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6 Bare Minimum Watercolor Supplies for Beginners

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

When trying to learn something new... Where do you start?

You look up and read article after article feeling more confused than when you started. Don't worry. I have been there, done that. Let me spare you!

6 Bare Minimum Watercolor Supplies for Beginners/Novices aka Noobs:

  1. Watercolor Paint

  2. Watercolor Brushes

  3. Paper

  4. 2 Containers for Water

  5. Cloth or Paper Towel

  6. Mixing Palette

If you are wanting to try your hand at watercolor and get the best value for your money. Ask yourself. What do you want to accomplish?

When people asked me to help them choose a horse for them I always asked them: "what do you want to do with your horse?". You wouldn't want to buy a performance horse when all you want to do leisurely plod along horse trails occasionally.

Are you just trying this out for fun to see where this goes? Maybe you want to paint regularly but just as a hobby. Maybe you're super serious and in love with the watercolor paintings you see online and want to dive headfirst into it and let it consume your soul. Either way. I got you covered. Ultimately the decision is up to you. You will discover what you like and not like as you work with watercolor and that is the fun part. Learning who you are as an artist.

You only need 6 things to get you started:

1. Watercolor Paint

There are so many options to chose from! Which one is best for you? You will learn that in time. Different brands vary in effects and feel. What you like will be your preference. This is the long one so brace yourself!

If you want something cheap. I recommend Prang or Crayola watercolor pans. Don't look at me like that. They are good watercolors to start out and see if you even like working with watercolors. Watercolor paint is different from acrylic or oil paints. These brands are washable and non-toxic. They will, however, fade easily.

Quality is important. If you want your paintings to last and not fade make sure whatever paint you get is lightfast. Watercolors are a transparent medium. Layering and using the white of the paper for highlights is watercolor's thing. Something to be aware of is that some paints are mixed with a white base and can create a chalky to opaque look, which is desirable by some but not others. If you do like that you might want to check out gouache paint as well.

The brands usually have a guide to the transparency, granulation, and ingredients of their paints, as some can be toxic.

Now there are many "types" or "forms" of watercolor but we will focus on the 2 most common and well-known ones.

Tube Vs Pans

Tubes require less work. You can use them straight out of the tube for vibrant colors. If they dry out on your mixing palette. Never fear -- they will just need a bit of water and be ready to go. The downside is they can be a bit messy and you can go through them relatively quickly if, say, you mix too much of a certain color and realize you didn't need that much. If you are buying individual tubes you will need a place to mix your paints. I'll talk more about that when we get to mixing palettes. Note, some tube sets come in a pan as well and you won't need to buy a mixing palette separately.

For tubes, I recommend getting the primary colors: Yellow, Red, and Blue if you get watercolor tubes. Daniel Smith or Winsor Newton are well-known brands but don't hesitate to check out others that pique your interest. With just the 3 colors primary you can mix and discover colors on your own.

Pans are neater, last longer and are great for traveling. They usually come in a neat package with a palette built-in! If you like consistency in color you can replace the pans instead of mixing colors all the time. You will have to worry about contaminating your pans with each other over time. Also, pans are a little rougher on brushes.

You don't need a huge set with all the colors under the sun.

Most watercolor pan sets will give you way more than 3 colors but if you are going the watercolor tube route get the 3 colors -- you can always build up your collection later on after you get a feel for what you like.

2. Watercolor Brushes

Hey! You made it to number 2! Congratulations!

Don't worry it gets easier after this.

I recommend getting a cheap brush set with all the experimenting you will be doing. You will be rough on them and need the variety. I still have and use my first brush set and you can tell. It has been used, abused, and converted to my glitter paintbrush set to keep all that glitter contained.

As long as the brushes say they are made for watercolor you'll be fine. You may have to get a big brush separately depending on what set you get. Getting a separate big brush will be beneficial when you want to paint big areas.

3. Paper

There are a lot of options. Almost as many as there are bread options in the bread aisle. Surprised? Neither am I. This again is a personal preference and depends on what style you are going for.

You could use any paper really, but if it is thin and not made for watercolor it will buckle/warp.

There are 3 types of watercolor paper:

  1. Hot press (smooth, good for fine detail work)

  2. Cold press (has texture, best for beginners)

  3. Rough (lots of texture)

For starting off, any watercolor paper will do. I have high-quality paper and low-quality paper. I use the low-quality for experiments or mini-drafts. That way I don't mourn the loss of an expensive piece of paper when I make a mistake. If you want a paper that lasts and won't react with the paint then look for one that is acid-free. Paper that is 100% cotton is best for watercolor. Wood pulp is a good, inexpensive alternative to cotton. The thicker the paper the more water it can hold without buckling/warping. The thickness/weight of the paper is usually measured in lbs or gsm. The higher the number, the thicker/heavier the paper. Texture, color, and thickness can vary from brand to brand. Beepaper cold press is very different from Arches' cold press. I love using both brands, it just depends on what look I am going for.

If you want more info on paper you can read my post on texture and buying watercolor paper.

4. Two Containers for Water

Anything that can hold water will work. They don't even have to match! One will be for "dirty" water that you use to clean paint off your brush. The other will be your "clean" water which you use for diluting your paints. This system will prevent your paints from mixing with each other causing unwanted random colors or muddiness. I saved some pretty mason jars that contained jams at one point.

5. Cloth or Paper Towel

Use something you won't mind getting paint on. You will use this for drying off your brushes or removing excess color in between cleaning. Gentle materials will be easier on your brushes.

6. Mixing Palette

A place to mix your paints. You can buy an inexpensive plastic one that does its job well but it does tend to stain. Metal, glass, and porcelain are other options and are more resistant to staining. They are smooth and easier on brushes.

That's it!

Now, you should have everything you need to start capturing those moments through your art!



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