Hey you, busy bee with all your work and side hustles!
Are you looking how to get started with watercolors as a means to explore the medium to see if you like it?
I gotchu, bae!
In this post I’ll cover a few quick tips on how to get started with watercolors if you’ve never used or owned a set in your life!
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) – Your Shopping List If You Ain’t Got Time For That:
Watercolor set: Prima Watercolors ($17)
Sketchbook: Hand Book – Square ($15)
Sketchbook alternative*: 3 by 5 index cards
Brush: Pentel Water brush ($13)
Which Watercolor Set To Get
I’ve accumulated quite a few watercolor sets since my humble watercolor beginnings in 2011 and I’ll be delving into all of those in another post coming soon. But in the meantime, since I know you are just so eager to get started with watercolors here’s a few starter sets that I recommend.
You can purchase this set at Michaels, where I got mine (pictured above) or Amazon. The price point (around 10$) makes this product really approachable if you just want to get some playtime in and see how you like the medium. You get a wide range of bright and fun colors and you can get to painting right away! The only real downside of this set is that the colors will fade away over time and they feel a bit chalky, but for a dabbler in watercolor, this is probably the best option.
If you can allow yourself to splurge a little more (around 17$) this set of watercolors is really great to start with and it comes with a very cool and compact case that you can fit in your pocket, or purse, or murse even. These are fantastic in that they are affordable and of great artist quality. With these watercolors you will have a lot more pigment to play with, which will enhance your waterdoodles with vibrant colors.
Get this set if you feel like treating yourself (around 20$) to a french pastry, ermm watercolor. While this set is super tiny and has limited colors, it will give you a glimpse into the world of super fine-ass french paints that are honey-based and feel like butter upon painting (I’m serious).
If you are totally new to painting and art and just want to play around with pretty colors, I wouldn’t start off with this set as the color scheme is pretty limiting. And to me the whole point of using colors if they are fun and if you truly dig them. So if vibrant pinks are more your jam, then one of the sets above would work better for you.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which set you get, as long as you get the colors that you want. My first encounter with watercolor was an art project in high school where we had to use one color (it was brown) and paint a landscape by varying the intensity of the color. I hated it so much that vowed to never use watercolors again!(I was also in theater so hence the drama). To help you avoid this mistake, I highly recommend getting a set that grabs your heart with all the beautiful colors and just going to town on playing with them.
Tubes Vs. Pans
I own both tubes and pans but I by far prefer the pans the most. For one thing, I’m super lazy and I think that it takes too much effort to remove the cap of a watercolor tube and squeeze out the paint. Having tubes means that the watercolor still needs to go somewhere, so if you just squeezed it on a plastic/porcelain plate (by the way, superb for mixing colors) it will just dry. You can always re-wet the watercolors but they become less portable (read: less fun) if you have to carry your porcelain dish you everywhere or keep squeezing the tubes because you need just a tiny bit more.
My only caveat to disliking tubes is that they can be purchased and used to fill your empty watercolor pans (and then it’s a true win-win).
If you are pressed for time but still want to have fun with watercolors, just get a pan set and consider investing tubes at a later time.
What’s The Best Sketchbook To Start With For Watercolors
As with watercolor sets, there’s a whole blog post coming on what sketchbooks to use (also another one of my obsessions).
But to get you started and not confuse you with gsm/paper weights/huh?? When you’re in an arts supply store, just look for paper pads or sketchbooks labeled for watercolor. The bigger the number (for example 300 gsm) the more thick the paper and the more water it can take. Thicker pages will be more forgiving for a beginner if you want to mix around some paints and just see how they interact and how the water flows (a very soothing exercise by the way).
A sketchbook with a smaller gsm number, like 150 gsm, is still a great purchase if you are looking to add light watercolor washes (minimum water). You can add shading and more vibrancy to your doodle if you wait until it dries and apply another coat with very little water.
The other distinction to consider is hot vs. cold press.
hot pressed page vs. cold pressed page
Hot press : I recommend this one because the surface of hot pressed paper is smooth and fountain pen friendly.
Cold press: has a texture to it that can be fun to experiment with, but just not my fave.
If you have a hard time remembering which sketchbook would work best just think of hot press pages being hot’n’ smooth like Ryan Gosling and the higher the number (older Ryan is probably hotter than younger Ryan) the more watercolor washes you can apply.
My vote for sketchbook for a beginner would be this:
Its around 13$ for the square format (and added bonus is that it’s already Instagram size perfect) and can also fit in most purses/murses/backpacks. It’s 130 gsm with super smooth pages that can take you where you need to be in the world of watercolor wonders. It opens wide and can lay flat and has a handy dandy band that can keep your pages simmered down if you find them too rowdy after a few encounters with watercolors.
notecard poetry project
If I still haven’t convinced you about getting a sketchbook (trust me, it’s good for your soul), you can fall back on 3 by 5 index cards that you may already have laying around your house. In my previous artistic endeavor I was a proclaimed notecard poet, so I have a lot of these laying around. *That paper is thinner, so be weary of using a ton of water and wait for the paper to dry before applying another coat, but it is still a cool alternative.
What Brushes To Get:
This. Is. Everything.
Probably the best innovation that has happened to the world of watercolors in the past (tons and tons of) years. It’s pure magic, especially for lazy or super busy people that don’t want or don’t have time to mess with getting a glass of water and clearing the brush (and getting fresh water every time it becomes too muddy). The water brush can be filled with clear water or ink of choice and allows for sketching on the go. I highly recommend this particular set from Pentel because I’ve had some other brands that leaked or broke soon after I got them. You get 3 different sized brushes and it’s great to be armed with all three as you begin your wonderful journey into watercolor-land.
What To Paint As A Beginner
I’ll provide more ideas in the coming blog posts, but you can start with anything you want.
A lemon on a 3 by 5 index card for example:
Stay Colorful, my friend! <3