I started out in watercolor pretty recently, and have become completely obsessed. These are the tools and supplies that got me started and keep me going.
- Porcelain watercolor palette
- Winsor & Newton starter kit with brush pen
- Foamcore board covered in packing tape
- Masking tape
- Sakura Pigma Micron pens
- Squeeze-squirt water bottle
- Watercolor paper
- USB light box pad for tracing
- Mixed media sketchbook
- Heat gun
- Brush pens
- Mars eraser
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When approaching a watercolor illustration, I like to create my line art first. But let’s face it, watercolor paper is expensive. I almost never sketch directly on watercolor paper, unless I’m looking to make some freeform textures or another nonrepresentational pattern. I sketch in a mixed media notebook, where I draw out my ideas and make a good deal of the whole project’s mistakes.
Then I like to use a lightbox to trace from my sketchbook. I have a super slim one that uses LEDs and plugs in with a USB cable. I tape a piece of watercolor paper to my sketchbook and use the backlit effect to trace the design onto the watercolor paper in pencil. This also allows me to orient the drawing on the paper in a new way, if necessary to make it centered and square to the page.
I use Pigma Micron pens to draw on top of my pencil sketch, then erase the graphite before beginning to paint.
This ceramic palette is a nice and sturdy base from which to paint. I prefer the surface tension of the glazed porcelain to the plastic tray type palette. The downside of this design is that it must be covered to avoid dust settling on your paints.
This amazingly compact case comes with every color you need to get started, as well as some places to mix them. The added brush pen is a super fun thing to have if you want to paint from life on the go.
I picked up this technique from Danica Sills. A foamcore board wrapped in packing tape is the perfect substrate on which to paint. It’s smart to tape your painting down to limit warping, but this way you can move the painting around while you work to get the best angle, and you can move a drying painting out of the way to start something new. You could also (and many people do) tape your paper directly to a water-resistant work surface.
I recommend using 100% cotton watercolor paper, even if you are just starting out. The quality of your paper makes a big difference in the results you’ll get, so I think it’s worth splurging. Do some comparison shopping between paper sizes– sometimes it’s cheaper to get bigger pieces and cut them down to size yourself.
I re-use the same strips of masking tape for multiple paintings, so it tends to last a long time.
It’s important to have at least one big wash brush and one tiny detail brush, and something in between.
These bleed-proof pens in different sizes are perfect for linework with watercolor. The ink dries permanently and won’t smudge or bleed when you paint with watercolor over it. This pack in particular comes with one of each of the most commonly used thicknesses.
Watercolor folks often tout the value of having two vessels of water: one for dirty water and one for clean water, since you need to clean your brushes but you don’t want to use dirty water to create new colors. My solution for clean water keeps the dust out too, and doubles as a small plant waterer and soldering iron sponge-wetter. It’s a squeeze water bottle that can deliver precise delivery like a pipette but with more volume, all the while keeping the water clean for much longer than an open-top vessel.
100% cotton watercolor paper is the way to go for this hobby. If you’re looking for a place to scrimp, don’t let it be on the paper you use. Using the right paper makes a huge difference in the experience and result of watercolor painting.
I love this thing! Forget old bulky fluorescent light boxes (if you’re even old enough to remember them), this LED tracing pad is super thin and powers up over USB. I use one of these to trace drawings from my sketchbook onto the watercolor paper for painting.
Speaking of my sketchbook, this is the one. It can take whatever you can throw at it, and is a joy to use.
I originally got this heat gun for electronics (heat shrink tubing), but it works brilliantly for drying watercolor in between layers. If you’re impatient like me, you don’t have time to sit around waiting for layers to dry. Unlike a hairdryer, it blows the air relatively slowly, so you won’t be blowing your supplies off the table just to speed up your wait time. You can also use the heat gun to blow large puddles of watercolor around the painting.
These nifty brush pens hold water in the handle reservoir, making it easy to create gradient effects by picking up some color and then gradually painting until only clear water is left. They’re very fun to use.
This has been my go-to eraser since art school way back when. I use a Staedtler eraser to remove the graphite after I’ve done the pen line work for a painting. It removes all the graphite completely, without disrupting the paper. You can even use it to clean your paper when you get it dirty with your hands (depending on what was on your hands).
See all my watercolor faves in my Watercolor list on Amazon.
If you like this post, you may be interested in some of my others:
- Watercolor tools poster
- Wire Cutters (Watercolor Speedpaint 01)
- Scissors and Craft Knife (Watercolor Speedpaint 02)