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)
$$$ - 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