Hi there! So I’ve recently had some questions about what watercolor supplies I would recommend, so I thought I would put a post together sharing some of my favorite items in case you wanted to ask Santa for them for your stocking… 😉
I want to preface this post by saying that I am a firm believer in the statement that you get what you pay for. Sometimes the inexpensive items are okay, like when you’re dealing with store-brand food vs name brand, but with art supplies, I’ve definitely found a difference in quality when using the student grade options. Of course, this is not an inexpensive hobby to begin with, so watching for sales and using coupons is a great way to expand your collection of art supplies while also not compromising quality. I have been stamping for 13 years, watercoloring seriously for 6+ years, and so have been building up my collection gradually. I have been lucky to have been provided some of these supplies through my work with different companies, but the vast majority of these supplies have been purchased by me over time, watching for sales and with birthday money or Christmas gift cards. I only recommend supplies that I really think will provide great results, regardless of whether they’ve been purchased by me or if companies have generously sent them to me to try. This list is not at all intended to encourage you to make purchases that you don’t need; I only want to recommend my favorite supplies if you are planning to do some artsy shopping or want to ask for some art supplies for Christmas! 🙂
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First up, watercolors.
Watercolors hold true to the idea that you get what you pay for. Student grade watercolors contain less pigment and more fillers in order to make them less expensive; thus, the student grade watercolors will require more paint in order to achieve better vibrancy. The artist grade watercolors are more expensive, but contain much higher ratio of pigment to fillers, so I find that they last longer than the student grade and give better results from the start. Over the course of my watercolor journey, I have found that saving the “good” supplies and using the less expensive supplies for practice is a waste of time and money, because the good supplies behave vastly differently to the less expensive, so your results between the student grade vs artist grade will be very inconsistent. If I had known this at the start, I would not have bothered with the student grade and instead focused on building my artist-grade collection (slowly, ha) rather than wasting the time and money on the less expensive products.
Pan Watercolors-Watercolors are one of those things that depend a lot on your personal preferences. If given the choice, I will choose to work with pan watercolors over watercolor markers, simply because I feel that I have better control over the amount of pigment and thus the intensity of the colors on my image. Artist watercolors also have better lightfast ratings, meaning that they will be less likely to fade over time. I have two artist-grade brands that I reach for over and over again: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors (Blick|SSS) and Holbein Artist Watercolors (Blick).
I have watercolors from a wide variety of brands, and I have found the stunning variety of colors in both of these brands to be unmatched. The Daniel Smith paints use many natural pigments, so the color palettes tend to be a bit more muted and earth-toned, while the Holbein palette seems to be a bit brighter and cooler. I used the Daniel Smith watercolors on the holiday paintings in the photo above; the Holbein palette is pictured below. You can see the difference in overall tone and brightness in the photos!
Both of these brands offer watercolor sets, in which they have selected a variety of shades that offer the majority of the rainbow. I have been collecting these watercolors over the last several years, and while I do enjoy having a huge variety of shades at my disposal, these watercolor sets would certainly be sufficient for quite a lot of projects. It’s amazing what custom colors you can create by mixing colors in different intensities. Holbein offers a very affordable set of 18 colors (Blick), which could easily be customized by adding a few extra pinks, purples, and greens (because we know how much I love pink!). Daniel Smith offers several different watercolor sets that are great for beginners. I personally love the color palette in the Jean Haines Master Set of 10 (Blick), which includes some of my favorite shades. One of my favorite things about the Daniel Smith line is that you can also purchase Dot Cards (Blick) that have a small sample of each color, so that you can try each color out, find your favorites, and build your own custom palette! You would be amazed at how long those little dots of watercolor will last-totally worth the money! Once you find your favorites, you can build your custom palette by purchasing the individual watercolor tubes.
I also wanted to mention the Altenew Artists’ 24 Pan Watercolors (ALT|SSS). I have found that these pan watercolors are of excellent quality and at an extremely affordable price point. If you are looking to dip your toe into watercoloring but don’t know if you want to invest in the artist grade watercolor tubes, this is a marvelous, super economical set of 24 pan watercolors that have a gorgeous color palette and move beautifully. I have been able to create tons of beautiful paintings with my 24 pan set, with a wide variety of color palettes, because mixing and matching the colors is super easy! These watercolors frequently go on sale, and they are 100% worth the money. I have a class on the Altenew website (only $8.95 for 6 videos!) that delves into these watercolors, great for beginners! You can check out the class HERE.
