Recommended Watercolor Supplies

I have been painting with watercolors for thirty years now and have taught classes for twenty and I have experimented with many different kinds of paints, paper and brushes along the way. I have learned what I prefer to use and what works best for new students just entering the wonderful world of watercolor painting. I have put together a list of my favorite painting supplies that I know work well and will hopefully save some frustration for all of you fellow artists out there. 

Watercolor Paints

I recommend using watercolor paints that come in tubes. Artist or professional grade watercolors contain a full pigment load while student grade watercolors have similar working characteristics but with lower concentrations of pigment. If you are just starting out, it can be expensive to buy a large range of colors that are artist grade so a good but inexpensive starter set works just fine - I recommend Reeves student grade watercolor set (available at Hobby Lobby). This way, you can start with a good selection of colors and then later replace colors as you need to with artist quality paints.

Windsor Newton is the most well known artist grade watercolors on the market and you can buy each color/tube separately. Their student grade brand is Grumbacher. For several years now I have used American Journey artist grade watercolor made by Cheap Joe's (a catalog art supply store located in North Carolina) because the quality of paint and color selection is wonderful and you get so much more paint for your money.

Palettes and Paint Colors

I recommend using a large palette with a lid and filling the wells with paint. Many students just want to squirt out a pea sized blob of paint but it is much better to have a large area of color for your brush to pick up. The paints will dry hard and then you just spray them with water to soften them up before you paint. Some artist prefer to squirt out fresh paint each time but that gets VERY expensive. There are many types of plastic watercolor palettes and you don't need to spend a lot of money on one. I have used the John Pike palette which is 11x15, made of a hard plastic and has 20 wells and also a Holbein palette, 11x15 inches, softer plastic with 22 paint wells.  
As a starter set of colors I recommend a cadmium yellow, cadmium red, ultra marine blue, phthalo blue, sap or hooker's green, yellow ochre and burnt sienna.

I am currently using American Journey watercolors and my colors, starting at the upper left of my palette shown above, are Purssian Blue, Shadow, Raw Violet Umber, Quin Purple, Rose Madder, Opera, Flamingo Pink and Juan Brilliant, Cherry Red, Red Hot Mama, Halloween Orange and New Gamboge, Cad Yellow, Raw Sienna, Old Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Earthen Green, Spring Green, Hooker's Green, Phthalo Green, June Bug, Turquoise, Manganese and Phtalo Blue and
Ultra Marine Blue.


Brushes are either synthetic (man-made), animal hair (sable or other) or a blend of both. Synthetic brushes are more affordable and animal hair is suppose to hold more water because of their natural hair.

Years ago, when I first started painting I used Loew Cornell Series 7000 synthetic brushes because they were affordable. By the time I could afford a nice sable brush I found that they were too soft and floppy to provide the painting control that I liked, so I am still painting with the synthetic brushes.

There are alot of good brushes on the market and many blend the synthetic and animal hairs for the best of both worlds. Cheap Joe's has good brushes in all three levels - synthetic, blend and sable. I still love the Loew Cornell - very affordable and they come in all sizes of rounds, flats and liner brushes. What I love the most about them is that they hold the paint well, come to a nice, sharp point for detail and spring back into shape for painting control (not too soft). I do most of my painting with a #14 round and a 1 1/2 in flat shown to the right.

Watercolor Paper

You can use good but inexpensive brushes and paints but you should absolutely NOT go cheap on watercolor paper. I cannot stress enough how important it is to use GOOD paper. Alot of my students say they will wait to buy good paper until they are better at painting but it should really be the other way. Using bad paper is like cutting with dull scissors - it will frustrate you and make you feel like you do not know how to paint!

Watercolor paper comes in several weights or thicknesses - 90, 140 and 300 lb. The 90 lb is too thin to paint on and will buckle when wet, the 300 lb is very thick and more expensive so the 140 lb is what I use and recommend. They also come with different finishes to the paper - cold press has some tooth to it, hot press is slick like poster board and rough is nice for added texture. I use the cold press finish
Arches is the standard brand of watercolor paper and the best to paint on. It is professional grade made of 100% cotton rag. Other brands like Canson or Strathmore may be less expensive but they have a harder surface and the paint will sit on top of the paper instead of soaking in to give that nice soft, wet on wet look that we all love. These harder surfaces also make it difficult to layer the paint because the paint lifts off the paper too easily.

Arches sells their paper in large sheets (22x30 in) which can be torn or cut down to smaller sizes (you can also paint on both sides of the paper for practice). Paper sold in tablet or block form tends to be a harder finish also, and not the same quality. It used to be standard practice to pre-wet the paper and staple it to a board to stretch it as it dried before beginning painting. The papers today don't buckle like they use to and I never stretch my paper - you can tape it to a board or just paint on it loose. If needed after you are finished with a painting it can be ironed on the back to totally flatten it out.

Other Supplies

I am what I call a 'paper towel' painter since I always have one in my left hand to wipe the excess water from my paint brush if needed. I like to use the blue 'shop' paper towels found in the auto section of Walmart or other stores because they are stronger than regular kitchen ones and don't fall apart when wet. When one gets too wet I just toss it to the side and end up with a pile of paper towels that I can use over and over again when they have dried - when they get too dirty, I just toss them.

For a water container, the bigger the better because it keeps your water cleaner longer - the extra large peanut butter or nut plastic jars work great.

If I need to sketch something first I like to use a mechanical pencil because the lead gives you a nice thin line. I also use a kneaded eraser because it won't scar or scratch the watercolor paper and you don't have any little eraser crumbs to brush away. When you take it out of the package, just start mushing it into a ball to use, each time you use it you can stretch and knead it to warm it up and self clean the lead in it. 

Art Supply Catalog Companies - order online with great savings

Cheap Joe's Art Stuff-

Jerry's Artarama -