Supplies Guide

This is a roundup of the watercolor supplies I currently recommend. I am not a brand ambassador for any brand, do not use affiliate links, and have generally avoided linking to specific products (unless they’re otherwise very hard to find).

Paint

Watercolor Paint

Brands

My favorite artist-grade watercolor paint brands, in order of preference:

  • Da Vinci (DV)
  • Holbein (HO)
  • Winsor & Newton (WN)
  • Daniel Smith (DS)
  • Mission Gold (MI)
  • Schmincke Horadam (SH)

See also:

Colors

What specific colors you need is so subjective, and my personal faves are always changing, but here’s the basic formula I use when building a watercolor palette (roughly in order of importance):

  1. Dark blue or gray
  2. Yellow
  3. Magenta
  4. Cyan
  5. Earth orange
  6. Gold, yellow-orange, or earth yellow
  7. Violet-blue or or violet
  8. Red or orange
  9. Green or turquoise
  10. Earth tones that match your natural environment

See also:

Some specific watercolor palettes I’ve built:

Gouache Paint

Brands

My favorite gouache brands, roughly in order of preference:

  • Holbein Artist’s Gouache
  • M. Graham Gouache
  • Winsor & Newton Designers’ Gouache
  • Schmincke Horadam Gouache

One thing to note is that Holbein is the thickest/creamiest, and M. Graham tend to be more on the thin/watery side, and WN and SH somewhere in the middle, which influences which colors I choose from which brands. For coverage colors where maximum opacity is desired, Holbein is best; for dark or highly pigmented mixing colors, M. Graham works well.

See also:

Colors

These are my most-used gouache colors:

  • Titanium White
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Any dark color (e.g. Payne’s Gray, Lamp Black, Perylene Black)
  • Primary Yellow
  • Primary Magenta
  • Primary Cyan
  • Burnt Sienna (WN is my favorite)
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Warm yellow e.g. HO Marigold
  • Scarlet e.g. SH Vermilion Hue

See Also:

Paper

Watercolor Paper

At home, I prefer to use loose paper taped to a board or clipboard, so I can have several going at once. I’ve determined that the most pleasant and cost-effective brands & format for me is Arches cold press 140lb/300gsm gluebound pads. If the paper size is too large for the painting I want to do, I will draw a box or cut the paper down with a Cheap Joe’s Handheld Paper Cutter.

On the go, I use a small travel sketchbook; the smallest Moleskine Watercolor Album fits nicely in my Art Toolkit.

I rarely work in a studio sketchbook at home, but when I do, I enjoy the Etchr Perfect Sketchbook. It’s spendy but the paper is really nice.

I use inexpensive pads for practice and swatching; typically Canson XL.

See also:

Paper reviews/comparisons:

Gouache Paper

I’m less picky about paper for gouache, but I prefer a smoother surface than for watercolor paper. I typically use Canson XL or any cheap hot press pad/block.

Palettes

Watercolor Palettes

  • Storage (Home): Art Toolkit Folio Palette
  • Storage (Travel & Plein Air): Art Toolkit Pocket Palette
  • Mixing (Home): Sugarhouse Travel Palette with easy-to-clean glossy finish. I love how light these are. The thinner sizes (e.g. travel or 8-well) are easier to clean because I can fit them in my bathroom sink. I prefer having wells to mix in because it keeps my colors separate.

See also: Which watercolor palette should I choose?

Gouache Palettes

  • Storage: None, I work from the tube
  • Mixing: Mijello Peelable Palette. It’s plastic and thinner paint tends to bead (ceramic would be nicer), but with gouache I don’t find ceramic as essential and I like having more mixing space to work on. As large as this is, I’m often running out of space. A ceramic palette of this size would be very heavy. I don’t prefer wells for gouache because the paint is thicker so it doesn’t run together.

Brushes

Watercolor

  • Standard: Rosemary Red Dot Collection round size 6 or 8
  • Skies & Large Areas: Isabey 5235 Petit Gris oval size 4 or Rosemary Sienna oval 1/2″
  • Swatching: Princeton Velvetouch round size 4 or 6

Gouache

Synthetics work best.

