Essential Watercolor Supplies

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Paints, brushes, paper.

That's all you need to paint... but which ones?

You don’t need a shopping cart full of equipment to paint realistic watercolors, but there are a few things that can make a big difference.

When getting started painting you can keep costs down by looking around your home, asking creative friends to lend you supplies, or even checking out used supplies on Facebook Marketplace.

To make getting started as easy as possible, these are my top recommendations on which supplies to have on hand.

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These online retailers give me a small % of every purchase made via the links on this page, and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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How to Build a Starter Kit

What you need to start is: a suitable sketchbook, a set of 10 paints, a brush set and a pencil, eraser & tracing paper. Combine these with a white dinner plate as a palette and you're good to go!

There are two easy ways to build a realistic watercolor starter kit - save time and buy a one-click starter kit, or learn what to look for and build your own:

1. Buy a watercolor Starter Kit for $135 (£110)

If you know painting is something you really want to try, and can afford it, I've put together everything you need in a starter kit to save you time and energy. It has all the essential supplies that will make getting started easy.

Buy now from:

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2. Build your own Starter Kit

Here's all the details on what to look for in your Starter Kit supplies. You can mix and match, borrow, or buy lightly used supplies.

There are also links to buy the different elements individually to supplement what you already have.

Are you wondering "what kind of paper should I use for watercolor paintings?"

Look for paper that's:

  • Hotpressed surface, meaning it's smooth and better for capturing fine details
  • Thick - ideally 300gsm (140lb) so it will take the paint without buckling too much or needing stretching
  • Around 9" x 12" will be big enough for most of my tutorials

If buying, I recommend:

A sketchbook is ideal when you're starting as it takes the pressure off your painting and allows you to track your progress. 

The Stillman & Birn ZETA series is great:

Jackson's UKAmazon US  | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Not sure how to choose brushes that work for realistic watercolor paintings?

Look for brushes in:
  • Small sizes - numbers vary between brands but I use a size 5, 3, 1, 0 and 000
  • Short-hairs and a rounded teardrop shape, sometimes known as ‘spotter' or miniature brushes. Look for a fat, but short and rounded shape. Anna Mason Brush Set

If buying, I recommend:

British brushmakers Rosemary & Co make the official Anna Mason Brush Set of 5 brushes which are perfect for the method. Rosemary & Co ship worldwide:


Suitable alternatives with slightly longer hairs:

Not sure what kind of watercolor paints will work best?

Look for paints that are:

  • Small tubes or half pans/cakes. Watercolor paints are sold in tubes, or in solid form - called pans or cakes. Either will work, but my method uses small amounts of paint. I prefer to buy tubes, because you can squeeze a little out at a time, let it dry onto your palette, and then use it like a pan or cake. There's no waste!
  • Professional (or ‘Artist’) quality paints that have more pigment in them. They're brighter and better for layering than the cheaper student's quality ones.
  • 'Transparent' colours which are better for layering. Even within watercolour paints, some are more transparent and some are more opaque. This is known as the grade, and it should be in the description of the paint.

If buying, I recommend:

I have an 'Essential range' of 10 colours, which will allow you to complete the beginner level tutorials in my online school. If you'd like to see if they're a match to different paints you already have, check the pigment number and substitution information I've provided on this page.

All are Winsor & Newton 5ml tubes:

Winsor Lemon   

Jackson's UK  /  Amazon US  / Amazon CA  / Amazon AU


  Payne’s Gray  

Jackson's UK / Amazon US  / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Burnt Sienna

 Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

 Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Permanent Sap Green

 Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Permanent Carmine

 Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Scarlet Lake

Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Opera Rose

Jackson's UK  / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Quinacridone Violet

Jackson's UK/ Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  French Ultramarine

Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU

A realistic painting starts with an accurate drawing. These simple and inexpensive tools are just right for the job.

Pencil

For drawing and tracing, I like to use a mechanical HB pencil with a 0.5mm lead.

Jackson's UKAmazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Eraser

A polymer eraser like this one is ideal for use on hot pressed paper.

Jackson's UK | Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Tracing Paper

In the watercolour tutorials I always supply a traceable line drawing so you can get painting straight away:

Jackson's UKAmazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Tips on supplies from our members

Thousands of artists have been in your shoes before, feeling inspired to paint, but not sure of which supplies to start with. Here's advice from real members of our school:

“I started with what I had, student grade paint… and a very cheap paper. I very quickly learned that I would never use cheap grade paper again! I played with student paints for a while… What a HUGE difference in my final results by using Quality Paper and Artist grade Pigments!

Bottom line, my cheap paper, brushes and student grade paints sit in a drawer unused…. a waste of money and time….. I ask for paints, brushes and paper for Christmas and Birthday gifts.” - Nancy P

Quality of watercolor supplies are very important. I see it as an investment. Anna has chosen quality products and takes the guess work out of mixing colors. The paints last an amazingly long time.” - Sue

I started out with super-cheap paper and a watercolor set a neighbor lent me. Nothing high grade. My brushes were nothing special. But it was enough to get me started -and- enough to let me see that I had enough interest to justify an investment in the paper/paints/brushes you recommend.

