What you need to know about and pay attention to when purchasing.
Watercolors are such a playful medium. You can be as loose or as tight and detailed as you want. Best of all, if you make a mistake - you can just wipe and wash it away! This medium helps you to let go of fear around creating and allows you to just play.
The first thing to start with is your materials. I'm a firm believer in starting where you are and with what you can afford. Student grade watercolors are perfectly fine to work with, especially if you are creating as a hobby or just for yourself. Artist or professional grade watercolors are generally more expensive as they contain more pigment and also come in a wider range of colors.
Watercolor paints are available in liquids, tubes and pans. I currently work with a half pan set from Sennelier that I picked up on sale last year (I usually try to buy more expensive products when there are sales or coupons available). Many like to work with tubes, this way you can buy individual colors and fill pans to create your own palette. This is what I plan on doing next!
Another fun option - if you're looking to try different colors or brands - are dot cards/sheets. Lots of brands make these and is a great way to explore what you might want to work with next. This article posted on scratchmadejournal.com contains links to a whole slew of different ones you could try.
Brushes come in natural or synthetic hair. The choice of which you use is completely up to you. Natural brushes are usually made from sable or squirrel and tend to be more expensive. I personally do not use natural brushes and have only purchased synthetic due to my personal beliefs surrounding the use of animals.
Synthetic brushes are generally less costly and plenty of options exist out there. I've used everything from the Artist loft brushes they sell at Michaels, to more expensive brand names. The cheaper brushes will shed hairs as you paint, which is kind of irritating to say the least and something to be mindful of. Personally I enjoy using Winsor & Newton Cotman series brushes for the tiny fur texture on my pet portraits, as well as Princeton Select Artiste brushes. Both come in various shapes and sizes. Again this is personal preference but if you're new to watercolors, starting off with a few different sized round brushes would be your best bet as they can be pretty versatile in the strokes they create.
IMPORTANT NOTE - CLEAN YOUR BRUSHES AND STORE THEM WELL! They will last much longer and the bristles will thank you for it. I store my brushes in a fabric roll or upright in a cup on a shelf away from where my cats can chew on them or I can damage them by accident. I use The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver Soap - I love this stuff!
Paper! This is a real important one. There are a few things to pay attention to with this:
Paper weight (thickness)
Surface texture (cold press vs hot press)
Cut sheets, pads or blocks
What the paper is made of (Cotton, Wood Pulp/Cellulose)
Do make sure you get a paper weight of at least 140lb/300gsm. It's always printed clearly on the front of the pads or packaging and can be found listed in item descriptions if shopping online. The thinner the paper, the less it will be able to handle water. This leads to buckling/warping and possible break down of the paper surface as you paint.
Using Cold press or Hot press paper is a matter of preference. Cold press paper has a bumpy texture to it and is great for watercolor in my opinion. The tooth or surface texture holds the water and pigment well. Definitely more forgiving and workable too. Hot press paper is smooth and soft. I personally haven't mastered working on the smooth surface yet!
Both are available as cut sheets, pads or blocks. The biggest benefit of blocks are the sheets come sealed together to help prevent any buckling or warping while painting. There is always a little slit for you to slide a ruler or palette knife in to separate the sheets once ready. If you use pads or cut sheets, simply tape down your edges to a flat surface using washi or artists tape to help get the same benefit of a block.
100% Cotton paper is great! It's more expensive but also more durable than purely wood pulp paper. It can take more of a beating when working and in my experience has better work-ability. It absorbs the water and pigment differently - you will notice brush strokes and color gradations don't appear the same between the two different types. If you're planning on using a lot of tape, masking or scrubbing strokes - cotton paper will be best for you. I'd recommend it over the alternative but if it doesn't fit your budget - that's totally okay! Paper is available with different percentages of cotton included which may be worth experimenting with over time. I have and use both types of paper but lean more heavily on the use of 100% cotton papers. Mostly I use it for commissions and smaller art pieces. The rest I use for experimenting and creating mixed media work (generally a mix of watercolor, pen, and maybe some colored pencil). There is definitely a difference in blending and the appearance of strokes between the papers but play around, you might want to utilize that in what you create! You can usually find paper sample packs before you commit to one kind or another. Always make sure the paper is Acid-Free, it will last longer! Though, I honestly haven't come across any watercolor papers that weren't.
Here are a few paper brands I've tried and enjoy:
Arches - they have blocks, pads, you name it!
Legion Stonehenge Aqua Watercolor - top bound pads and blocks.
Strathmore Ready Cut Watercolor Sheets - varying sheet sizes available.
Canson XL Watercolor Pads - bound and wire pads
**I have no association or affiliation with the companies/products listed above and receive no monetary gain from their mention here. Just throwing in my two cents on what has worked for me! There are plenty of options in the world to choose from, find the right fit for you and your budget!
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