To start with watercolour painting you need only a few things. Here I will show you the most important ones and then we will slowly progress to the “Nice-To-Haves”.
Good watercolour paper is unfortunately quite expensive, but you will find that there are big differences between the qualities. Simple drawing paper, as you might know it from school, does not work in any case.
Even designated aquarelle paper in “student quality” is usually much too absorbent and therefore rather unusable. In order to achieve the official watercolour effects, you need appropriate paper.
We recommend “cold pressed” quality paper with light grain, 100% cotton, preferably not too thin, 300g is ideal. Beginners should never try “hot pressed” and calendered.
In my opinion, the blocks glued all around are too expensive and offer hardly any advantages. I think that a simple gluing is sufficient. Alternatively also single sheets, but these are rather only available in large formats.
If you are worried that the blade will become too wavy, you can tension it yourself or simply flatten it afterwards.
If you look for watercolors in the trade, it becomes rather fast confusing. Most manufacturers advertise their product as “the” colour and within the brands there are several colour shades.
The paint manufacturers give their colour shades imaginative names, which does not make orientation any easier. It is therefore much more sensible than “mountain blue” or “sap green” to look at the pigments from which the clay was created. Most manufacturers orientate themselves on pigment definitions of the https://www.astm.org/. You can find lists of common pigments here or here.
In summary one can say: don’t trust the nice “marketing names”, read the small print, in this case the pigment identification, like “PV19” or “PG16”. Above all, make sure that you do not use pigments that have a poor compatibility with light. Lightfastness is perhaps the most important criterion for the selection of colours. A watercolour normally has only an extremely thin layer of paint. If the pigment fades or changes tone after a few years, this can be very annoying.
You have the choice between a bowl and a tube. With the tube, I think you get a better price, but that can be deceptive. Paint that has dried on the palette should be moistened with the atomizer before working. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that paint in the bowl dissolves better than dried paint in a tube. That means it could be an advantage to keep tube paint always moist or to use it fresh (but this is expensive).
Sennelier’s watercolour paint in tubes has an addition of honey. Since honey practically never dries up, this paint stays fresh longer on the palette. But this has turned out to be rather impractical for me. When I paint while travelling, for example, I inevitably smear the paint somewhere where it should not be…
Brushes are of course very important. In principle, you can also paint with your fingers, sponges or whatever, but maybe you shouldn’t start with such advanced techniques right away 😉
Most likely one associates the watercolor with the classical Kolinsky-Marder brush. In English you can find the name “Sable Brush” for it, “Sabel” means sable, thus a kind of marten.
Another type of brush, which is very important in watercolour painting, is called a washing-up brush, or in English “Mop-Brush” or also “Wash-Brush”. These brushes are often made from the tail of a squirrel. The names “Petit gris” and “Squirrel” are printed on brushes. With these brushes you can paint larger areas evenly or as a colour gradient.
Brushes differ not only in the hair used, whether synthetic or natural hair, but also in the shape. Many artists prefer brushes with flat and wide tips. This allows interesting and expressive strokes.
Meanwhile there are also many artists who – also for animal welfare reasons – rely on synthetic hair. They are usually cheaper than good natural hair brushes and probably it is better to use a synthetic hair than a bad natural hair.
With Asian artists I have often seen bamboo brushes, I think the hair is made of deer skin. Also with this brushes very expressive strokes seem to be possible and thereby many variations especially for e.g. grass or trees.
Pretty lame, but still important. My recommendation are so called clutch pencils. The softness of the lead is a matter of taste. Soft leads smear more and can produce a slightly grey tone when mixed with water. But they are expressive and you can see them better through the painting.
Hard leads are thinner, do not smear and are practical for detailed preliminary drawings. But they are not particularly expressive and spontaneous to work with.
By the way: the Faber Castell pen recommended here has a white sticker. Here you have the choice between nibbling off and then removing mega sticky residues – or just leave the sticker on, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t know why that has to be…
That was it with the most important materials. The following aids are not absolutely necessary, but they make it easier to be a watercolourist.
Pallets are available in many variants. They are available in sheet metal, plastic or porcelain. Wooden pallets are not very popular here.
Just for painting on the road or while travelling there are real folding wonders. The shape, dimensions, number of troughs/clips and size of the mixing areas are very different. Everybody should look for his own private palette.
With the eraser knead rubber you can remove excess pencil strokes. You should avoid rubbing on the paper, because this will damage the paper surface. It is better to form a ball and roll it over the affected areas. Sure, this won’t get everything clean, but that’s not so important: preliminary drawings should be visible.
It is best to always put it back into the plastic jar (if available) after work, then the plasticine will stay clean and soft longer.
What is meant is paper tape or “painter’s crepe”, as we know it from painting the apartment. With this you can fix the paper on a surface and create a nice white frame around the painting.
With such a small atomizer you can moisten the surface again and again briefly before the sheet dries up during painting.
You can also use it to create some nice speckle effects, for example to give grass a texture like dandelions or create a diffuse background.
With masking fluid, areas that should remain white in any case can be secured in advance. This often happens with portraits, e.g. highlights in the eyes or on the nose.
The liquid should be applied with an aid such as a drawing pen rather than directly from the bottle. This also applies to fluids that can be squeezed out of a small bottle with a needle tip: this creates bubbles and you work inaccurately. Before you paint over the masking fluid, it should be completely dry – otherwise you will get a nice mess.
When the image is finished, use the eraser to remove the fluid. The fluid is usually available in blue or white. Blue has a strange effect during the painting, with white you get an impression of the later result.
As long as paint is wet (not wet), you can scrape off paint with a plastic credit card. Practical, for example, to create illuminated hair for a portrait. Another use is to scratch off blades of grass in a landscape, for example. Dark paint is removed and a light, negative area becomes visible.
If you cannot work outside or during the day, it is important to have good light. I.e. bright and as neutral a light as possible. Classical light bulbs, as they hardly exist any more, are/were much too yellowish. But even normal LED lamps, whose light you might find cosy, usually do not have the right colour temperature. A colour temperature of 5300 Kelvin upwards is desired. Below that the light becomes warmer, above it colder (blue).
Frequently the picture must dry between the painting sections. A small hair dryer is very useful to shorten the waiting time drastically.
Mostly it is desired that the picture is at least slightly tilted, so the color can run better. For this purpose a table and any object is sufficient to create the slope. Some artists even mount the picture vertically and let the colours flow properly. An easel is very useful here. If you paint outdoors, you need a stand anyway and for such plain-air painting there are even multifunctional easels with built-in pallet holders and shelves.
For cleaning especially fine natural hair brushes, manufacturers recommend special brush soap. The soap cleans and nourishes the hair up to the tips – wait a minute! Can this perhaps also be done with shampoo?
Maybe it sounds trivial, but you have to think about it for a moment. If you have enough space, it’s best to have a bucket for quick, rough washing and a smaller container for clean water. But at least a not too small glass, so that you always work with clear water.
Everyone has a mirror at home, I suppose. Mirrors are very practical when you paint portraits. With their help you can judge if a portrait is similar enough: look at the picture in the mirror and you can see immediately if something is wrong.
If you want to dab off a brush that is too wet, remove drops or other cleaning work, it is essential. A simple kitchen sponge could be more economical for dabbing.