The Virgin Artist – Watercolor Art Supplies for Beginners

All artists have had “firsts”. Every first-time art class or workshop starts with a materials list from the instructor. Every art book begins with a chapter on “materials” and the artist usually offers his or her own favorite palette colors.

Of course, our inclination is to purchase everything on the list, and sometimes lots more. It all looks so inviting at the art store!

After years of classes and many week-long workshops with various artists, I have learned to peruse the list for something unusual (rice paper, perhaps). Then I stick to my own supplies and favorite colors, paper and brushes. Most of the other items are just artist preference if you are taking a straight-forward class, and not something entirely new to you like collage.

So what should a newbie watercolor artist purchase? I would suggest this basic list of watercolor art supplies, that will get the new artist painting along in about anyone’s workshop. You can always add something the instructor is demonstrating to your tool box later.

1)   Palette – I use a large plastic palette with 30 wells and 2 center areas for mixing. Way more than you will need, but get one with approximately 20 wells so that you have room to add colors that you discover as you learn to paint. A ceramic palette is lovely and does not stain but it is also heavy and not ideal for traveling back and forth to class.watercolor paint palette barb capeletti

2)   Paint colors. I would say that starting with 12 basic colors will get you quite far in your painting endeavors. Here’s my recommended color list:
 – Brown Madder
 – Burnt Umber
 – Raw Sienna
 – Hooker’s Green Deep
 – Azo Yellow
 – Gamboge
 – Perm Red Deep (or a good solid primary red)
 – Quinacridone Rose (or Alizarin Crimson)
 – Ultramarine Deep
 – Cobalt Blue
 – Prussian Blue
 – Indigo
Different manufacturers use different names but many are the same. Shop around. You don’t need lots of greens, oranges, purples to start. You can mix many of the colors that you need. This basic palette will give you room to experiment and expand as you want to add other colors like Quinacridone Gold (one of my favorites!) or a lovely Turquoise or Cerulean Blue for interesting skies. Paint is quite expensive so look for sales. Many of my colors are from two brands – Rembrandt, and American Journey (a proprietary brand from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff). You want tube sizes of approx. 14 or 15 ml. The rest are too small to fill the paint wells. You do not need white – I use white only for mistakes! Black is not a necessary color either – you can mix lovely darks with the colors listed above.

3)   Paper. My first purchase was a small pad of what was supposed to be 140-lb watercolor paper. That is a standard weight that many artists use. But I soon purchased a much higher quality watercolor block by Arches (it was on sale) and it was an “AHA Moment”! The original paper was really much lighter, had poor texture and the paint did not flow and adhere as nicely as with the better paper. So don’t go too cheap with the paper – you will not learn the really paint unless you use good paper. I would suggest a block of Arches 140-lb cold press (9″ x 12″” is a good size to start). Or a pack of 10 full-size sheets of 140-lb cold press (good texture, not too rough) paper, which cuts into four 1/4-sheets for standard painting size. I use full sheets of Kilimanjaro from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, but also look into Fabriano as well. If you have just a little bit of paper, you will not experiment and paint. So purchase a good pack and paint away!arches watercolor paper barb capeletti painting

4)   Brushes can make or break your painting too. I have a large selection of all sorts – synthetic, 50%/50% synthetic and natural, and 100% natural hair bristles. Each serves a purpose and creates different strokes. a good synthetic 1 1/2″ brush is perfect for initial washes of color or water. You will want a 1″, 1/2″ and maybe 1/4″ flat brush, and a #4 and 8 round. If you can find a good deal on 50/50 brushes I would say go that way. I use various brands, but one of my favorite sets is from an artist Tom Jones. He sells a lovely set of 50/50 brushes through Jerry’s Artarama for a great price, and it is a perfect set to start with. Some of the brushes also have a chisel point end so you can scrape tree branches and lines. You will use this set for many years, as I have and still do. I also have the Joe Miller Signature Series 100% Natural Brushes from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff in NC. Each brush holds water and paint differently, each has a special cut, some have a great point for fine lines, some are great for large washes. You will have fun finding your favorites.

5)   Extras – Just a few more things that you will need to complete your tool kit.
 – Any plastic container will do for water – old Tupperware containers are great.
 – You will need a roll of paper towels, and a box of facial tissues (do NOT buy the kind with lotion in them! Basic grocery store brands are fine).
 – Large Spray bottle that “sprays”, not shoots a stream (check home improvement store or dollar store). 
 – Sketchbook. Can’t plan out your painting without one!
 – Paint Tube Wringer: this is a great investment! Paint is very expensive so you want to wring the last drop out of the tube (like toothpaste…). Just insert the tail of the tube and wind it toward the front slowly.
 – Masking fluid – this is rather optional but many instructors will demonstrate this in a workshop. Choose “Temporary” masking fluid, or Drawing Gum. Masque Pen makes one too. Buy a cheap brush to apply the masking fluid or it will ruin any good brush!
– White eraser. You can draw with any pencil but purchase a small white eraser – don’t use what’s on the pencil or you will mark your watercolor paper. 

watercolor painting lesson demo studio barb capeletti

There are so many fun things that you can buy! (as you can see from the photo of my studio, I have had a great time with my art supplies!) But hold off until you see which way your painting style is going. It also gives your friends and family ideas and gifts to give you as you progress!

If you have questions about supplies, I am happy to discuss them with you. I would love to see how you start and how you progress! Contact me anytime!

Happy Painting!




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