Watercolor has to be about the least expensive hobby around! And every hobby requires some expenditure! I think some of these paints could last for years and years and years. It’s an investment I am delighted I made.” - Patrice

“I lead a reasonably frugal lifestyle and have many hobbies. I never buy coffee when I am out, and rarely go out to eat.

For instance, skipping two lattes equals one new tube of paint. This has allowed me to be able to afford quality supplies for my passion.” - Eileen

“I understand the reluctance to spend, especially if it’s a new hobby. You aren’t sure whether you’ll like it so don’t want to spend too much.

My view is that with watercolor, if you don’t spend and have the best materials you probably won’t do well and therefore won’t like it! It makes sense to set yourself up for success so that you can truly give it your best go. ” - Nancy

Watercolor is the cheapest hobby that I do. I initially bought everything you recommended and the brands you suggested. I still have many of the original paint tubes after years of use. I’m happy with the Winsor Newton Professional paints… I had one previous encounter with watercolor classes where student grade supplies and twice the number of paints were recommended. These were so unsatisfactory that I almost gave up the effort.

I’m so happy I found you online and with your supplies and guidance was able to achieve acceptable results from the beginning. For me the student grade supplies were a waste of money. Thank you for being considerate of our wallets!” - El-lott

“I had been taking an in person watercolor class at a local art school so I had certain supplies already. Once I signed up for your online school everything changed! In my humble opinion once you use amazing paper and once you use quality paint and brushes it really makes a HUGE difference...

I find I get amazing results when I use exactly what you say and do things exactly how you instruct. I am more confident and find I can use all your techniques on my own paintings but I do believe it is due to good, quality supplies.” - Cindy

“[I agree it’s] important for beginners to have good paper and professional paints from the start. It’s so easy to be demotivated and put ‘failures’ down to perceived lack of talent when you have actually been let down by the products used.

One tip – if you regularly buy other products from Amazon (and you are not a Prime member) and your basket does not reach the value to qualify for free delivery, try putting a tube of paint in your basket. Rather than pay the delivery charge, this might tip the basket over the line to qualify for free delivery. You pay the same, but you get a ‘free’ tube of paint paid for by Amazon 😄” - David

Expand your kit

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Once you've got the painting bug, it can be fun to expand your beginner kit with extra paints, a palette, paper, an easel and even a daylight lamp. Here are some favorites:

1. Explore our recommended supply lists on Amazon or Jackson's:

2. Browse our favorite extra supplies by type:

As your skills develop you may want to work with higher quality paper, or at larger sizes. Remember, you'll want hotpressed paper that's at least 300gsm/140lb thick. 

I recommend:

Bockingford make a great paper at under £1/$1 a sheet 

Jackson's UK | Amazon US | Amazon CA  |  Amazon AU


Arches is a premium paper but a favourite:

9 x 12" block  Jackson's UK | Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

12 x 16" block Jackson's UK | Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Paints from the Starter Kit can be used to make colours similar to the ones below, so you can use them initially, adding to your collection gradually so you have all the 18 colours I have in my palette (which will make your colour mixing easier). If you'd like to see whether paints you already have can be substituted, check the pigment number and substitution information I've provided on this page.

Winsor & Newton 5ml tubes:

  Permanent Rose 

Jackson's UK  / Amazon US   / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Davy’s Gray

Jackson's UK/ Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Yellow Ochre

Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Cobalt Blue

Jackson's UK / Amazon US  / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Winsor Blue (Green Shade)

Jackson's UK/ Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU 


  Cobalt Turquoise Light

Jackson's UK/ Amazon US  / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


  Schmincke Transparent Orange, 15ml

Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


Gouache, Permanent White, 14ml 

Jackson's UK / Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon AU


The full paint set

Click here to buy the full set of all 18 paints from Jackson’s in the UK.

I use a flat, ceramic palette so I can see how the colour mix will look on the paper. I squeeze my paints out around the edge.

For this, I use a square plate like this one or a palette with spaces around the edge for paint.

Buy from UK | Amazon US  | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Easel

Once you're painting lots, you'll find that using a tabletop easel makes painting more comfortable.

The easel that I use and recommend is the Daler-Rowney ArtSphere

Amazon UK / Amazon US  | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

iPad Holder

When you’re painting from a photo, you’ll need to keep it nearby for frequent reference. The best way to look at your reference photo is on an iPad, as the screen shows the colours well, and you can zoom in to look at the details.

To position your tablet in just the right spot for painting, try one of these stands.

Amazon UK  / Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Daylight lamp

If you paint into the night, or in a spot without much natural light, a daylight lamp will really help you to see colours properly. Having this bit of kit can really extend the length of your painting sessions.

Jackson's UK / Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

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