Essential Tools for Beginner Watercolourists

Essential Tools for Beginner Watercolourists

All artists and creatives require supplies to bring their craft to life, but not all artistic mediums require the same set of supplies. The tools, supplies, papers, brushes, and canvas we use vary— depending on whether we paint with oil, acrylic, gouache, or watercolour. And today, we will take a look at the supplies that every beginning watercolour artist needs!

These watercolour supplies can be anything from the obvious (watercolour paper) to the less obvious (sketching pencils). Creating complete works of art and illustrations—from start to finish—requires the right tools. The good news is that the tools a beginning watercolour artist needs are by no means expensive or hard to get a hold of.

A Sketchbook & Sketching Pencils

Maybe it isn’t completely obvious that some of the first supplies that beginning watercolour artists needs is a sketchbook and pencils for sketching. Typically, artists don’t immediately jump into a painting. Most paintings begin with a concept; that concept is developed, until the final sketch is transferred to the watercolour paper and the painting process begins. Developing the concepts for your paintings in a sketchbook, with sketching pencils, is so helpful! Plus, a sketchbook is a fantastic way to chronicle and archive our ideas and artistic growth. It tracks where we began and how we grow. Those old ideas might even spark new concepts!

An Assortment of Brushes, Cleaning Cloths, & Cups

It goes without saying that watercolour artists need brushes to paint! Specifically, watercolour brushes are designed to hold large amounts of the water, and the shapes intended for the sorts of strokes and watercolour washes you will use. Some of the best, go-to brushes for watercolour artists are the Round Brushes. Because of the way that their bristles are shaped, this brush is perfect for fine detail and covering larger portions of a painting. They come in a variety of sizes, and having a size 4, 8, and 10 is a great start. Liner brushes are perfect for small, tiny details. Keeping a wide brush on hand to apply large amounts of water quickly is also a great time saver. Purchase a fair amount of brushes of various sizes on hand to accomplish the tasks you need. You won’t need hundreds, but a sturdy collection is still important to create work efficiently. We know it can get confusing, so we've got a post to help you pick the right paintbrush too!

Cleaning cloths and cups to hold water are important tools to keep nearby. Brushes aren’t a cheap tool; caring for them and maintaining them extends the duration of their life. Clean cloths can be anything from a bit of fabric, an old towel, or even paper towels. They can be used to soak up and work out extra paint that you don’t want to go onto your illustration, and it’s the perfect cleaning implement!

Watercolour simply can’t be done without a source of water! Having a container, mug, or cup that is suited for dipping brushes into, easily, is incredibly important. The best rule of thumb is whatever works best for you and your painting process.

Paint Palettes & Paint

No collection of painting supplies is complete without paint palettes or paint! These are vital tools. Watercolour palettes are unique to other paint palettes since watercolour paint has to be reactivated and diluted with water. Watercolour pallets come in a variety of designs, but they all include wells to hold the paint and the water needed to paint. There are palettes designed for use at home, and there are some designed for travel. (Our 19-Well Porcelain Mini-Palette is great for those starting out.) Having both is an excellent idea.

The most obvious need for a watercolour artist is the paint! This is one of the most exciting tools to get a hold of. It’s fun browsing through the various colours and picking the perfect one to bring home. Finding the right brand for you can take a little bit of research, but once you’ve decided on a brand, collect enough paint to create a complete palette for mixing and painting.

Quality Papers & Watercolour Sketchbooks

It might be a temptation to use paper other than watercolour paper for our pieces. Watercolour paper isn’t always easy on our wallets, but it is designed to handle water, multiple washes, and helps the paint pigment appropriately. Don’t compromise the quality of the paper to save money. 

If you often do colour studies or preliminary paintings to practice before you complete your finished work, a watercolour sketchbook can be a helpful tool to keep all of the studies handy and close at hand. 

Extra Odds & Ends

Besides the obvious supplies, there are a few odds and ends that can make creating watercolour illustrations easier: masking fluid, pens, ink, coloured pencils, tracing paper, and a light pad. These aren’t needs, but they do enhance the final results of your work.  

Tracing paper can be used to trace a finished sketch from the sketch paper; and with the use of a light pad, transferred to the final watercolour paper. Using tracing paper in this way keeps you from erasing too many times and accidentally ruining expensive watercolour paper. 

Masking fluid is a simple, cheap product that you brush onto any part of your painting that you want to protect from the watercolour washes. After it has been applied to the paper, you can paint over the area multiple times without exposing the underneath to the paint. Once the initial layers are dried, use the end of a paint brush to gently rub up the masking fluid. Just be sure to thoroughly clean the brush immediately after use so the masking fluid doesn’t dry in the bristles.

Pens, inks, and coloured pencils are finishing touches to complete the look of your art. They might not suit every artist’s style, but they are there as viable options. Use them creatively to outline your work, enhance objects, or add details.

The basic, go-to supplies for beginning watercolour artists are extensive, but they will help you succeed when creating watercolour illustrations and works of art. The nuance and variety that can be achieved with them are too many to count, but it’s an exciting journey to take!

Ellie Tran is a freelance illustrator and writer soon to be based in Anchorage, Alaska. She uses watercolours to illustrate her own stories; and when not illustrating or writing, she enjoys being out in nature.
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