word for what you put your paint ON, or what you mix your paints on. Palettes come in a variety of materials, shapes, sizes and brands. This is the one thing where you really need to choose what you feel most comfortable with. I switch it up all the time, but my favorite is probably disposable palette paper pads and covered palette trays.
Palette paper like Blick Studio Disposable Palette Pads is great because it keeps your paint wet while you are working and when you fill up a sheet that you can no longer get any paint out of, you can throw it away! No muss, no fuss. And I am not one for wanting to clean up my supplies (clearly - my name is the MESSY painter, not the clean painter).
However I also like covered trays with little slots for colors, these allow me to keep my palette a little cleaner if I'm working on something large scale or for a commission. It has enough spaces for all of the colors I need, plus areas for mixing. I still don't clean this, but I do have to be a little more diligent about where I am putting my paint. When I'm done I can just cover the tray to keep the paint from drying out completely.
Other things you can use for a palette that are inexpensive or even free: old tin colored pencil cases with lids, altoid cases, wax paper, ceramic plates or bowls and plastic trays.
So we've covered BRUSHES, PAPER, PAINTS and PALETTES; the only other things you really need to help you get started, or to keep you going are water cups and good ole kitchen linens! I like to save all of my glass jars and cans and have multiple cups goin' on at the same time. This keeps me from having to constantly get up and change out my water when I really hit a good flow, (and because I'm lazy like that), and it also keeps my colors from getting murky from the water. I try to use one cup for rinsing cool colors (blues, greens, purples), one cup for warm colors (reds, oranges and yellows) and one cup for blacks/browns. For drying my brushes off I like to buy cheap white linens from Target or Walmart and cut them up. Using smooth linens will keep any weird hairs or fuzz from getting onto your paper and it saves the environment ;)
This of course is not EVERY supply I use, but it is the bare necessities. Throughout my blogging adventures I'll introduce you to more fun things, so make sure you stick around!
When you first get started with all this stuff, remember to take it slow, don't worry about an end product and HAVE FUN!! LET GO OF YOUR INNER PERFECTIONIST, because you are about to not be perfect at something, and that's ok!!! You have to make mistakes in order to learn and to figure out the ebb and flow of watercolors. Try to relax into the process and remember that no one becomes Michelangelo overnight, so what you come up with truly doesn't matter. YOU are you own harshest critic, and anything you make is better than doing nothing at all.
Remember as always, to comment below if you have anything to add or if you have any questions, and you can always email me for additional info at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next up on the blog: Tips, Tricks and Techniques! Stay tuned and stay messy.