There's a saying in Japanese that translates to: a master does not choose his tools. Apparently, the English translation is "a poor workman quarrels with his tools" and "there's many a good tune played on an old fiddle." Idea is the same, right, that if you're a master then it shouldn't matter what tool you use.
Well, I'm not a master. So there's that.
When you're just starting out with a hobby, it's so easy to become discouraged because you're not getting any immediate results. At least for me, if I can't do SOMETHING in the first try, I kind of write the hobby off as something I just couldn't do. Now there are folks out there who are much more patient and forgiving than I am, but just in case there are people out there that's like that, here's a supply list for watercolor--we're the master of choosing tools, y'all.
One thing I want to preface this with is that when you're building your supply list, think of it in terms of the sum of its parts--in other words, if you splurge on one thing, go cheaper on another, so that you're not stuck with a tool box that breaks the bank. Think about what's important to you and make investments as necessary.
It's almost like building your makeup collection--if you splurge on foundation, you might reach for a cheaper chapstick right? Cos you value your skin over color on your lips? Or when you're building an outfit, you might pair a statement top with simple jeans to help balance it out. Same idea.
No need to splurge: Paper
Before I go further, don't mistake splurge with quality. You can still get high-quality material, as long as you pay attention to the specs. Just don't go for the exuberant one.
For paper, I tend to think that as long as it checks off my must-have list, I don't need to buy the paper that's 2x the price. The non-negotiable must-have list is:
Believe it or not, there are really great affordable options that check off everything on that list. Now the nice-to-have to add here is 100% cotton. This makes the price jump a bit.
By how much, you ask? Well the same company that makes my favorite paper makes the premium version of this. For the same size, you go from a list price of $9 or so, to about $14. It doesn't seem like much, but remember that paper is a perishable material that you ALWAYS use up. So for me, if there's an affordable alternative then I'll take it.
Go for something kind of nice: Paint
What makes the paint expensive? So the ingredients of a watercolor paint can basically be boiled down to 3 ingredients: water, gum arabic, and pigment. Water is easy, and gum arabic you can think of it like the egg in a meatball, it's a glue/binder. And then the money maker is the pigment. You know how 100% juice is more expensive than juice concentrate? You've now got the paint price discrepancy figured out.
So is it worth it? Short answer is kind of. Again paint is also a perishable tool within our kit, but yes it's at a much slower pace than paper. And when you use the high-quality stuff, the stuff that's made out of true minerals, the color it creates is breathtaking. But when you look at how the same color costs 2x, almost 3x more for the GOOD stuff, reality quickly sets in.
You probably know that Winsor & Newton is the fucking Cadillac of paints. This is what dreams are made of. Then there are watercolor cakes, the stuff that gets powdery when it dries. I like to go somewhere in the middle, with watercolor paint that still comes in a tube, without breaking the bank.
I currently use Holbein tubes and love them. As exotic as the name sounds the company is actually Japanese, and they have really high-quality pigments that are bright. And did you know that Japan has the oldest professional watercolor tradition in the world? Me either.
The set I'm showing here is a pretty standard set, and it will have all the colors you'll really ever need. The tiny 5ml tubes actually will go a long way. To use, get a plastic paint pan (so cheapy it doesn't even get its own section in this roundup), squeeze them out, and dry overnight. You can use it wet too, but you end up getting too much on the brush and it's wasteful.
Go for the good stuff. Sell your soul if you can: Brushes
Ladies and gents, here we are. If you can sell your soul for these, do it.
Whether you've been doing this a while or just starting out, the brush is an extension of your hand and you will always be able to tell the difference between a good brush and a not-so-good brush, unfortunately. So here I present two options.
The good stuff is Kolinsky sable. It's derived from the tail of a weasel, and it's super soft, drinks up water and paint, but releases in the perfect proportion. Whatever paper or paint you're using, if the brush is great, then you are in good shape. The listing here is actually a great price for this, so totally snatch it up.
If that seems like a lot (and trust, the bigger the sizes they get to hundreds of dollars), a great great alternative is synthetic sable. The listing from Amazon calls it Golden Taklon for some reason, but it's actually a blend of synthetic sable hairs that create a really soft, beautiful brush. It works really nicely.
As far as size and shape goes, and there are endless combinations of the two, if you have two round brushes in a size 6 and a size 10 or 12 (essentially, one big and one small) you should be set to go. Round brushes are the ideal jack-of-all-trades because the thin tip allows you to do details, while the round belly lets you do thicker strokes. Talk about an army knife, right? You can begin experimenting with other sizes and shapes as you grow, but you just need these to start out.
Hope that helps to build your watercolor toolkit! If you have any questions, or if you feel I've missed an essential tool, feel free to drop me a line in the comments!