Watercolour Painting Materials and Equipment

Watercolourists are a funny lot. Whenever we see work that we admire, we want to know what paper was used, what pigments were used and what type of brush did the artist use to paint it. Because the range of materials and tools is now so great, it makes our job of selecting the tools and materials that will be suitable for us, so much more difficult.

My position on this is to keep things as simple as possible. It's the "KISS" principle, Keep It Simple Stupid. I did go down the route of trying to find the magic brush, the brush all watercolourists are looking for, the amazing hand crafted brush made from the whiskers of a very rare mouse which is only found in a certain part of China. The brush that does everything perfectly and turns half-hearted sketches into beautiful works of art. We spend fortunes looking for and buying these but always end up frustrated.

It's the same with papers, the range is huge. There are so many combinations of thickness, surface texture, sizing, absorbency, hot press, cold press, cotton, wood pulp etc, it would take a lifetime and small fortune to experiment and find the one most suited to you. I know, I've travelled that path too.

It only follows that the same is true of the pigments we use too. Nothing is straightforward. A sunset yellow from one manufacturer will have a different name, although the identical colour from another manufacturer. There is no standardisation except for when it comes to the pigment numbers which should be printed on the tubes. If you look at a tube of paint you may see something like PBr7 printed on the label. This is the pigments Colour Index Name. In this case Raw Umber. It's useful for us to know what the composition of the paint is because this tells us that raw umber is made from one pigment PBr7. When colours are made from multiple pigments there is a likelihood that when mixed with other colours there could be a tendency that the resultant colour will be muddy. For this reason, we look for paint which is made up of only one pigment if possible. There is a very detailed explanation on the excellent Handprint Website which I'd urge you to read if this is something that interests you.

The travelling watercolour set of JMW Turner RA ca. 1842

Dimensions: 296 mm x 317 mm x 9 mm

With so many choices to make I came to the conclusion that I could either spend a lifetime experimenting with all the tools and materials available or actually get on and do some painting. I saw it like this, Turner was the worlds finest watercolour painter ever. The paints (see above) brushes and papers that were available to him during his lifetime would have been of a much lower quality than what is available today so whatever I used would have been better. I therefore chose to use the following which are economical except for the artists quality pigments from Winsor and Newton.

Watercolour Paper.

Although I have Arches and Saunders Waterford 140 lb papers I find them far too absorbent. I prefer to use Bockingford which is a cheaper wood pulp paper because the watercolour remains on the surface longer due to the sizing used. A lot of people are snobby about the paper they use and will only use the most expensive papers like Arches, but it doesn't suit me although I do like the fishy sizing smell when it's wet.

Watercolour Brushes.

My favourite brushes are cheap Royal Soft-Grip Synthetic/Sable mix. They are not as soft as sable or squirrel but they point well and your're not afraid to scrub around in your palette with them. I do have many brushes which I may use occasionally but the Royals are my go to work horses. Brushes don't last for ever, so if you do use the very expensive Kolinsky Sable brushes, be prepared to replace them on a regular basis. I have some which I was scared to use for the fear of ruining them. I went to use one only to find that moths had eaten the tip so it would no longer point.

My Colour Palette.

I am often asked about the palette of colours I use. I try to keep this to a minimum if I can for two reasons. One, so I don't have to keep thinking what colours to use, and two, watercolour harmony is important . Paintings are more harmonious if there are fewer colours used.

My main restricted palette is, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Sap Green, Lemon Yellow, Quinacridone Gold, Light Red, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Neutral Tint. I may use other colours occasionally when required but that is my regular palette for landscapes. I only use Artists Quality, Winsor and Newtons watercolour paints. I can't say they are the best, I've been using them for ever so am reluctant to change at this late stage in my watercolour career. They are pricey though, so, who knows I may try other makes in the future.

I buy all my art materials online from Jacksons Art in the UK. They are very reasonable and provide a quick service.