The Best Art Supplies (in my Opinon!)

One of the best things about painting in watercolour is the sheer choice you have when it comes to building your kit. There are hundreds of paper, paint, brushes and palette options that are available to you. For a beginner, these choices are more difficult as you’re still getting to grips with the medium, and developing your personal style. Other artists are just in search of something new and looking for a quick recommendation. So this is my list of my all-time favourite art supplies!

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Paper

Paper is such a personal choice, but it’s something I would always recommend be careful considered. It makes such a difference to the evenness of your washes, the enjoyment of painting, and the presentation of your final work. I recommend beginners and intermediate artists stick to cold-pressed paper, which is the slightly textured finish. It’s more hard-wearing than smooth hot-pressed paper. In general, I always recommend going for 100% cotton paper. It’s better at absorbing paint without buckling.

I’ve recommended Arches, which is expensive, but also my all time-favourite paper. I also adore Bockingford, which is a much less expensive paper but reacts beautifully with paint. Fabriano Artistico and Strathmore 400 Series are both excellent ranges (check out Strathmore’s postcards if you want to share your art!). I learned to paint on Daler-Rowney’s The Langton range, which I why it’s also included here:

Arches, hot-pressed paper, 300lbs pad
Arches, cold-pressed paper, 300lbs pad
Bockingford, cold-pressed paper, 140lbs
Fabriano Artistico, soft-pressed paper, 140lbs
Strathmore, 400 Series, Mixed Media Pad,
Daler-Rowney, Langton Watercolour Paper

Paper Stretching & Tools

Most of my paper recommendations were for gummed pads. In effect, these are pre-stretched watercolour papers, as all the sides are held tight by the pad’s glue. This prevents buckling and warping. If you choose to work with a pad or loose sheets of paper (which are cheaper), you’ll need to know how to stretch your paper. You’ll need: a solid surface (I’ve suggested wooden drawing boards, but you could also use heavy duty gatorboard, or a stretching aid); gummed paper tape (so that your paper won’t rip) and possibly a knife to cut everything free. I’ve recommended an X-acto knife, as they are incredibly useful generally in watercolours. Some artists even use the marks from an X-acto knife to build texture in their paintings.

Jackson’s Art, Wooden Drawing Board
X-acto Crafting Knife with replaceable blades
Handover Gummed
Paper Painter’s Tape

Brushes

This is another very personal choice; you can choose between synthetic filaments, natural hairs, or a hybrid of the two. I’ve recommended round brushes almost exclusively as they are the most versatile in terms of mark-making.

Of the natural hairs, Kolinksy sable is the gold standard. Its superior absorbency, great snap, and paintability have made it a beloved choice by artists. Both Winsor & Newton’s Series 7 and Escoda’s Reserva use Kolinsky sable. I usually avoid hybrid brushes, as they can be unpredictable, but the squirrel-risslon combination in the Black Velvet line is a dream to paint with.

Synthetic hair brushes have come a long way, and the three I’ve recommended rival some of the best natural hair alternatives. The Jackson’s Art brush is rumoured to be made by Escoda, and certainly is a fantastic, remarkably inexpensive brush. Escoda Versatil is another excellent option, and is particularly useful if you travel, as it handle doubles as a cap. Finally, the DaVinci Casaneo line is an excellent range, and boasts my favourite affordable mop brush.

Natural Hair

Winsor & Newton,
Series 7
Escoda Reserva,
Series 1212
Silver Brush, Black Velvet, Series 3000s6

Synthetic Hair

Jackson’s Art, Studio
Synthetic Brush
Escoda Versatil,
Series 1548
DaVinci Casaneo Mop,
Series 498

Watercolour Palettes

Watercolour palettes are a place to save money in your kit; you could even use an old-dinner plate, or a saucer. There are three materials to choose from: ceramic (heavy, fragile, also traditionally the gold standard); plastic (less environmentally friendly, can stain, cheap, light); and metal (hardwearing, can stain, mid-price, needs time to stop beading). You can also find palettes with removable pans, moulded pans or just mixing trays. I’ve given a few recommendations of each, in a variety of sizes.

