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Starter Art Materials for Watercolour Painting

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This page is in four parts: the first is the absolute basics you need to start your first watercolour or attend your first class. The second part lists lots of other useful but not essential items, many of which can already be found hanging around your house, or acquired cheaply. The third part gives you an idea of the sort of materials you might add as you become more experienced.


Finally, at the end I list everything you don't need, be sure to read this last section before making your purchases!

Absolute Basics

A selection of 8 to 10 colours of paint; you can buy these in pans (blocks) or tubes. If you are interested in the watercolor set I developed especially for beginners click the button below:

A pad of Watercolour Paper, medium surface (called ‘NOT’, most pads you find will be this surface anyway so don’t worry too much about that), at least A4 in size. Smaller is not easier! Cartridge paper is not suitable. Some scraps to try colours out on are useful too (provided at my classes).

A soft pencil, I would favour about a 5B.

A soft putty rubber, not so soft it feels like blue tack

A pencil sharpener

Two ‘Round’ brushes (these are the standard type of brush you see, with a pointed end, the round bit refers to the shape of the metal ‘ferrule’) I would go for a size 10 or 12 (large) and a size 4 or 6 (small). Synthetic are fine, you do not need finest sable, I find it too soft anyhow.

One large ‘Flat’ brush (as it’s name suggests this is a flatter brush, they can be fairly smooth or rougher, sometimes called a ‘Hake’ and mainly used for wetting your paper) Choose one at least 1 inch wide, wider if you can.

A Palette. If you are painting at home a white plate (ceramic or enamel) will do, for travelling to a class use a cheap plastic palette, pick one with large wells and plenty of room.

Kitchen Paper or Rags, vital for wiping your brush on to control the water levels.

Water containers. (Provided at my classes) Clean jam jars and ice cream tubs are fine for this. They may well be provided at a class, just ask.

Very Useful Extras

A big box to put it all in. Don’t bother with specialist ‘art’ boxes, head straight to your DIY store for a plastic tool box/carrier with a handle, just measure your longest brush first to make sure it fits.

Masking tape, the DIY kind is fine, if it is too sticky just apply it to your trousers/skirt a few times to pick up a little lint, hey presto 'low tack tape'

Craft knife, the kind with the removable ‘scalpel’ blades, you can sharpen your pencil with it, and use it for certain painting techniques, plus general cutting, endlessly useful.

Extra/old brushes of all sorts, even stiff oil or acrylic brushes can be used for ‘scrubbing out’ paint and mixing colours. Never throw a brush away!

An old toothbrush, for splattering techniques and cleaning your palette

Masking Fluid; a kind of liquid rubber used for reserving whites in watercolour painting.

Sketch pad for trying out ideas before painting.

A selection of small tubs for mixing larger washes of colour. You can use all sorts of cleaned food containers, the type you get dips and hummus in.

Moving On

Things you may need as you become more experienced...


The best surface to work on is undoubtedly stretched paper (it works out cheaper too). For this you will need to buy loose sheets of watercolour paper, a drawing board and ‘gummed’ tape (old fashioned paper parcel tape.)

More colours of paint. Just add these one at a time as you find a ‘gap’ that you need to fill in your colour selection.

For more techniques you can buy different ‘mediums’ to mix with your paint, the most useful of these is Gum Arabic. Other items watercolourists use include Rock Salt, Cling Film, Sand Paper, these are used to add various textures.

You may need to store, mount (mat) or frame your watercolours. I have written an article to help you, just Click Here.  Artworks on paper are fragile, bad storage or framing can cause them to degrade quickly.

Stuff you DON'T need;
today, tomorrow... or ever

Don't waste your money on...

Huge sets of paints, brushes etc: In my opinion big sets are a often waste of money, you will never use all of the items in them. All paints (bar the very poorest quality) can be purchased as individual colours and placed into a box. Start with either a small set, or a few individual items and add more as you need them, this way you don't waste money.

Easels, table or otherwise: Simple, you don’t need one for watercolour painting, it is too drippy, tipping your paper up is only going to make things harder.

Water containers... Unless the world has run out of jam jars and yogurt pots since I last looked!

Expensive ceramic palettes: Easily broken, heavy to transport, they do stain less than plastic palettes, if you feel the need buy one, but they are far from necessary.

A brush stand or dryer. Just completely unnecessary.

A roll up brush holder. OK, lots of people like these, and they are fine really, but I have never owned one and survived this far, your choice.

Complicated ‘measuring’ gauges and implements; they won’t help your drawing improve and may confuse you more than assist you.

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