What watercolor materials do I need?

My love for watercolors began when I was a teenager. I remember that I loved visiting museums and in one of those times with my favorite painters, I found a jewel that I fell in love with forever. It was a still life in watercolor that Cezanne had painted. I fell in love with his transparent brushstrokes, fresh, simple and full of color.

It was then that my mind lit up and I had an epiphany, as if I had found a treasure and now I wanted to use it in my works.
If you are used to painting with oil or acrylic it is very likely that watercolors will drive you crazy. Why is that?

The first thing I understood with Cezanne was to see that the beauty of this technique lies in it's transparencies. You can make very dark spots but always in tune with other lighter ones and recognize that your opacity or brightness will never be the same as in other techniques.


Because watercolor is composed of Arabic gum.

What does this mean? It is the resin responsible for the pigment to adhere to the paper through the water. For example in oil, that binder or glue is oil and in acrylic it is a synthetic glue.

So, if you want to enjoy watercolor, you have to forget everything you have learned before with other techniques, otherwise you will get very frustrated.

What makes a watercolor valuable is it's transparency.

With oils or acrylics you do not usually want the canvas to be seen, so you paint with many layers of paint to achieve the desired result. In watercolor the opposite occurs, seeing the paper is very important.

If you want white tones, the paper will do that job and your painting will thank you. If you want very light shades, mixing with white is not the solution. What I do is that I mix the pigment with a lot of water so that the paint is more transparent and the paper is seen more.

What materials should I use if I want to start painting watercolors? Are half-pans or tubes better?

Both are fine. I think it depends on the taste of each person. You need to try them and decide which material is best for you. With half-pans, the brush is damaged more by the use, but I prefer them because they are easier for me.

BUT, if you feel more comfortable with other techniques such as oil or acrylic, I recommend to start with half-pans. Why? Because it's possible that with the watercolor in tubes you tend to to use it unconsciously as you have before with other techniques. You tend to too much pigment and too little water, and watercolor requires the opposite.

What colors do I need?

For many years I was painting only with a set of 12 colors. It was my best traveling companion. They came with me to Mexico, Colombia, India, and throughout Europe ... And although I now use a set with 39 different half-pans, to be honest, I don't use most of them, I forget they are there! I usually stick to the basics, but little by little I am expanding my horizons with new combinations. It is a continuous challenge for me.

So if you're starting out in the world of watercolors, I'll introduce you to my battle mates:

  • Cadmio Yellow H.
  • Lemon Yellow Hue
  • Alizarin Crimson Hue
  • Camio Red Hue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Ultramarine
  • Indigo
  • Sap green
  • Viridian Hue
  • Burnt Limber
  • Yellow ochre
  • Burnt Sienna

In watercolor, if you want to get a bright orange, mauve, violets or different types of blues such as turquoise, or intense blue, cobalt, etc. or other very specific tones, it is best to buy them, because the color mix will never give you that pure result.

What is the best paper?

The quality of the paper depends on the grammage, that is, it's weight or thickness. The one that I usually use is 300 grams by Canson. It just takes trying out several thicknesses and then choosing the one you like the most. The thicker the paper is, the lighter the watercolor will be when it dries and the water will take longer to absorb, so it allows for more margin for error if you make a mistake while painting.

As I paint watercolors to make decorative prints, I have to scan the drawing, send it to the computer and then print them, I usually use a thicker paper but also smooth. Because it is better for the entire scanning process.

But if I don't want to turn it into a print, I love very grainy and heavy paper. It's curious but the colors change a bit depending on the type of paper and the thickness.

What brushes to use?

They have to be brushes that absorb water well, with very fine and soft hair. Synthetic brushes are quite good in quality and price. The size will vary depending on what you want to paint.

Is there one brand better than another?

I do not usually talk about brands because having expensive watercolors and natural brushes does not guarantee that your watercolor will be the best and your confidence when painting should not depend on the price of the materials.

As you paint and try out different materials you will realize for yourself which are your favorites.. Painting, painting, painting, that's what I recommend. Because at the beginning you don't know how to differentiate quality. I started with cheap materials and then eventually I found what I liked the most. And I'm still in that process!

Other important materials:

  • A jar or glass of water
  • A cloth rag to dry off the brush of excess water or to clean it
  • Additional watercolor paper (to test the colors before using them in your drawing)

Now that you know more about the necessary materials, it's time to paint!

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