When it comes to supplies, as a watercolor artist, you know you will need at least paints, paper, and brushes to create a painting, but what else? As an artist, as in any other profession, various tools will make your job easier and often more enjoyable. So, let’s talk about some of the essentials when painting at home.
Palette – If you purchase watercolor in tubes, you’ll need to put it somewhere, and a palette is that thing. Palettes come in plastic and sometimes metal, as well as porcelain. I use plastic and metal, preferring large palettes for my most frequently used paints. I use a Possum Palette with large wells and storage cups with lids for the paints. Unfortunately, the Possum Palette is no longer available, but here is a great alternative, the Art Alternative Plastic Palette. I also have a large plastic John Pike palette with 20 small wells for paint and a huge well, plus lid, for mixing. I use smaller airtight locking palettes for other paints I would use occasionally. I label each to quickly identify their paint brands and colors.
You’ll need a container for your water. Recycled yogurt, cottage cheese, and plastic milk jugs are great affordable options. Collapsible water cups are easy to pack and transport. They come in different colors so you can distinguish your clean and dirty water.
A rag or blotting towel should be at hand to quickly blot excess pigment from the brush or remove excess water before blending edges on the paper. I use old dish towels that don’t shed lint, and at a recent workshop, I saw one person using a rolled-up wad of paper towels that worked well.
If you prefer to paint flat, an easel is not needed. Still, many artists prefer some style of tabletop easel or simply use a rolled-up towel to raise their painting at an angle. I have this adjustable tabletop easel and really like it. It has a nice wide surface to support a variety of sizes of paintings.
There’s much more to have on hand when painting, but this should get you started. Stay tuned for Part II.
Paper. The most common medium to use for watercolor painting, yet there are others such as canvas, Yupo, watercolor board, and claybord, to name a few, but I’ll talk about paper for now.
Watercolor paper comes in various weights, finishes, forms, and brands. There are sheets, blocks, rolls, and weights of #90, #140, #200, #300, #400, and textures of cold press, hot press, or rough. The options are endless and can be mind-boggling. Over time you will learn the best weight, brand, style, and finish you prefer to work on, but first, let’s talk about the options.
Weight denotes the thickness of the paper, with the weight number determined by the total weight of a ream of 500 sheets. For example, a ream of 500 sheets of medium-weight paper is #140. A ream of 500 sheets of heavyweight paper is #400, and so on. The best and most commonly used weight is #140. It holds up to multiple applications of paint and handles well when stretched. Some favor heavier-weight paper to avoid stretching the paper since heavier-weight paper does not buckle nearly as much as #140.
Sheets, blocks, or rolls
You can purchase watercolor paper in sheets of 22 x 30, which is most common, in blocks or rolls, and various weights and finished. Blocks are sheets of watercolor paper bound flat to secure each sheet, allowing you to paint quickly without stretching your paper. Once your painting is dry, you remove it from the block, revealing a new sheet of clean paper ready for painting. Rolls allow you to paint in larger formats and wrap around a frame similar to canvas.
There are numerous brands on the market, from student grades to professional grades. The most common and oldest is Arches, but Fabriano, Windsor & Newton, and Canson are available. I paint mainly with Arches in both sheets and blocks, my preferred brand. I also paint on Fabriano Artistico, Fluid, and Kilimanjaro. The last two are of more consistent quality.
Each weight and finish of paper and form, whether sheet or block, is slightly different. So, for example, a sheet of Arches #140 will be somewhat different in texture than a #140 sheet from a block, with the block having more texture. Remember to take this into consideration when selecting a subject to paint.
Watercolor brushes are different from all other painting tools. There are specific features that make watercolor brushes different from acrylic or oil painting brushes, yet watercolor brushes can be used on any type of painting surface, such as watercolor paper, Yupo, rice paper, or even canvas. Prices range from affordable to expensive, but the best way to start your painting journey is by purchasing the best watercolor brushes you can afford.
Although available online or at local craft stores, I’ve found the best quality brushes online and for great prices. If you are interested in purchasing the best watercolor brush, various factors need to be considered. Here are some of the essential aspects.
There are various types of brushes available in the market, but each has its own set of features. Some are made for professional artists, while others are made for beginners. Therefore, it is essential to understand this difference to make the right decision.
You can choose between different types of brushes, such as natural hair or synthetic brushes, or a blend with each one having a different price range. The type of brush you want to buy will depend on what kind of painting you want to do.
The first thing you should consider when purchasing a brush is its size. It is essential to buy a good-sized brush that fits well in your hand because you will use it a lot. With proper care and use, a good, quality brush can last a lifetime.
The next thing you should look for is whether it is made from natural bristles or synthetic bristles. Natural bristles are durable and soft, and they tend to last longer than synthetic bristles. It is best to buy a good-quality brush with a wooden handle or a plastic handle. However, some brushes have metal handles.
Additionally, the size of the brush head and type of tip is essential. The size of the brush head and the material will determine the amount of paint the brush can store as well as holding a good tip for fine painting.
