Welcome to my ultimate beginner watercolor supplies guide. I’m going to show you everything you need to know to get you started in watercolors. Check back as I will regularly update this article!
My name’s Justin, and while I am a working photographer, I have been an artist all my life and I would consider myself an artist first.
And I happen to love watercolor painting, It’s my favorite traditional medium! It’s even possible you may have even seen me on TV, on Sky Art’s Landscape Artist of the Year 2019. I was asked to join as a reserve artist for the finalists. I ended up with a little bit of TV time with my painting being featured in the wildcard group.
This passion is the reason I’ve dedicated this whole site to watercolor tools and tutorials. And is my intention to develop it into the number one watercolor resource on the internet.
Of all the painting mediums, watercolor is really the easiest to get into, and also I’ve found to be the cheapest.
Which Watercolor Supplies should you get?
Use the table of contents above to pick which artist you are to better match the beginner watercolor supplies that suit you. Remember that not everyone’s the same, we are all at different budget levels.
So which supplies you need may differ from others. Stick to your budget constraints, because in watercolor there can be some really big prices, so be careful of diminishing returns!
The Beginner Watercolor Artist on a Budget
So you’ve just started out, that’s great, you’re starting an amazing journey to learn the watercolor craft. Let me show you what you need:
Beginner Watercolor Budget Paper
Getting the right paper is so important. I’ve been burnt by choosing bad quality paper as it really hinders your learning process. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend an arm and a leg.
As a beginner I do suggest A4, anything too big can be daunting so this is the perfect size.
These two watercolor paper pads’ smoothness means they are great for illustrators and painters alike, but especially if you are painting fine lines or comic art:
- Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Smooth Pad, 9″x12″ Tape Bound, 20 Sheets – My favorite of the two, and quite popular, you can find this pad at most art and stationary shops.
- Strathmore Ready Cut Watercolor, Hot Press, 5″ x 7″, White, 25 Sheets – decent quality paper at an affordable price. One of my go to brands when I started off.
The following two watercolor paper pads have a bit of roughness to them and are my favorite for landscapes and portraits:
- Canson XL Series Watercolor Pad – this is cold press, textured paper. Recommended for use with not just watercolor, but acrylic, pen & ink, marker, colored pencil, pencil, charcoal, and pastel. The durable surface withstands repeated washes, great for watercolor. The pad contain 30 sheets of 140 lb /300 gram acid free paper. I used the mixed media version for copics as well.
4. Canson Artist Series Montval Watercolor, 140lb , 9″x12″, 20 Sheets – another paper pad I used to find at local retailers.
Beginner Watercolor Budget Paint
Now we have to put some paint on your chosen paper. Of all the painting mediums, when it comes to watercolor you can spend little and go far, which is one of the many reasons why I love it.
For a beginner I definitely suggest buying Pans over Tubes. Click that link to see the difference. But in short, pans are simpler and easy to transport.
The second suggestion is to not get professional grade paints, instead get artist grade. The good watercolor brands will offer the two ranges. Interestingly, plenty of professionals use artist grade paints to deliver exceptional work. It also helps that it’s cheaper:
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolour Sketch Pocket Box – Even for professionals I would suggest getting this pocket box. It comes with 12 half pan colors, which is more than enough to do a full landscape painting.
The box isn’t the traditional metal tin. It’s plastic, but that makes it incredibly light which makes it great for travelling with.
It also comes with a small travel brush in it. It’s only a size #1 but it can be handy.
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolour Sketch Pocket Box – I bought these for my wife. They come in the same plastic case as its smaller sibling, but it’s well built and will last with care.
There are 45 half pans, which is more than enough to last months of good usage.
Winsor and Newton is a trusted brand amongst artists, and their artist grade range, Cotman, are used by many artists who can testify to the paints being amazing at a good value price point.
Beginner Watercolor Budget Brushes
While I categorize this as budget I’m not listing any super cheap brushes that will last a week. If you get rubbish brushes that don’t hold a point, instead of encouraging you, they’ll have the opposite effect. You want the cheapest brushes from quality brands.
- Winsor & Newton Foundation Water Colour Short Handle 7 Pack Brush – Round 1 & 6, Rigger 2, Filbert 1/4″, One Stroke 3/8″, Angled 1/8″, Fan 2
- Ohuhu Water Coloring Brush Pens, Set of 6 – If you don’t fancy traditional brushes, these are great because you can fill them with water and you’re ready to go. These make them perfect for travel too.
I personally don’t use chisel edges or fans but I know painters who do, so it’s great to experiment. If you want to buy individually I would go with a few rounds and my favorite brushes – mops:
- Winsor and Newton Series 111 Cotman Water Color Brush Short Handled – Round #1
- Winsor & Newton Series 111 Cotman Water Color Short Handle Synthetic Brush – Round #4
- Winsor and Newton Series 111 Cotman Water Color Brush Short Handled – Round #6
These brushes are great for A4 paper. The last brush I would recommend are mop brushes, which are perfect for making washes. I personally use all sizes and compliment my watercolor brush set with a few rounds.
- Winsor and Newton Series 111 Cotman Water Color Brush Short Handled – Round #10
These are a few things that a beginner will not have that would come in handy:
- Masking/Gum Tape – before applying paint, the paper needs to be stretched out. Regular masking tape is universally used to tape down paper. Aesthetically it also leaves a white border after you’ve peeled the tape off.
- Easel – If I’m home I usually use a table, I don’t like to be constricted, as I like to move the painting about. But if I’m painting outside I use an easel. I would stay away from wooden easels. They’re heavy and cumbersome. This easel is similar to mine, but I sawed off the legs so I can attach it to my photography tripod.
