Alt Text Frank M. Koran

Weapons of Choice – Materials

Sup y’all. What to use for watercolor? I often get a bunch of questions on what one should buy when starting out watercolor. Some assume that the clearance rack or the bargain materials (student grade) are a good place to start – which they are, just not for watercolor. I learned this the hard way after struggling to make my materials work for me. I was using a tiny little palette with poor quality paints and paper. I couldn’t figure out how to make my paintings actually look like a real watercolor painting.

First, the palette.

You’re going to want to get something that has plenty of wells to store your paint, and large open mixing spaces (preferably two) so that you may freely mix up large quantities of color. I like to have two so that I can divide those sections into warm and cool. What I recommend (and use) is the Robert E. Wood palette for watercolor. It costs about $20 dollars, and I’ve had mine for about 3 years now. As you can see from the featured picture, it gets a lot of use and has plenty of wells to squeeze color in.

Next, the paint

Paint is just as important as the palette you’re putting it in. Most newbies like to go for the cheap stuff as they wont be doing watercolor as often as a professional may be. The problem with this is the amount of pigment that comes in student grade paints. There is hardly any. When using student grade paints, your washes will look thin and the colors dull. Personally, I recommend Winsor & Newton professional grade watercolor paint. It’s packed with pigment and is relatively affordablen. Most paints will work, so long as they are NOT student grade.

Another useful bit of information to consider when buying paint is the amount of pigments inside each tube. I’d stay away from paints that combine multiple pigments to make one new color. For example, its always better to mix your own green or orange rather than using the color from a tube. That’s not to say I have no green or orange paints (I do) but I very much like mixing my own. Anyways, the Color Index (CI) is a list of identification numbers given to all colors and dyes. You can find these by looking on the back of a tube of paint. For example, cerulean blue will say “PB 35”, and scarlet lake will be “PR 188”.  I tend to avoid colors that combine more than one pigment, as I can make that myself.


Oh yeah, Masking fluid. This stuff is also called “Misket Frisket” and is used before paint goes down on the paper to preserve the whites so that the finish painting has a sort of “sparkle”. I’ll go more into this and it’s applications in another post. For now we’re just focusing on the bare bones.


This is the most important part by far. You can have all the right brushes, the right palette, and really awesome colors, but if they are laid down on second rate paper, you’re doomed. The only paper that is acceptable is Arches watercolor paper 140lb or higher. No exceptions. You can get it in cold press (medium tooth) hot press (minimal tooth) and rough (high tooth). I like to use cold and rough press because it adds the quintessential texture that everyone loves in watercolor. Hot press is certainly fine, though. I just speak from a personal standpoint.

Trust me on the paper. I have tried Fabriano, Canson, and even arches pads (don’t buy those, they suck. Just get individual sheets or what they call a “block”). The only acceptable way to paint watercolors is on Arches 140lb or higher. It holds the water very well and allows for maximum flow, which is desirable in watercolor.

My preferred paper. I use cold press for the tooth/texture. I’ve only ever used hot press for my Do Not Enter piece.  (



Really, if you are starting off, brushes don’t matter too much. The only criteria I have for a good brush set is a really big round one, a big flat one, and medium and small versions of those. Size wise we’re talking 50, 20, 12 and 10. Make sure the round brushes can hold a good amount of water and come to a nice point for details. That’s really the most important part. Don’t think that you’ll need the highest quality squirrel hair brushes, because you wont. At least not yet. After working with lower grade brushes, you’ll find what you want out of your materials. I found that cheaper brushes tend to lose hairs in the painting and chip a considerable amount, which can make for some tedious painting. I use mostly Davinci watercolor brushes. Here’s what they look like:

Da vinci brushes

That’s all for now. Hope this list helps.



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