  • Standard: Princeton Velvetouch round size 6 or 8
  • Skies & Large Areas: 1/2″ flat shader

See also: Watercolor Brushes 101

Other Supplies

Drawing Supplies

  • Pencil: a 2mm lead holder
  • Eraser: a soft kneadable eraser
  • Waterproof liner: Sakura Micron. I use size 01 for travel sketchbook or 05 for everyday.
  • Waterproof brush pen: Zebra Zensations or Tombow Fudenosuke
  • Ruler: any

See Also: Which drawing pens are the most waterproof?

Plein Air/Outdoor Kit

  • Carrying case: I use an Art Toolkit.
  • Water brush: I use a medium Pentel Aquash brush pen (this comes with the Art Toolkit!) Using a water brush means I don’t need a water container.
  • Waterproof liner: Sakura Micron 01. I don’t tend to bring a pencil/eraser or brush pen on my travels, it’s quicker to sketch directly in pen and I don’t overthink it as much.
  • Travel palette: I use an Art Toolkit Pocket Palette, stocked with a selection of paints designed for whatever location I’m going to.
  • Travel sketchbook: I like Moleskine Watercolor Album, 3.5″ x 5.5″, preferably in landscape. This comes with the Art Toolkit!
  • Brush cleaning cloths: At home I use old washcloths or paper towels; in my plein air kit, I keep reusable painting towels from Etsy sellers such as ArrayedInGrace or HerArtsAndCrafts, or Hamamonyo Gauze Pile Handkerchiefs.

See Also:

Misc Studio/Desk Supplies

  • Water cups – I like mason jars because they’re see-through (so you can see how dirty your water is) and hefty enough not to tip over. 
  • Rags or paper towels for brush wiping, cleanup, and lifting.
  • Clipboards to work on multiple pieces at once – any random office supply clipboard works if you work under 8.5×11. Masonite boards for larger paintings.
  • Tape to hold down loose paper onto the clipboard. Holbein Soft Tape is the best.
  • Paper cutter – I use Cheap Joe’s Handheld Paper Cutter to cut large sheets of watercolor paper into the smaller sizes.
  • A credit card can be used to detach paper from a watercolor block, or to make marks in paint.

See also:

Learning Resources

Online Resources

Free Online Tutorials to Get You Started

Watercolor

Gouache

Online Resources for Learning About Color

Arranged roughly from beginner-friendly to intense.

Books

Tutorial Books

  • Kolbie Blume’s tutorial books: Wilderness Watercolor Landscapes, Stunning Watercolor Seascapes, Mastering Light in Watercolor (@thiswritingdesk)
  • Stunning Watercolor Skies by Rachael Mae Moyles (@proximae.artistry)
  • Bold and Beautiful Watercolor Skies by Zaneena Nabeel (@aurorabyz)
  • Vibrant Watercolor by Geethu Chandramohan (@colourfulmystique)

Books on Color & Light

  • The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair
  • Exploring Color Workshop by Nita Leland
  • Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie
  • Urban Sketching Handbook: Working with Color by Shari Blaukopf
  • Local Color by Mimi Robinson
  • Color and Light by James Gurney

Books on Landscapes, Nature, & Misc

  • Painting Beautiful Watercolor Landscapes by Joyce Hicks
  • Powerful Watercolor Landscapes by Catherine Gill
  • The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws
  • Step-by-Step Guide to Botanical Drawing and Painting by Hidenari Kobayashi
  • Really anything in the Urban Sketching Handbook series

What Next? Paid Subscriptions & Places to Find Classes

  • Adventure Art Academy – Claire Giordano creates monthly on-location plein air tutorials in wild places; access to an informative forum.
  • Artist Co-op – Kolbie Blume holds monthly live workshops; access to a lively and supportive forum.
  • Art Toolkit – generally one-off workshops/single classes, more expensive per class, curated with excellent teachers (but no subscription fee!)
  • Shelby Thayne offers workshops on layered mountains and night skies
  • Skillshare is full of classes, to the point I found it overwhelming. Since there is no time limit and no social features, it’s probably worth it only if you plan to do a lot of tutorials (it’s so easy to let a subscription service chunk on without using it).
  • Your local community college, adult/continuing ed program, or community center. Nature centers sometimes also have nature journaling workshops. These have the benefit of being in person and allowing real interaction with a teacher and fellow students, though they are often more expensive.