Watercolor Supplies

Here's some inside-information on watercolor supplies. In watercolor techniques, the quality of your paper and paint is essential. Brushes can be saved on if you want to. I'll also give tips on boards, tape and other supplies you might need.

watercolor painting

Watercolor, 65 x 50 cm

Watercolor paints

Watercolor paints of the better brands look terribly expensive: small tubes, big prices. But: their use is very economical. When you paint with watercolors, you dilute the paint with water - so a tube of paint is very much condensed. Another reason to take brands like Winsor & Newton or Schmincke is the quality and refinedness of their pigments. Watercolor pigments are of the finest grinding - that's how the paint gets its translucent quality. The brands mentioned here can give you that.

The best watercolor paints are made almost only with pigment - the finest pigments around. Cheap watercolor paints have less good and less fine grounded pigments, and often too much binder (filler), which makes them look a bit smudgy or a little cheap. Unless you like that effect (some of us do, you know!) it's better to invest in good paints. Check here for a basic color list (scroll down for watercolor supplies), and here for a review of (water)colors.

Watercolor paper

You might want to try out a few kinds of paper, but once you chose: get a large supply of one kind of paper, and focus on it. The paper dictates the way you need to work, and it's best to stick to that one kind of paper, of which you know exactly how it makes the paint flow. There is smooth and rough paper. Rough may seem clumsy, but it really has an advantage: it hides little mistakes. Just like structure paint does on your walls. On smooth paper, you can make really fine details, but you see every little mistake.

Most watercolor papers need to be stretched. There's one great exception: the heavy quality papers of Saunders and Waterford. Most other papers warp like crazy, when you wet them and leave them to dry. But Saunders and Waterford keeps straight enough to put behind glass without stretching. It won't keep entirely straight, but you can frame it without getting ugly folds - also when it got really wet for fifty times or more. If you want to keep it absolutely straight, it still needs stretching - but you can do that later on as well, if you like.

Watercolor brushes

The best watercolor brushes are marter brushes, but squirrel-hair does very well too (and it's much cheaper). Years ago I actually had a marter brush of over a 100 euro's (teacher's advice). But squirrel, or even good bristle, can work just fine. Loose hairs are no issue, because they won't stick in the paint (there's hardly any binder).

For details, you'll probably like a squirrel brush with a sharp tip (like these ones: Blick Master Natural Round). For starters, take one of a medium size. With a thick brush you can still make thin lines (it holds more paint than a thin one, so you can work longer). But that might be considered luxury.
For making big, equal and thin washes, it's best to take a broad and flat brush, click here for the ones shown here.If you don't have any watercolor supplies yet, take one or two of the smallest one of this series - they're 19 mm wide (somewhat less than an inch), about 22 dollars a piece. There are other brands as well, this one is a little cheaper (though they don't differ much). You need two brushes of this size, because you always need one brush with clean water at hand, to fade in or out, or to dilute mistakes. but you might try a Hake bristle as well, as a water brush.

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These Japanese-style bristle brushes are not as refined as the squirrel brushes, but if you can work with these, you can save a good deal of money. It's worth giving a try, even if only as a waterbrush. And if money is no issue: take Kolinsky marterbrushes; one with a sharp tip for details, a broad and flat one for painting big washes (with horizontal strokes top-down, flowing into each other like a curtain).

Other watercolor supplies

Check here for info on paint. You'll need to put your paper on a board (whether you stretch it or not...). Light birch plywood is very suitable for that. Beware: darker plywood will give off tannine (wood color) that will bleed into your paper, unless you clean it very thoroughly (wet, with cleaning brushes). Eventually use an extra cheaper paper underneath you expesive watercolor paper, to absorb the tannine stains.

Strong tape is important as well (if you stretch it). Brown package tape does just fine. When stretching big sheets, it's sometimes good to put in extra drawing pins, to help the tape hold on to the paper.

Cups, cloths and saucers

Last but not least: you need small porcelain cups, preferrably white, to dilute your colors with water (best take demineralized water for that, by the way). Tin lids of some household glass jars can be used as well. The cup should be shallow, and broad enough to dip in your brush.
In watercolor painting, there's no such thing as wiping off or painting it white again. So, the best thing to do is: start with thin washes, if possible without sharp edges. Light parts are best left open (scroll down for masking fluid). The porcelain cups are necessary to regulate the darkness of the color you apply. In some cases, you might need to have three cups for one color; one with very thin paint, one with just thin paint and one medium thick paint. After working for a while, you might need to add some color to all three cups: dipping in a clean brush (that's still wet) means, you add water and dilute the paint (it comes unnoticed). And the paint needs to get thicker (darker) while you proceed.

Clean white cloths are a necessity as well - once you put on too much or too dark paint, you can pick up most of the paint with a dry cloth. When damage is more serious: wash with a clean waterbrush, use lots of water, gently pushing the hairtips into the paper. After that, dry again with the cloth. But remember: watercolor looks much darker when it's wet. One of the best watercolorists ever (Liane Collot D'herbois) once said: "mistakes are bestignored, they go away all by themselves".

Masking fluid

This is an aid in saving bits of shaped white (lightsparkles). Masking fluid is a kind of fluid rubber - you paint it on and it dries. It can be taken off once you're done painting (has to be done ASAP!). Be careful with it though: on of my old watercolor paintings was ruined because traces of masking fluid went dark over time. It ruined some brushes as well - I couldn't find out what to clean the brush with (water obviously doesn't do the trick).

Watercolor painting does require some conscious planning. It's a good way to train your thinking. It's a beautiful medium too. Watercolor supplies are not cheaper than oil painting supplies though.

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