Favorite Watercolor Supplies

Hey everyone!

i get so many questions about my supplies, that i thought i’d take the time to sit down, find links for all my favorites at different price points, and write up a comprehensive list for you all.

i work in a variety of media, so i’m going to add to the list over time so it stays all in one place. But i’m starting with my favorite watercolor supplies today. Choice of supplies is highly personal, so i don’t intend this post to be definitive about what is best. These are merely MY FAVORITES and supplies that i keep stocked in my own studio. None of these manufacturers are sponsoring this post. And even if they were, i would never share or recommend a product i didn’t use and really like, myself. The links below are affiliate links. But feel free to use them or not. i’m happy to share regardless. : )



My favorites are always Cold Press papers. i prefer the toothier/rougher surface than the smoothness of Hot Press. An art instructor in college always told us to remember the difference this way; Hot Press is smooth as though a hot iron was used. Cold Press is bumpy like your skin when you’re cold. The texture of Cold Press is so quintessentially watercolor for me. Plus, i do think it’s more forgiving if you aren’t a master. i’m definitely not a master! One down side is that it’s more challenging to scan since the textured surface in unpainted areas is picked up as color/shading and needs to be edited away of you intend to reproduce the art. Meh. It’s a small price to pay for me. But to each her own. Here are my go-to choices at 3 budget levels.

$Canson Cold Press tablet with perforated pages just fine for everyday and for tossing in your bag  |  Montval Watercolor Pad, 5.5″X8.5″ Top Wire

$$Fabriano Artistico Cold Press Paper – i like this one a lot. Love the surface and the way it absorbs the watercolor.   |  Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Extra White Block 9″x12″ 300gsm CP 20 Sheets

$$$Arches Cold Press Watercolor Block – This is largely considered the gold standard. it’s pretty spectacular. The “block” means the pages are glued on all sides (you have to cut them free with an x-acto blade) to help prevent buckling as you paint with lots of water. i use this paper when i do a commissioned painting. It really is superior. You can lift color and the paper doesn’t turn to mush. : )  |  Watercolor Block, Cold Press 10″X14″



Essentially, i always want the description of the watercolors to have “transparent,” or “clear and bright” in it somewhere. My prfereed palette for my work is very airy and feminine. So while some folks might look for paints that yield rich darks and jewel tones (which some of these do),the best watercolors for me are ones that can offer vivid color even in watery washes. The least expensive sets out there usually have more binders/less pigment and can tend to dry duller and muddier. That said, you can drop $400+ on the most high end watercolors…..so….finding a happy medium is like finding the holy grail. i certainly haven’t tried every brand out there, but i’ve tried a lot and these are the sets i’ve been leaning on most heavily the past year or so.

$Angora Pan Set – This is my “cheapie set” that i use for quick little sketches. The colors are very nice and while some are a bit chalkier/opaque…it’s still a great pan set for the price and travels well. i don’t mind if my kids use it too. The lid is hinged and makes for a good blending palette. The color selection is fun and whimsical with periwinkle and coral; not just your basic primary colors. |  Angora Watercolor 36 Pan Set

$$ – Sakura XNCW-30N Koi Field 30 Assorted Watercolors with Brush Sketch Set – i have this set and it’s a really nice quality without breaking the bank. The included mini water brush means all you have to do is find some paper and you’re good to go, anywhere you go. |  Sakura XNCW-30N Koi Field 30 Assorted Watercolors with Brush Sketch Set

 $$$Mission Gold Tube Watercolors Set of 36 with Pallet/Case – This is one of my favorite sets. Had it on my wish list for a while and my parents gave it to me for Christmas. They are so sweet. : ) It has tube watercolors, not dry bricks/pans…so a little less convenient for traveling…. but the colors are intense and bright and clear. This set was definitely more expensive when i got mine! It looks pretty reasonable now! So maybe you can snag a deal.  |  Mission Gold Water Color Palette Set, 36 Colors

