It’s a Wash: The Supplies Needed For Watercolor Painting
Are you looking for supplies needed for starting watercolor painting? Good on you! I’ve had art lessons and class exposure so I can give you the straight dope. Some of my happiest classroom memories involved learning about watercolors.
It’s certainly a different ball game from the materials you need for oils and acrylic mastery. Personally, I found this kind of work relaxing. You won’t have to deal with smelly chemicals, but you will have to learn new techniques like washes and color transitions. Unlike oil paint, you can’t easily wipe off a mistake and start over.
If this sounds like your kind of artform, let’s dive right into the kinds of watercolor supplies you are going to need! In a nutshell, your first priorities are going to be paint, paper, brushes and palettes. Then we’ll take a look at some “extras”.
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My first experience with watercolor paint started with taking classes way back when – third grade, to be exact. Lots of fun and what exciting news to find that I would be using actual tubes of paint – no more of those amateurish oval-shaped cakes of paint that I was practicing with:)
Obviously I’m referring to those kinds of starter watercolor kits made for kids that had the oval cakes. There is a more professional-grade type of watercolors that are set up in a contained box and referred to as “pans” – they are usually round or square/rectangular in shape.
Pans are much better for traveling and not regular use since you have to moisten them quite a bit to get them to do what you want and that may not allow for making more sophisticated details possible, like wet-on-wet techniques. So it’s best to look for a set in tubes that has all of the basic colors included.
Watercolor tube paints are generally small when compared to their acrylic cousins. Remember they are called “watercolors” for a reason, a little dab will go a long way! The sets I owned did contain a white tube but I think it must have been a formality because white is one color that is not represented much at all.
Watercolor paper is unique in that it has a certain thickness and “grain” to it. It is designed this way in order to take the paint and greater amounts of moisture, and not get soaked through.
The best choice is 140 lb, which is about the medium thickness and weight, and comes in pads that hold about 10 or so sheets and may be cheaper than buying sheets individually.
There are some weights that are less and greater than this amount, the less may get more damp easily and the thicker type is good too, but may cost more.
Important: Regardless of brand or whether it’s a pad or individual sheets be sure it’s “archival quality” and acid free. This will ensure that you will not have to deal with “yellowing” later on.
Watercolor brushes tend to have softer bristle tufts as you cannot have coarse bristles when dealing with the nuances of watercolor paint. You should have a combination of round bristle, square and flat brushes, as well as a few with small heads in order to perform detailed work.
You do need to also have a slightly wider angled brush which will get most of the use for larger areas in projects.
In my first class I had a sponge applicator brush when learning about wet-on-wet techniques. You will definitely get a lot of use out of one of these and they are not that expensive, or hard to find. They will also guide you through color “lifting” in various areas to produce a desired effect.
You will need a different type of palette than the classic kidney-bean shape of artist yore…a watercolor palette (below, right) needs to have wider or deeper compartments to accommodate the emphasis on blending and washes. In other words, you’ll be using more water and deeper compartments allow you to have enough room to create different color transitions.
In the third grade art class – and even in high school ; I didn’t use this (perhaps since it’s a little more advanced technique) but later on I learned about masking fluid, which is a product used to dab onto small areas of a work-in-progress, such as the painting of things that have lots of various tonal values.
Things like the pure white highlights such as a still life object where the light hits it – you can spread masking fluid over to protect that area from the other areas being painted.
Basically, you remove the fluid after it dries, and the pristine white area is revealed.
When you apply the fluid it will make your details cleaner. “White watercolors” are simply unheard of to the real professionals. Why my sets included a tube of white, I have no idea 🙂 Watercolors are transparent in application so “white” doesn’t have a place there. Only with its close cousin, gouache, is white used at times.
Here is a detail snapshot from a watercolor painting I did a long time ago under private lessons and I was just being introduced to masking fluid. I was getting one on one lessons, too, by the way, and taught how to apply it, let it dry and peel it off…It really does make a difference doesn’t it?
Additional Tools for Watercolor Painting
These items below are considered the “extras” and are good to consider when you get more experience. You may not use all of them at one time, but they will have their place depending on the kind of painting you’re working on.
Masonite boards are used in the event of doing wet-on-wet painting and to affix the paper for best results to a smooth surface. I did this in class for a landscape painting, using a special tape to secure the paper by the edges to the masonite board. Some of them have a side clip to hold the paper in place.
The work will buckle slightly under the moisture, but it will otherwise be a smooth application.
Masking or Painter’s Tape
By applying masking tape to the perimeter edges of your paper (while using the board mentioned above) you can secure your painting while you work and prevent unsightly bulges under the application of moisture.
Fine Point Felt Tip Ink Pens
Some people like to combine watercoloring with pen and ink such as that of illustration work and art journaling. Investing in one of these fine tip pens is a good idea if you are looking to do either of these.
To sum up, start with the first list and as you get more experience and learn more consider the addition of the “nice” watercolor painting tools.
To the left is one of my “bragging rights” pieces of watercolor artwork, if I may. I did this piece a long time ago 🙂 I really need to find some more of my old pieces of work using these techniques….if and when I do I will update this post.
I’m having a serious waxing poetic moment here remembering all these fun techniques!
Good luck to you and may you have a great time on your watercoloring art journey 🙂