Starting a new craft: Watercolours
Watercolour is a great art form.
It is portable, doesn’t take up too much space and is very fluid. Unfortunately it is also unforgiving, when a mistake is made it is generally tricky to fix. But I find that keeping all my old pages, letting them dry means I can reuse them for something else. Mistakes teach you how not to do something but also they can be wonderful. With watercolour you have to think from light to dark. Light transparent washes layer up add great depth to your paintings.
The truth is, it is always best to invest in artist quality materials from papers, paints to brushes, however as a beginner wanting to explore, it is fine to start with student quality. Your colours won’t blend as cleanly and your paper may buckle with the water, but you need to build up your confidence!
My number one rule with all materials is, if it feels right for you then it is right! So limit yourself, a few colours and a few brushes is all you need to get started!
♦ Paper ♦ Pencil
♦ Paints ♦ Paper Towel
♦ Brushes ♦ Palette
My uncle bought me a little Cotman set when I was younger; I used it at school and throughout university. Those little half pans were great, bright colours and no wastage perfect for Uni work. I eventually graduated to artist quality and now I use both tubes and half pans and will never go back to student quality.
Don’t buy everything! Brushes, paper and paints! You don’t need mediums and varnishes (most artists don’t even use them!!)
Limit your palette!
You do not need all the colours, it is best to build them up slowly: Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, French Ultramarine, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Lemon Yellow, Sepia and Cobalt Blue is a good place to start. There is no harm in investing in a green paint, especially if you intend on painting lots of landscapes but pick something natural like sap green. Tubes or pans it is up to you. There is always less waste with pans but you need to work at them a bit more to get them going.
This depends on how much water you use; buying a pad with lots of paper is a great way to start as you are not precious over wasting it. When you improve it is really worth investing in good quality paper, it holds your colour and water like nothing else, but you don’t need to do this straight away.
- 90lb paper is thin and more suited for studies and training; it will need to be stretched
- 140lb is of a medium thickness and the most commonly used; this will need to be stretched
- 300lb is more like cardboard and doesn’t require stretching
Cold press watercolour paper has texture. Little bumps and grooves holds in the water and pigment and absorbs water pretty quickly. Cold press is a good choice when you want to convey texture, working on landscapes and abstract subjects.
Hot press is smooth which makes it ideal for illustrative work. This paper doesn’t absorb water as fast as the cold press. This allows you to play around more, like re-wetting edges of pigment.
I would really encourage you to try out lots of different type of paper, Hot pressed Cold pressed, handmade tissue papers, practice on everything!
Again you don’t need lots of brushes. There is a lot of talk about synthetic vs. natural. Natural will always hold more water and is great with washes but manufacturers have put a lot of effort into making them great, plus they hold their shape longer. My brushes are a true mix, from hake, to squirrel, sable to synthetic, I have student quality and artists, watercolour and acrylic brushes, if I like the feel of it then it goes in my collection. Basic sizes to start off with are a 1” flat, number 6 pointed round and a rigger 2. There really isn’t a lot you can’t do with those. If you want your brushes to retain their shape then never leave then in a water pot. Clean your brush then dry off the excess on a paper towel, then lay them flat.
Don’t buy them! Water bottles, jam jars, glasses, mugs, you will find that whatever you drink out of will become your water jar, be careful with this as you should never ingest the paint, although I am pretty sure everyone has!
Don’t spend a lot on them, I sometimes paint on plastic trays, I tape my image down then put the paint around it. But since finding my foldable Jakar palette I use that. If I use my tubes of paint then I let them dry and never waste them.
A pencil, this is my favourite tip. I use water-soluble pencils so that they dissolve slightly into my work. Over the years I have added colours brushes and papers, I use a vast selection. I like mixed media work with my pencils, fine liners, crayons and textures.
So that’s what you need. Your paints will last, tubes and half pans alike. It is always worth having a few lessons in how to paint, but you can learn a lot from experimenting.
To keep your paper clean and your whites white then you can invest in masking fluid but you don’t need that to begin with. I encourage you to play with mixing colours, don’t attempt a large picture straight away, just practice on small simple images. Everyone can paint, some are gifted and can pick it up straight away and some people will take a while to pick it up.
Don’t be disheartened if you get the results you want straight away.