BONUS**** LOVE!! i HAVE to mention Nicholson’s Peerless Transparent Watercolors in any conversation about watercolor. i LOVE mine!!!…but they are certainly unique. They come as a loose card deck with dried pigment on individual cards….so you either have to splay the cards out on the table to use them, or make yourself a little palette. Lots of artistshave done tutorials on youtube for  little travel folios with card swatches attached inside. (Jane Davenport’s Tutorial is pretty darned good) i did this for mine and it’s awesome. These paints are the BEST!!! Gorgeous, beautifully intense, yet transparent colors. i LOVE them! The price point is totally within reach, so definitely snag some to play around with.  |  Peerless Watercolor Complete Edition Book



If i could only have one brush…i’d have a number 8 or 10 round tapered sable brush. My 2nd (and completely opposite) love is a Pentel Aquash water brush because it is so versatile. Generally, sable, squirrel and other natural hair brushes are best for watercolor because they hold more water/color. Synthetic brushes can do a fine job too.

My rule of thumb shopping for brushes at  your local craft store…..don’t buy the bargain brushes. Beware bulk packs that seem too cheap to be true. Tug a little on brush bristles to see if they come out easily. Invest in the $8, $10 or $20 brushes and just own a few. Watercolor brushes are easy to take care of and can last forever (unlike acrylic brushes for me ~ i wreck them after a year or so! : )) 2-5 excellent watercolor brushes are worth the investment in my opinion. They won’t fight you. My paintings are better for them.

$Pentel Aquash Water brush – Perfect for travel and tossing in your bag. The water reservoir in the handle lasts surprisingly long if you are painting in a small sketchbook. The “Fine” tip size has a nice fine/pointy taper. i haven’t had luck with other brands of water brushes.  There is a marked difference in my experience.  |  Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush Assorted Tips, Pack of 3 (FRHBFMBP3)

$ Simply Simmons Synthetic – Round 8 – This brush is so inexpensive, it’s hard to believe it performs as well as it does. i find myself reaching for it time and again. It holds a good amount of water, has great spring-back and keeps it’s lovely tapered point very well. i have a size 10 also. Great choice if you’re just starting or aren’t wanting to invest in those crazy expensive sable brushes yet : )  |  Robert Simmons Simply Simmons Watercolor & Acrylic Short-Handle Brushes 8 round synthetic mix

$ Black Velvet Silver – Round 2 (Squirrel/Risslon) – i do a lot of detailed work when i paint portraits…hair, eyes, clothing textures. i love this soft, tapered brush because it manages to be fine AND holds a good amount of water at the same time. i reach for it again and again.  Black Velvet Silver – Round 2 (Squirrel/Risslon)

$$Princeton Synthetic Sable Set – This set is not too expensive and has all the brushes i’d really need for a painting. Nothing fancy, but a good starter set that includes a #10 round Taper, which is my go-to.  |  Princeton Heritage, Golden Taklon Brushes for Warercolor & Acrylic, Series 4050 Synthetic Sable, Professional Set

 $$$ Kolinsky Sable (Many companies make Kolinsky sables – this is just one.) i only own my FAVORITE shape/style of brushes in this fabrication.  One brush can cost multiple $100s of dollars. Awesome if you have the budget. But i’m not sure if they are one hundred dollars more awesome? Like i said, i have 2 in small sizes that are less of a huge ticket price. When i paint small, they are definitely the ones i grab. But not sure i’ll add the huge ones to my collection anytime soon. The size 8 linked here is lovely.  |  Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolor Brush – Round 8

i hope this roundup of some of my personal favorite watercolor supplies was helpful. Remember, every artist is different and the selection of your tools and supplies is highly personal. Experiment to find what works best for you!

Stay tuned for my next post on some favorite Acrylic Painting Supplies. xo, s















My Favorite ARt Materials

All in one place, with links! Here is a list and little bit of commentary on my favorite art materials, folks! If you are taking part in the Layers of Color Workshop starting in April, this is a great reference. You don’t need to rush off and buy anything though. My advice would be to grab some basics and then read the posts/watch the videos. If you see a technique, tool or material you think looks awesome, go for it! But you likely won’t want to try absolutely everything you see. Listen to your gut and just work with the items that excite you!

