When you're a beginner watercolor artist, the vast selection of supplies can be so overwhelming! I think I had it easy, because I started painting in a high school Advanced Watercolor class where they handed us our supplies and that's just what we had to work with. Nowadays, not only is the selection endless, but it ranges from super cheap to outrageously expensive!
So what do you get?
Do you go for cheap because you're a beginner? How cheap is too cheap - will they be crappy supplies? Should you really splurge if you're just learning and will likely just have a bunch of watercolor doodles in a sketch book?
I'm here to help you out! Here are my Top 5 Budget-Friendly must-haves for beginners!
1. First, it doesn't matter how great your paints and brushes are if you're using subpar paper.
Cheap or non-watercolor paper will buckle and/or get pilly - a fuzzy texture - if you work with it too much. And when you're a beginner at watercolor, you'll definitely work with the paper a lot.
The Canson Artist Series Watercolor Pad is my current favorite budget-friendly watercolor sketch book that still has quality paper. It's on the smaller side, which makes it more portable than other watercolor pads. Another bigger watercolor pad I use often is the Canson XL Watercolor series which comes in a 7 x 10 spiral bound and a few even bigger fold-over bound options.
2. Second, even a beginner watercolor artist needs quality paints - but not paints you're scared to use.
The 18-Color Pocket Travel Set from Jerry Q Arts is a great starter set. It IS student quality, not artist quality, but it's a great student quality I love to work with. I can play all day with watercolors using this set and not feel bad about 'wasting money' using pricier paints on paintings I know will never see the light of day. My favorite part of this particular set is that the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors of the color wheel are all included. This is great for those who haven't quite learned to mix colors yet!
If you want an affordable artist quality set, this White Nights 12-Pan Watercolor Set is a rich, super-pigmented set that is great to work with and has stellar reviews overall. It's costs a smidge more for fewer colors, but that's the difference between student and artist grade.
3. Next up are beginner watercolor brushes!
There are oodles of brushes available out there but, in all honesty, you can do most things with a basic round brush with a pointed tip. My personal favorites for these are the Royal Soft-Grip round brushes. I've used these since I was a teen, but I love them even more now that I have RA and gripping a brush really hurts sometimes. However, the reviews on these are mixed from Amazon. Some people have received them broken. Oh no, right?! My advice? Go grab them from Michael's with a 40% off coupon! They come in packs of five different sizes.
If you really want to order online or want an even more budget-friendly set, this 13-set of round, pointed, soft brushes is super affordable - $14 as of this posting.
4. Masking Fluid? What's that?
I think if more people were introduced to masking fluid from the get-go, they would stick with watercolors through the beginner stage. Masking fluid is like a rubber cement that you use to paint (with the end of a brush, a tooth pick, or an OLD paint brush) areas to protect them from paint and keep them white. Then, you can remove the masking fluid and paint in the detail or leave the white spaces. I love painting inside of large circles and leaving the space outside of the circle white, so using masking fluid to trace that perfect circle edge helps contain the paint.
If you go to the craft store looking for masking fluid, you will probably find the good ol' $14 bottle of Winsor and Newton. However, Pebeo Drawing Gum is where it's at! First off, it's blue so you can it. Even Winsor and Newton's yellow-tinted masking fluid can be hard to see. Second, it comes in smaller 45ml bottles. I have never used an entire W&N bottle before it turned rubbery and 'dried out', so the smaller bottles are great! Second, $7 and some change is better for the budget when you're just starting out.
5. Even as a beginner at watercolor, you are going to wish you had a larger palette. So, go ahead and start with one.
'But Shai, aren't those for tube watercolors?!'. Yes and no. When you have tube watercolors, you do absolutely need a palette. How else will you mix the paint? However, they come in handy for pan watercolors as well - even pans that have a palette lid! Many of those lids are just lacking in real, usable space.
Watercolors can be reactivated with water, so once you mix that perfect color you didn't expect, you can keep it and use it again later! I have a pan watercolor set that has removable trays so there's a palette inside and a palette in the lid. I still have two of these large paint palette boxes. The general idea was to have one for warm tones and one for cool tones but they're currently a mix match of all the things.
But I have all my favorite colors right at my fingertips without having to mix them from scratch. SO useful for making coordinated paintings in a series.
And there you have it! I've been painting watercolor for nearly 20 years, and I still use many of these products in my daily sketches. Remember, the key to beginner watercolor is practice, so you'll want affordable supplies you will eagerly use up over and over!
Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite beginner supply!