Metal Tin with 24 wells, MEEDEN
Plastic Palette with 33 wells, Belle Vous
6 well Stacking Palette,
Outus
12 well Watercolour Petite Travel Tin
Ceramic Mixing Palette,
MEEDEN
20 well Palette with
Metal Mixing Space

Watercolour Paints

It’s hard to recommend watercolour paints individually; I use a range of brands, depending on their formulas of each colour. In a way, this is what this entire website is dedicated to. Instead, I’m going to recommend my favourite watercolour sets. I learned how to paint watercolours with the Holbein paints (which are also excellent for those wanting an animal-free practice). Paul Rubens is a Chinese brand, which produces beautiful vibrant paints. For a set of 24, they are very reasonably priced. Finally, I’ve included Daniel Smith’s Ultimate Mixing Palette. This is very expensive, but cannot be beaten, in my opinion. The colours are gorgeous, and carefully chosen to give you the widest range of mixes possible. These are all tried, tested and loved:

Paul Ruben 24 Colour Watercolour Set
Holbein Watercolours, Tube Paint Set
Daniel Smith Ultimate Mixing Palette

Drawing

The foundation of a great painting is a good drawing. My all-time favourite is the Staedtler Lumograph pencils, which are wonderful smooth pencils to work with. I’ve recommended a set which includes a range of hardness, in case you want to use them to create your own graphite paper. Brass planes are also very helpful alternatives to knives, in order to create steep pencil tips that are perfect for shading. Finally, a putty eraser is essential for any serious watercolourist; these allow you to lighten pencil lines without removing them entirely. I use both the Winsor & Newton Kneaded eraser and the Jackson’s Art own brand; I recommend the Jackson’s Art option, as it is slightly cheaper and beautifully soft.

Staedtler 100, Mars Lumograph Pencils
Jackson’s Art, Soft White Putty Eraser
Brass Hovel Pencil Plane,
Makers Cabinet

Masking Fluid & Tools

Masking fluid, also known as liquid frisket, is an incredibly useful tool in watercolour. Masking fluid is a rubber or latex barrier that can be applied to watercolour paper to protect the area beneath it. Liquid frisket needs to dry fully before you start painting. It’s easy to remove, usually by simply rubbing your fingers over the surface, and a good frisket won’t damage the paper. I’ve extensively tried masking fluids to find the most gentle, effective formulas; I believe the Jackson’s Art masking fluid is one of the best, and I also highly recommend the blue-tinted Schmincke masking fluid. I emphasise the blue-tinted version, as there is a white alternative that I do not recommend.

I’ve also recommended an applicator, which is very helpful in shaping smaller details on the page. Never use natural hair brushes with masking fluid; it will ruin them.

Jackson’s Art, Liquid Masking Fluid in White
Blue Aqua watercolour Masking Fluid, Schmincke
Masking Fluid Applicator, Royal Soverign

Daylight Lamp

Daylight lamps are incredibly useful, especially if you live in a country with shorter winter days. These models all have something going for them; the Smart Go is a foldable tabletop lamp, perfect for space-limited homes. The adjustable Daylight Lamp is brilliant, as the head can be moved up and down, as well as turned on the stand. Finally, the most expensive but most attractive is the Slimline LED floor lamp, which looks as though it could be part of modern interior design.

Daylight Lamp: Smart Go Tabletop Lamp
Adjustable Daylight Lamp by the Daylight Company
Slimline LED Floor Daylight Lamp

Inks

  • Dr. Ph Martin’s Bleed Proof White Ink
  • Dr. Ph Martin’s Bleed Proof Black Matte Ink
  • Sakura Micron Pens
  • Dr. Ph Martin’s Hydrus

Metallics

  • Daniel Smith DuoChrome
  • Schmincke metallics

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