I’ve broken it down into parts bc i work lots of different ways. Hopefully, this will organize things nicely.

Drawing & Sketching

Paper – i sketch on printer paper all the time. Cheap and readily available. It’s nice when it’s not precious. You sorta feel more free to be imperfect. i also keep proper sketchbooks of all kinds, none better than the rest to me. Now, for artwork, i am more specific. For sketching portraits, i like Canson Mi Tientes paper or Strathmore Bristol. i use the Canson in mid-tones for chalk & charcoal facial portraits. It has a light weight but nice texture for the portrait to give it a very timeless appearance.  The Bristol is good for slicker, modern, fun ink drawings and doodles. It’s smooth vellum surface takes smooth ink lines and vivid color from markers, colored pencils very well.

Pens – i use Pigma Micron pens and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens for all my ink drawings. i use all the nib sizes, but love the teeniest ones best for my intricate doodles. The brush tip is great for adding line weight when i do cartoons.

Pencils – Oh lord….i like pencils a lot. i use mechanical pencils for my sketches because i like a constantly sharp tip. i buy them at Staples in bulk, because they are always disappearing from my office! For finished artwork, i use Derwent Graphite pencils. i have this set and use almost every hardness when i do a shaded portrait. i start with a super sharp H and work my way up to the softest 6B for adding depth. It’s a great set if you’re into shading. I have the big set of Prismacolor colored pencils. My favorites get replaced individually when i can’t hold the nub anymore. i keep them in these handy cases. Last set of faves is my Derwent inktense pencils. They are water-soluble and full of color! Imagine drawing a whole picture, then being able to go back and make your colored pencil drawing look like a watercolor painting…yeah, kinda like that.

Miscellaneous – i always keep tracing paper on-hand, for tracing off nice clean images from my messy sketches. i also keep little swatches of it under my drawing hand when using graphite or pastel so i don’t smudge it all up. i also can’t live without my lightboxes. i have a laptop-sized one with a curved edge so you don’t dent your paper by leaning on it accidentally. And i have a huge tabletop one. i transfer drawings with it, i use it when i’m watercoloring letters so i don’t need a pencil outline….love it.


Paper – i keep cheaper brands on hand for quick studies and sketches, but i will admit to preferring Arches and Fabriano papers for any finished work. They are pricier. i wince when i buy them. But the way they take color and allow you to lift color….oh man, you can really tell the difference. It’s like magic. i love the toothy look of cold pressed papers. i feel like they really scream WATERCOLOR! But the velvety refinement of hot press is nice sometimes too. i always remember my art teacher telling us that we should imagine an iron….if it’s cold, it won’t get all the bumps out (cold press = bumpy paper)…if the iron is hot, all the wrinkles come out (hot press= smooth paper). i also watercolor right in my sketchbook all the time. i just don’t do any floods of water which would overly warp the pages. A little warping is ok : )

Paints – ummm….i sort of collect watercolor paint. So maybe i should just share my absolute faves? For dry pan sets, i like this 36-pan set by Talens Angora and this 24-pan one by Koi which is good for travel. For intense color, i add in bits and bobs of other stuff like dyna-flow fabric/textile paint, liquid watercolors from Dr. Ph Martins and Derwent Inktense water soluble pencils (also mentioned above). i don’t use tube watercolors very much anymore, but they are fine too! Lastly, i like to do overlays with white and other semi-opaque colors a lot, so i have a nice set of Holbein Artist’s gouache handy. I have whole set of colors in tiny tubes because you don’t need much! Then i have a large tube of white because i use it a lot. (loosely translated, Gouache=opaque watercolors)

Brushes – i like these brushes by Kuretake for travel or for watercolor sketching on the couch or in bed….places i don’t want a jar of water cramping my style : ) Their handle is actually a water reservoir that you access by squeezing. My kids think they’re fun. But i have a zillion traditional brushes too and prefer round or taper brushes most of the time, sable bristles or synthetic. Proper watercolorists like flat brushes for color fills, i think…but i rarely use mine. i also really like itty bitty detail brushes and also liner brushes that have long, bendy bristles for loops and lines.

