SERIES: My Favourite Art Supplies - Watercolour
Remember that time I said I was going to write blogs more regularly? Yeah me too, I’ve let us all down LOL. But guys, 2020 is the YEAR for doing things I’ve always wanted to because of the extra time! Typically I’m busy working with wedding clients on stationery and day-of signage, but thanks to Covid-19 obviously that’s not happening. Instead, I’m committed to doing a series of blog posts on all my favourite materials, starting with watercolour.
Hands down my most asked questions are “What brush is that?”, and “What paper do you use?”. There are SO MANY different watercolour products out there. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced watercolourist, the quality of your products is so important and largely affects your end result. In this blog I talk about the exact products I use, why I like them, and where to buy them. Here we go!
I use different papers for different things and the option I choose to use depends on the project at hand. These are the three must-haves in my studio:
This is the paper I use for all commission projects and high-end work. It’s the best watercolour paper out there and the price reflects that. It’s super sturdy, very textured, and usually comes on a block. Block watercolour pads are glued on the sides so they don’t warp as you apply water and paint. Use a craft blade to remove the page once you’re done.
In short, the difference between hotpress and coldpress paper is in the finish and texture. Coldpress has a slightly bumpy, textured surface which is usually the more popular choice for watercolourists, and hotpress has a smooth surface. Hotpress is a bit harder to find because it’s the less popular choice, but I found this one by Legion and love it.
Why would anyone use smooth watercolour paper you ask? Any project I do that requires print duplication (wedding invitations, art prints) means I have to scan and digitize the original artwork. When digitizing art, removing the background (aka the paper) from the image is the most important and time consuming step. Trying to remove a textured background in Photoshop is very tricky, so to make the process easier on myself I use smooth paper, which shows up less on a scan. I’ll admit, painting on smooth paper isn’t as nice as textured, but the less time spent in post-production the better.
This is the best option for beginners and for playing around. I always have a ton of this paper on hand and I use it for testing colours, spot painting (small paintings I use to make a larger compilation), and for practicing. It holds it’s shape well, is very affordable, and very accessible.
Unlike paper types, I use the same brushes for every project, and for some reason I’m less picky about my brushes than I am about paper. I believe you’re in full control of how you use your brush, regardless of the quality and I don’t think you need super high-end brushes to create a really good painting. That being said, don’t settle for dollar store stuff because you won’t have much success with them.
I use these brushes the most. Round brushes are full at the base, and taper to a fine point at the end. I like synthetic sable and I use a variety of brands, mostly Princeton 4050 Heritage Synthetic Sable Series. These brushes are ‘thirsty’ which means they soak up a lot of water, and I find them to be really ‘snappy’ which means they hold their form even when saturated. My favourite round brush sizes are 0 (for tiny details), 2, 3, 4, and 8 (for bigger washes).
Wash brushes are flat and square, perfect for applying large washes quickly. I use these for background colours on wedding invitations, or abstract coverage on larger pieces.
Fave flat wash brush here.
I’m very particular about paint, this is really where you’ll see a massive difference with your paintings. Don’t cheap out, especially if you’re just learning and want to develop your skills. If you use cheap paint you could easily get discouraged and think your mistakes are your fault, when it could in fact be the low quality paint you’re using. The goal with paint is to find really smooth, high colour value paints. The cheaper you go, the more you’ll notice strange grains / flecks, streaking, unsaturated colour, etc.
I’ve used Winsor & Newton paints since day one, and I have my Nana to thank for that! She used to teach painting classes and although she only used acrylic paints, she had a box of very old Winsor & Newton watercolours that she gave me when I started showing an interest in painting.
I had to scroll to the beginning of my Instagram to find this pic of the paints Nana gave me, they’re SO old.
I usually stick to the same 24 colour tubes and use those to mix all sorts of colours. I prefer Winsor & Newton professional grade but if they’re not accessible my second choice would be the Winsor & Newton Cotman grade.
This is how I set my palette up:
Fun fact- my all time favourite colour of watercolour paints is Payne’s Gray. The name is misleading because it’s actually a beautiful deep navy. I go through it like crazy and usually buy the bigger 14ml tube. Here’s a perfect Winsor & Newton set with the best colours.
Palettes and Mixing Plates
I’ve had the same palette forever, and I’m pretty sure my paints have stayed in the same position since I started painting. I like a palette with lots of small compartments around the edges to put individual colours, and a big empty area in the middle for mixing. I also love a palette with a lid to give you the option of travelling and containing your paints so they don’t end up scattered around your suitcase.
I couldn’t find the exact palette I have but this one is very similar.
If I’m working on a project over the course of a week or two, I’ll mix the colours separate from my paint palette in a mixing plate for safe keeping. I found this set of 12 for like $15!
Unlike other paint forms, highlights in watercolour are typically the paper showing through rather than white paint. If you’re unable to paint around an area to maintain the white paper (maybe it’s too small, or you don’t have a super steady hand), masking fluid comes in handy. It’s used to temporarily cover portions of your paper while you paint, revealing the white paper underneath when you’re done- magic!
This is my favourite masking fluid.
Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White
If my highlights didn’t turn out how I want them to, sometimes I ‘cheat’ by using this insanely opaque white ink by Dr. Ph. Martin. This doubles as calligraphy ink and is one of my favourite supplies in my studio.
Buy the bleed proof white ink here.
I hope this helps with building your watercolour kit. My best advice would be to test different products until you find your own favourites. Everyone’s style and technique is different so don’t be afraid to play around with new things! Happy painting!
UP NEXT: The second blog in my favourite art supplies series will be all about the calligraphy products I can’t live without. I’ll be discussing nibs, nib holders, inks, papers, and misc. tools of the trade. See you then!