The best watercolor brush is made from the highest quality materials. Your painting will greatly influence the material and style of the brush you use. For example, if you’re going to a large background, a natural hair flat wash style brush works best such as a 1 ½” or 2” Isabey, Princeton, or Silver Brush. The natural hair moves the paint evenly across the surface rather than lifting it as a pure synthetic would do. Synthetic brushes work in all applications, but do not hold as much paint as a natural brush or even a synthetic blend. When blending edges, a synthetic brush works best. For lifting, a blend or synthetic works best because it not only moves the paint away from the paper, but it absorbs the paint you are lifting. I have one oil paintbrush I use frequently because it is a stiff synthetic and does a wonderful job in lifting paint in a narrow line.
When painting detail or for portraits, both synthetics and natural hair brushes are used. A natural hair brush works best for larger areas such as skin or in creating the hair base color. Synthetic or synthetic blend brushes would be used to create shadow and depth, lifting paint for folds, or detail hair strands or other details such as eyelashes. When choosing your brush, you must consider the kind of painting and application within the painting where it will be used. A good watercolor brush for detailed work will snap back to its original shape.
Most watercolor brush lengths are around 8 inches except for flat wash brushes which are shorter and are made that way to control the paint application across a larger surface. So, make sure that the length of your brush is right. Traditionally, long-handled brushes are used in oil painting to balance the brush and allow you distance from the work. Most watercolorists work close to the painting, so watercolor brush handles are traditionally shorter. The oil paintbrush I use for lifting was long, almost 18 inches, but I cut it down to 8 for better control.
Holding the brush correctly is essential for control as well as avoiding fatigue and the shorter length of watercolor brushes makes this easier. Hold the brush by the handle using your index finger and thumb, like holding a pencil. When using a flat wash brush, you’ll hold it differently, almost grasping it by the end of the handle.
The shape of the brush depends upon the type of painting you want to do and how accurate the final picture is when finished.
A round brush is usually used for painting flowers or other objects with a rounded shape. Rounded brushes also form nice tips if they are natural hair or a blend. A Cat’s Tongue or Oval brush is also good for various uses and will hold a nice tip if they are natural hair or a blend. Flat brushes are good for angular subjects such as rocks, buildings, and similar. On the other hand, if you want to paint something that has a flat shape, then you should use a rectangular or flat brush. Riggers are longhaired brushes used to create long lines.
Conclusion: You should buy the brush which suits your needs the most. I’ve got several brushes in my collection and although I’ve used them all, I have a few that are my go-to favorites. I have Isabey and Kolinsky pure hair brushes that I use for landscapes or large applications. I have Richeson Gray Matters pure synthetic brushes that are great for most applications such as hair in portraits, landscapes, and florals, and Connoisseur Cat Tongues (ovals) which are synthetic blends, and Joe Miller’s synthetic sables and squirrels that work pretty good without paying the price of real hair. How about you? What are your favorite brushes and how do you use them?
Jumping into talking about competing in art shows and exhibits as just the third blog seems sudden in the chronological order of things, but it is timely. I just recently submitted three paintings, which is the max allowed, in the Professional Division of Fine Arts, for the Western Idaho State Fair.
In some states, fine art professionals don’t submit their work in state fairs, but here in Boise, they do. This competition is entered by most, if not all, of the watercolor professional artists I know. As with any competition, judging is by an artist, and for the state fair, it is a local artist. But, why enter any competition and subject yourself to the scrutiny of another artist who may paint in a completely different style than you?
In the beginning . . . I didn’t enter competitions. It was not only scary to subject myself (yes it felt like me and not my painting) to the opinion of someone I may not meet or will most likely not see again, but also stressful in making sure I followed the prospectus – competition rules and guidelines – correctly. There’s also the logistics of getting my painting or paintings to the show safely and on time. How am I going to carry them or transport them? In the past I’ve used this type of art portfolio or used a small luggage cart, but neither one works well if you have several paintings of considerable size. I just purchased this Vergo S300BT Model Industrial Folding Hand Truck Dolley and I’m looking forward to picking up my paintings with it. I’ve seen several local artists with this type and they all seem happy. The right tools for the job, right?
Back to art competition. I talked about the main disadvantages, but as in having the right tool for the transporting, that negative is no longer there. What about the fear and anxiety of the results, and wondering if you’ll get a ribbon or not. It doesn’t always happen. Putting yourself “out there” is what’s important. If you don’t get a ribbon it’s ok. Always remember that you’re not always going to win, the judge most likely has a different style and different taste and will pick another person’s painting over yours, even if you personally don’t like the winning painting. As simply put by Neil Gaiman in “Art Matters”, if you create something for the sake of earning a prize or making money and you don’t get a prize or sell it, you’re left with something that you don’t like. But, if you make something because you like it and it doesn’t get a prize or sell, then you’re left with something that you love! You got into the business of painting because it’s something that you like and if you work at something that you like, then you’ll never work a day in your life! Each time you enter a competition you become more attune to the benefits of it, the exposure of your work (the free marketing), the strength you obtain from surviving the stress of it. Face it, you didn’t die, you may have felt like you were, but you didn’t.