How to Watercolor: Materials

Watercolor Materials

Before you begin working with watercolors you need to know a little about materials.  Using good quality paints, brushes, and paper really makes a difference in how well your paintings turn out.

I wrote a little about my favorite watercolor materials HERE, but I'll go more in depth in this post.

There are two basic types of watercolor paints that I know of: the cheap dry kind that you get in little pans or tube paints. Cheap pan paints are great for kids and ok for certain projects, but if you want to paint seriously these are not the way to go.

Professional quality watercolor paints come in tubes in a semi-liquid form.  You squirt a small amount onto a palette.  At first they will be a bit wet, but over time they dry.  You just leave them on your palette and add water as you use them.

Some good quality brands of tube paints are:  Winsor & Newton, Utrecht or Grumbacher.  I've also read that Holbein brand is good, although I've never tried it. You can find these at most art supply stores. There's a Utrecht store here in Salt Lake that I love.  You can also get some at Michaels.

watercolor tube paints
watercolor tube paints

So now that you know what type of paints to get, you'll need to know what colors to get.  You don't need to buy every color available.... that would break the bank! Just get the basic colors and you can learn to mix pigments to get more variety. These tubes will last you a long time too.  So once you buy the basics you are good to go for years!

Basic Colors you need:
Phthalo Blue
Cobalt Blue
Phthalo Green
Cadmium Yellow Light
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Red Medium
Quinacridone Red
Raw Sienna
Burnt Umber
Burnt Sienna
Ivory Black

Palette:  This is the palette I use: a Zoltan Szabo Watercolor Palette.   But there are many other types of palettes out there.   Pick one that you think will work best for you.  It should have slanted wells to hold paint and a space to mix.  Pretty simple.

watercolor palette

Watercolor brushes can be made from different kinds of animal hair or synthetic materials.  Animal hair is a little more expensive, but better quality.  Synthetic brushes are not all that bad though.  I'm currently using Connoissuer White Talkon brushes that I bought way back in college.  They've held up pretty well so far. I've read that Sable brushes are fantastic though.  Some good brands for those are Kolinsky, Holbein, or Jack Richeson.

Watercolor brushes come in two basic shapes: round and flat.  There are fan and angles brushes as well that you can try out later.  I've honestly never used those and never needed to.

So to start with, you'll want to get a variety of sizes in flat and round shapes.  The brushes I use are:  Round- sizes 1, 6, and 10.  Flat- sizes 4, and 12.

Watercolor Connoisseur Brushes

One thing you really need to understand is watercolor paper.  There are hot and cold press papers, different weights, colors, and different brands.  Each type has different qualities that affect how the paint reacts and absorbs when you apply it.  The paper I use most frequently is Strathmore 140lb coldpress.

So here's the lowdown:

Hot Press:  smooth, not much texture.  Tends to absorb paint faster.  Some artists love Arches hot press papers.

Cold Press:  has some texture, more versatile and forgiving.  Paint can sometimes be scrubbed or lifted off. It's a better paper for beginners. It generally doesn't absorb paint as quickly as hot press. This is my favorite kind :)

Weight:  Papers that come in large sheets or pads with show a weight somewhere on the paper.  The higher the weight, the thicker the paper.  90lb is on the very thin side and generally is not as good of quality paper to work with.  I find that 140lb works great for me, but you can even go up to 300lb.  The price generally coincides with the thickness and quality of paper.

Good Brands: A very popular and good quality brand is Arches.  It can be a bit pricey though, so I mostly stick with Strathmore.  You can find Stathmore pads and large single sheets at Michaels for a very decent price.
Strathmore Watercolor Paper

Pencil and Eraser:  For planning and sketching purposes, you'll need a good drawing pencil and eraser.
Yes, even us artists who have been at this for years still need erasers!

I sketch out my paintings in a Staedtler H pencil.  It's light enough to not show through paint but still dark enough that I can see it.  A cheaper general drawing pencil would work fine as well.

I also use a kneadable eraser- it's a bit different from your standard eraser. It's way more awesome! It's kneadable and pliable, a bit like clay.  It has a great ability to erase pencil without damaging paper.  Plus it never leaves pink marks behind!

pencil and eraser

Paper Towels & Rinse Jar:  To complete your materials, you'll need a dedicated water jar- I used an old spaghetti sauce jar- and some paper towels.  The paper towels come in handy when you get too much water or paint on your brush and you need to take some off.

water jar and paper towels

So that's it for materials!  Now you're ready to actually start some painting!  Until next time......

P.S. Please let me know if you have any questions about this materials post or any of the other post in my How to Watercolor Series.  I'd love to do a question and answer post at then end!


  1. I was gifted watercolor pencils, had no idea they were watercolor pencils until I spilled some water on my paper one day! Any ideas how to work with those or a good way to start?

  2. I read your posts with great interest.
    Thank you for showing.
    hugs, Marguerite

  3. I am so very thankful that you are doing a series on watercolor. You are precise and easy to understand (I need that). Even just understanding watercolor paper was HUGE. I had never seen it explained so plainly. Now I know what to get.
    Thanks again...can't wait for the rest.

  4. Could you share another photo of your brushes? A close up of the bristles? I went to Utrecht last night looking for brushes, and they said that watercolor brushes aren't typically referred to by number (even though all the brushes I looked at were clearly numbered - so confusing!) It would help to know what to look for. Thank you!


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