Watercolor Markers– While I adore pan watercolors, I can also appreciate the ease and vibrance of watercolor markers. There are several different brands of watercolor marker available, but I have found that the Karin Brushmarker Pro (Blick|SSS) markers offer wonderful quality and a huge variety of colors. I have found that I get better results by scribbling the color onto a ceramic palette, then picking the color up with my damp paintbrush, rather than putting the marker directly to the paper. This provides more control for my style of watercolor.
Next up: Alcohol Markers.
OLO Markers (OLO) are relatively new to the art world, as they were just debuted this past winter at NAMTA. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with these OLO markers over the last 8 months or so, and I have to say-I find them to be a wonderful addition to my work space. They have an incredible vibrance and blend super smoothly. I also really love the ease of selecting your blending colors; the color families are very clearly delineated and blend beautifully together, which takes the guesswork out of your color selection. They have 4 fluid ounces of ink in the barrel -nearly twice as much as other brands- and feature a unique ink delivery system that cuts down on the amount of ink wasted. Refilling them is extremely simple. I have a longer blog post with video detailing all of the unique qualities of these markers HERE. You can check them out HERE, and you will automatically receive a 10% discount when you shop using my personal link!
You can see the incredible vibrance of these markers in the photo above. I can’t wait for them to release even more colors!
Next up, paintbrushes and paper.
Watercolor Brushes-You cannot go wrong with Silver Black Velvet. I’ve tried tons of different brands of paintbrushes (don’t tell my hubby! Teehee.), and the Silver Black Velvet brushes win every time. The bristles release water very gradually, and they come to a nice crisp point giving you the ability to create really sharp edges for no-line watercoloring. I would recommend a Round Number 4 (Blick) or 6 (Blick), and a round number 8 (Blick) for large washes. If you only watercolor very small images, as many stamped images are fairly small and detailed, you might prefer the finely detailed point that a Round Number 4 brush provides. I know that these brushes are a little pricy to start, but again, you get what you pay for with watercolor supplies, and I do find that they last for quite a long time if you take care of them.
Watercolor paper– watercolor paper is a very personal choice. Your unique style of watercoloring may suit the features of one paper over another. Sometimes, it takes some experimentation to figure out which paper brand works best with your own personal style. That being said, I have always had good results with Arches cold press watercolor paper (Blick|SSS). Cold press paper has a textured side and a smooth(er) side, while hot press paper is very smooth, and I have found that texture to be an invaluable trait with my style of watercolor no matter the brand. The color moves beautifully, lifts and scrubs easily, and holds up to repeated layers of water and even embossing folders, without worrying about the fibers of the Arches cold press paper disintegrating.
You can see how well the Arches cold press holds up to a 3D embossing folder and some pretty intense watercoloring!
Alcohol Marker Cardstock– For alcohol marker coloring, no matter which brand, I have found that the Hammermill 100 lb cardstock (SSS) works wonderfully. The super smooth surface of the paper allows the colors to blend beautifully, and the weight is great for papercrafting.
Bonus: Metallic Watercolors.
If you like all things sparkly, as I do, you will love checking out the IUILE shop on Etsy. They feature handmade, unbelievably sparkly watercolor pans that add so much sparkle to your projects… it’s almost unreal. I use them for splattering backgrounds, for adding metallic sparkle to large brushed sentiments, and adding sparkly accents to alcohol marker pieces, as you can see in the Cinderella project above. They are such a fun little accent to add to your projects to help kick them up a notch!
I hope that you find this list helpful! I want to reiterate that these are my own personal preferences, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. I am by no means an expert, but I have done quite a lot of experimentation (and shopping, ha) so hopefully you can benefit from my artistic experimental trial-and-error over the last several years! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me via email or DM on Instagram. I’m happy to help in any way that I can! Thanks so much for reading, if you’ve made it this far, and Happy Thanksgiving!