This is a roundup of the watercolor supplies I’m using now.
My favorite artist-grade watercolor paint brands are Da Vinci and Holbein. Winsor & Newton, and Daniel Smith are also good. See: What’s the best artist-grade paint brand for beginners?
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):
- Dark blue or gray
- Earth orange
- Gold or earth yellow
- Violet or violet-blue
- Scarlet or orange
- How to Build a Watercolor Palette from the Ground Up
- What’s in my palette (Summer 2022)
- The Summer Palette
- The Autumn Palette
- The Winter Palette
- The Neon Palette II
- The Desert Palette
Holbein Artists’ Gouache (or Irodori) and Winsor & Newton Designers’ Gouache are my favorites. M. Graham and Schmincke Horadam Gouache are also good. 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 pop colors where maximum opacity is desired, Holbein is best; for dark or highly pigmented mixing colors, M. Graham works well.
These are my most-used gouache colors:
- White for lightening colors
- A dark color for darkening colors – either Payne’s Gray, Perylene Black, or just plain black
- Ultramarine Blue – great for skies
- Magenta/cool red, e.g. magenta, rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson
- Cyan/green-toned blue e.g. Phthalo Blue, Cobalt Teal, Prussian Blue
- Burnt Sienna
- Yellow Ochre or Naples Yellow
- Loose paper: My favorite is Arches Cold Press Bright White 140lb/300gsm. Saunders Waterford Cold Press High White is also good. Right now, my strategy is to buy loose sheets as small as I can get them (usually a quarter sheet) and cut them up.
- Blocks: Blocks are a good alternative to loose paper but less flexible in terms of size. My favorite is Arches Cold Press 7.9″ square.
- Travel sketchbook: Lighter-weight paper in a sketchbook is handy for travel. I like Moleskine Watercolor Album.
- Practice: Canson XL.
See also: Watercolor Paper 101
I’m less picky about paper for gouache. I like hot press (a smoother surface), but it doesn’t need to be Arches. Canson XL works well, as do cheaper block brands such as Fluid.
- Storage (Everyday): Art Toolkit Folio Palette
- Storage (Travel & Plein Air): Art Toolkit Pocket Palette
- Ceramic mixing palette, with wells: Sugarhouse Travel Palette with easy-to-clean glossy finish (I use two travel palettes instead of one standard because I find the smaller sizes more flexible to arrange, clean, and store)
- Ceramic mixing palette, without wells: Sylvan Minimal Palette #2
See also: Which watercolor palette should I choose?
- Storage: TBD, right now I work exclusively 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.
- Standard: Rosemary Red Dot Collection round size 6 or 8
- Skies & Large Areas: Isabey 5235 Petit Gris oval, size 4
- Swatching: Princeton Velvetouch round size 4
Synthetics work best. All good: Princeton Velvetouch, Rosemary Beginner Brushes, Etchr gouache brushes, Wonder Forest.
- Standard: Round size 6 or 8
- Skies & Large Areas: 1/2″ flat shader
See also: Watercolor Brushes 101
- Pencil: a 2mm lead holder
- Eraser: a soft kneadable eraser
- Waterproof liner: Sakura Micron or Deleter Neopiko-Line-3. I use size 01 for travel sketchbook or 05 for everyday.
- Waterproof brush pen: Zebra Zensations or Tombow Fudenosuke
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 brush pen (this comes with the Art Toolkit!) Using a water brush means I don’t need a water container.
- Waterproof liner: I like to draw outlines in my travel sketchbook because it’s harder to build up contours and values without using layers. Sakura Micron is waterproof, and Size 01 is a good size to go with an A6 mini sketchbook. 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: Travel Sketches: Nova Scotia
Misc Studio/Desk Supplies
- Clipboards: To work on multiple pieces at once, I like to tape my paper to a clipboard. I use basic plastic clipboards from a big box office supply store. I find plastic ones easier to wipe clean than particle board. The clip part doesn’t matter because I have to tape them down on all sides anyway; any portable hard surface you don’t mind taping/dirtying will work. If you work larger than 8.5×11, consider drawing boards from an art supply store.
- A credit card is useful for multiple purposes (physically, I mean, not just its ability to buy art supplies). It can be used to detach paper from a watercolor block, or to make marks in paint. I keep an old transit card in my art kit for the purpose.
- Paper cutter: I use Cheap Joe’s Handheld Paper Cutter to cut large sheets of watercolor paper into the smaller sizes that I like to paint on. A large swing-arm cutter would be more effective, but I like this glorified letter opener because it’s small, easy to store, and can handle any size of paper.
- Tape: Holbein Soft Tape
- 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.
Books on Color
- 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
Miscellaneous Painting Books
- Powerful Watercolor Landscapes by Catherine Gill
- Wilderness Watercolor Landscapes by Kolbie Blume
- The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws
Learning About Color
- Jane Blundell’s Blog
- Handprint.com (Bruce MacEvoy) Pigment Database (2010-2014)
- Art is Creation Pigment Database
- Oto Kano’s Pigment Database and Youtube Channel
- Kim Crick’s Pigment Database and Youtube Channel
- Denise Soden’s Youtube Channel
Free Online Tutorials to Get You Started
- #PaintingtheWilderness 10 Day Challenge – Kolbie Blume
- Tree Tutorial – Watercolor by Shibasaki (Japanese, English subtitles available)
- How to Paint a Landscape – Jess Chung
- How to Start a New Sketchbook – Ruth Wilshaw
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