- Gatorfoam Board – In my quest for light watercolor supplies and tools I have experimented with many boards from MDF to plastics. I am currently recommending the 10mm Gatorfoam board, which is an extruded polystyrene foam board, bonded between two layers of resin impregnated wood-fibre veneer. It’s super light yet strong enough to withstand multiple watercolor wetting.
- Plastic Palette – paint tins have maybe two or one large well, a cheap plastic palette will allow you to make more mixes.
- Sponge – not just for make texture patterns, I a sponge to soak up water in the brush quicker.
The Beginner Watercolor Artist with a Healthy Budget
This is where you need to be careful. Remember what I said about diminishing returns? Just because you can afford better supplies and paper doesn’t mean you should get it.
Be smart and get the value for the money you lay out. Getting the most expensive paper and using it for practice painting is not a smart move.
Beginner Watercolor with a Healthy Budget Paper
With a bit more of a budget I suggest not going up in price per sheet, but going up a size. What I used to do was buy A3 paper and cut it to size. I still do sometimes with the odd sheet.
That way I could also challenge myself with a bigger canvas. However as I said earlier, starting smaller when you are a beginner will yield better results.
- Cass Art Jumbo Gummed Watercolour Pad 300GSM 50 SHEETS.
- Canson XL Series Watercolor Textured Paper Pad, 140lb, 12″x18″, 30 Sheets
Go with the first one from Cass Art if it’s available in your area. I always promote this brand to beginners and I actually still buy these pads. It’s not an affiliate link but the philosophy of this website starting out is to offer the best advice regardless.
The Canson XL is actually a better alternative, but it usually works out a bit dearer per sheet.
Beginner with a Healthy Budget Watercolor Paint
I would actually still recommend the watercolor paint sets for a beginner with a smaller budget again. So I will list here a few alternatives.
- Schmincke Horadam, Set 36 Half Pans
- Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Full-Pan Paint Metal, Set 24 Pans
- Schmincke : Akademie Watercolour Paint, Set of 12 Half Pans with 1 Davinci Brush Trip
Schmincke Horadam are a German watercolor paint supplier who have beautiful rich colors. I have experimented with nearly every brand available, and Schminke and Daniel Smith are my two favored brands.
The quality is reflected in the prices, Schmincke is very expensive. But if you have the budget and you are comfortable sticking to one brand for a while, this is a good brand to pledge allegiance.
Beginner with a Healthy Budget Watercolor Paint Brushes
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Brush Short Handle (Pack of 7) – The cotman range is the cheaper student range from Winsor & Newton. Included in this set are 2 rounds, 2 flats, a rigger, a chisel edge, and a fan.
Again if you don’t fancy a pack, as I would not personally use a chisel edge or fan. You could alternatively get a few rounds and some mops.
- Winsor & Newton Series 111 Cotman Water Color Short Handle Synthetic Brush – Round #2
- Winsor and Newton Series 111 Cotman Water Color Brush Short Handled – Round #8
- Winsor and Newton Series 111 Cotman Water Color Brush Short Handled – Round #12
Getting a few mops for those big A3 pieces you may give a go at every now and then wouldn’t go a miss either.
- Da Vinci Watercolor Series 418 Petit Gris Pur Paint Brush, Wash/Mop Pure Russian Blue Squirrel, Size 2
Miscellaneous Beginner Watercolor Supplies/ Equipment
Additionally to the miscellaneous supplies for a beginner, I would suggest these extra watercolor tools with a bigger budget:
- Aluminium Watercolor Easel (I am a big fan of this form of easel, as opposed to wood)
- Collapsible Paint Brush Washer – speaks for itself really. Perfect for travel and the ridges hold the brushes when not in use.
- The Master’s Brush Cleaner & Preserver (Brush Soap)
- Paint Brush Holder, JTDEAL 22 Slots (Check this article for more options)
Travelling Watercolor Artist
To see how I travel and the supplies I bring, go check out my video on my travelling kit. If you like that then subscribe to my YouTube to see me in action when I’m out and about.
This section especially warrants its own article so here I will outline the basic essentials needed to get you going. I’ll actually list my personal travel kit. But this is ever changing, so be sure to return as I will update this list accordingly.
- Sennelier Watercolour Metal Tin of 12 Half pans Pocket Set – mine is metal, but it’s the same paint.
This paint set is favored by the great art teacher Marco Bucci. I too use it now when I travel. However I do change it up my Schminke 12 half pan set listed earlier in the article.
- Da Vinci Travel Series 1503 Maestro Watercolor Brush, Round Kolinsky Red Sable with Pocket Case Handle, Size 2
- Da Vinci Series 1503 “Pocket” Brush Selected Pure Kolinsky Size 4
No question. The Da Vinci travel brushes are the best travel brushes on the market. Beautiful sable tips in a compact size, these brushes will last years with good care.
- Strathmore Softcover Watercolor Art Journal, 8″ x 5.5″, White, 24 Sheets
I prefer to travel with A6 journals or cuts. To see how I get my paper cut check out my YouTube video for this.
This isn’t the complete list but is more than enough to get you out there painting. Pop these in bag and you’re good to go. And when you feel like spending a bit more, check out this article for the full kit.
Well I do hope you have found this beginner watercolor supplies guide useful. As the first article for this website I will continue to expand on the information here in more in depth articles.
So do make sure to return to see more useful tips and techniques explained, to help you with your watercolor journey.
As an incentive, consider joining my newsletter. I will be offering free content, and discount codes for the shop section, all exclusive to Newsletter subscribers.