recommendations on basic watercolor supplies for beginners
I finally wrote down some of my thoughts and recommendations on watercolor supplies for students new to the medium. These products are meant for someone that has advanced beyond the Crayola or Prang sets (which serve a wonderful purpose as well) and is looking to start experiment mixing rich color on their own. I linked all the pics to Amazon because honestly, ever since my local art shop left town it's where I get most of my stuff. However I would always price compare with your local place or use those awesome coupons at Michaels or Hobby Lobby if that turns out to get you a better deal. As with most things art, you can really get caught up in the excitement of new materials and those things add up fast (at least that's what happens to me!)
Watercolor Paint is most commonly purchased in cakes or tubes. Generally, artists use cakes (or pan watercolors) when making small paintings and tubes for larger watercolors. However, it just depends on personal preference. In either case, tubes or cakes, you will need water to achieve the right consistency in order to paint. There are many brands of watercolor paint and most can be grouped into children grade, student grade, and professional grade. The difference between the tiers of paint, besides price, is the amount and quality of pigment within the paint. In watercolors pigment is suspended in gum arabic, a non toxic, water soluble solution. It is common to learn with a quality student grade watercolor brand and then purchase professional grade watercolors when you make the leap to sell your work.
Water color paper is very different than the paper that spits out of your printer. It is meant to not only absorb loads of water, but also keep the paint on the surface for a period of time so artists have the chance to manipulate it. Watercolor paper comes in three different surfaces; rough, cold press, and hot press. It is also offered in a variety of thicknesses, referred to as weight. The weight refers to how much the ream of paper weighs as a whole. Most artists work in 140 pound or above for finished paintings, only working on 90 pound for quick exercises or sketches.
There are an overwhelming amount of watercolor brushes to choose from. Generally speaking, I suggest that beginning watercolorists rely on a variety of round brushes for the bulk of their painting needs and a large mop brush for washes. Arguably, the very best watercolor brush you can buy is a Kolinsky Sable brush, made from the hair of a weasel that lives in Siberia ... who would have guessed, but they are expensive. Squirrel, goat, and boar hair all hold their shape well and soak up a lot of water, making them great brushes as well. Synthetic bristles are a great alternative at a much more affordable price. Quality varies greatly so I recommend that you try them out beforehand or read up on other artists opinions before making a purchase.
I like all of the synthetic brush bundles pictured above. They hold up well and keep their shape nicely. The black handled brushes come with an angled end, which is nice to have on hand in watercolors, but not necessary. I find the black handled brushes to be less springy that then the acrylic handled pack first pictured. It all comes down to personal preference though.
The three brushes pictured directly below are a step up in quality versus the synthetic brushes above. They will hold more water and keep their point firmer for a longer period of time. That being said, I didn't make the leap to invest in these until I was selling my work. There is no need to ever purchase these, their are plenty of artists that do beautiful work with synthetic brushes .... however, I find these a real treat and have used them with love.
They make a item to put on a wish list!
Other products that might be fun and helpful as you get going in watercolor are
MISKIT, a rubber cement like solution that is used to mask off areas of your painting
WATERCOLOR PENS, a synthetic brush that has a handle that you're able to fill with colored ink, liquid watercolor, or plain water. Great to use on the go or if you venture down the hand lettering lane of life
WATERCOLOR PENCILS OR CRAYONS, a great tool to help you add textures or just work you out of a painting slump.
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The very Basics
I put together a small, very short, VERY basic handout on watercolors for my adult class that started this week. And, it got me thinking, why didn't I do this for my elementary students?
I have always felt that more elementary art teachers should be taking advantage of watercolor paint and teaching more advanced concepts to kids, rather than just using it as a paint choice to fill in color. The very basics of watercolor technique, flat and gradient washes, wet into wet, wet on dry, and glazing techniques lend lots of room for great lessons on color theory and paint application that, in my experience, lead to great results.
I talk about using watercolors in elementary classroom here, in this lesson based on Catherine Rayner's illustrations
In hindsight, I should have offered this handout to my younger students as well. I think it would have been a concise way to introduce watercolors and served as a proper introduction to a material that has great potential to be more than just colors. I will use this with younger students in the future as well.
Feel free to click on the handouts above and download the documents from my googledocs if you think they would be helpful.
Another great beginning watercolor activity is a quick watercolor workout. I talk about that in greater detail here. I usually have the kids make the grid themselves, a great way to get some ruler skills in, but if you're pressed for time feel free to use the handout below. Just print it on 90 lb. paper and tell students not to paint over the ink lines.
How do you utilize watercolors in your classroom?
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