Miscellaneous – Keep lots of paper towels handy. i fold 2 or 3 and tuck the edge under my water jar. Always lots of blotting going on! Blue painters tape is always handy to me also. i always muck up my paper with traditional masking tape, so the blue stuff saves me wrecking my paintings. Masking tape is stronger though, so use what you like.


Canvas – i like artist canvas in the deep profile from utrecht. i use squares 90% of the time. i have no idea why! i am just drawn to them. i DO buy bulk packs of low profile cheapo canvas from the craft store to mess around on when i’m experimenting or working with my kids. But honestly, you can’t really mess up a canvas. If you hate your painting, just paint over it! So i say get the size/depth/quality you like and go for it.

Paints – Acrylic paints – another obsession. Plan to take a bit of time when you are building up an arsenal of acrylics, because it’s easy to go broke! i buy a couple every time i’m in the art store and then do bigger purchases online at blick or utrecht. 80% of the time, i use fluid (or soft body) acrylics. They are the consistency of heavy cream. i use Golden and Liquitex. i do own heavier body acrylics that hold their shape more (in tubes). i have craft store brands,  student grade brands, and also Liquitex BASICS, Windsor & Newton Galeria and Amsterdam. But i mostly just use these to lay down broad areas of color for backgrounds, especially on large canvases. i don’t like to build up texture, just not my thing, so the fluids are my go-to. Last thing! Paint pens. Liquitex acrylic paint pens and Montana paint pens (smaller nib sizes) are great if you are not so steady with the liner brush and want to add doodles and thin linework to your paintings.

Brushes – For backgrounds, i like big, soft, fluffy round brushes that really hold a lot of paint and blend well. For mid-layers, i generally use 1/2″ to 1 1/2″ flat brushes – filbert(rounded) or square bristles. For top details, i use liner brushes and smaller, long-handled filberts most often. These are all preferences based on the shapes and strokes i like to make. But lord knows you should experiment and use whatever feels good to you. There are 8 gazillion brushes out there! If i could only have 2 brushes, i’d want my 1/2″ filbert long handle and a #6 round brush short handle.  But thank goodness that’s not the case! : ) i generally like soft synthetic bristles or soft natural bristles like sables. But natural, stiffer bristles are nice sometimes when i want to do a bit of texture-y/scratchy brush work.

Miscellaneous – i love my grey paper palette. i HATE cleanup, so paper palettes are my favorite. Tear off your mess and toss it. The grey kind helps mix dark and light color values bc it gives you a perfect middle tone to compare to. Again, paper towels! A good adjustable spray bottle like this. You can mist your canvas surface to keep paint moist and help mix colors. you can spray a stream of water to cause drips. You can mist your palette to keep paint from getting a skin. i love having this rolling cart to hold paints and this rolling table for my other side to hold my palette and water bucket and brushes. Is lighting a supply? Because you really need good light. sit by a window if at all possible. My electrician husband has also hooked me up with all kinds of extra lights and i have a full spectrum Ott light from my sewing days that i use on particularly dreary days too. It’s not an artist’s light, per se. But i find it really useful.

Additional must-haves in my studio: TV! i like to watch crime shows and sitcoms while i paint. Music usually makes me feel too lonely. i know….i am weird! If it’s a nice, sunny day and my windows are open, that’ll be the exception. Those days are so cheery to begin with, music is ok ; ) A chair. i also think this might be weird? i almost always sit at my easel rather than stand. Camera and tripod; i take high res photos at background and mid-stages of my paintings. Then i use them when i make digital art later as fills and textures. Work smarter, not harder, people! Multi-tasking is my middle name.

OK! i think i listed every darned thing. If i’ve left you with any burning questions, please ask and i’ll amend the post!

Hope it is helpful!