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Learning how-to-paint? Need some help with watercolour paints, papers and brushes?

I have been teaching watercolours to students for many years now.  I pass on to you the basic list of materials I recommend for those starting out in watercolour painting. You might also find it useful to try out my step-by-step watercolour projects at myworld page Written by eBay member: watpaint


For watercolour painting you can use either tubes or pans.  Prices are similar.  The pans are small cubes of solid paint and are usually set in a box or tray for co nvenience, either will do, but the tubes are quicker for mixing up paint, so I recommend them and you will lessen your chances of muddy results.

Tip: sets of very cheap watercolour paints of less than £1 per tube or pan are a waste of money and result in dismal mixes of colour.

My own recommended minimum colours are:

Ultramarine Blue (violet blue), Pthalo. Blue(greenish blue) , Cadmium Red (orange red) , Lemon Yellow (greenish yellow), and Cadmium Yellow (orange yellow), Permanent Rose or Alizarin Crimson (pinkish red), Raw Sienna (golden yellow).

In addition the following colours are very useful for their convenience and are widely used:

Burnt Sienna (brownish orange),
Cerulean Blue (greenish blue), Burnt Umber (brown) and a white( Chinese White).

Green paints are generally frowned upon for beginners. Mix your own varied greens from the above colours.


Pure sable brushes can be very, very expensive.  Synthetic ones are fine, particularly for the beginner.  You need a minimum of about 4 sizes of brushes.  Avoid bristle brushes or very cheap sets of so-called watercolour brushes sold off the shelf in many superstores.

I use:

A 'Hake' or a flat decorating brush 1-2 inches wide.  A hake brush is made of goat hair.

A flat brush about 1/2 inch wide - I use this for mixing up paint or straight edges.

A round brush medium size 8-10, choose a brush with a good springy point when wet.

A fine detail brush, called a Rigger.


You will get the best results and grow in confidence if you use paper designed for watercolours.  Watercolour paper should not be the cheapest.  This cheaper paper is very difficult to use effectively since it is often too absorbent and refuses to lift the paint.

Bockingford is a middle of the range paper and is very good.  The thicker paper doesn't cockle (bubble up) when water is applied, so this also helps.  I recommend 300gsm paper. The S.A.A.( Society of all artists) sells a good range of such papers.

Note: 300gsm means '300 grams per square metre) which stands for the weight of the paper.  300 gsm is equivalent to '140 pound weight paper' in imperial measure.  This is a reasonably heavy enough paper for watercolour.

Many of my students work on A4 size paper, taping down with 1 or 2 inch masking tape.  Some students come prepared to lessons with'stretched paper' using gummed tape round the edge of paper that is soaking wet and dried flat.

There are many exce llent brands of watercolour paper and the only way is to try out different sheets.  There are 'rough' and 'smooth' and 'Not' papers.  The 'rough' textured papers are said to be rather more difficult for beginners.


Don't go for a pad of A4 paper that costs less than £4.  My students have nothing but trouble with the brands: Boldmere, Reeves and Crimson and Blake.  Rarely have I seen anyone succeed with these papers and paints, but they are very cheap and tempting.

Other essentials include:

A white mixing tray with wells for mixing paint.

Water carriers - 2 preferred, to keep mixes clean.  jam jars will do.

A board to rest on.  Plywood or mdf is fine, but nothing too heavy for carrying around.

Sketchbook. Always useful for observations and ideas.

Pencils: 2B and HB and a soft 6B graphite stick is useful.

Sharpener, rubber and carrying cases for materials and paintings.

Other items that are sometimes useful:

Inks (any sort) plus any type of nib pen, a pale wax crayon or sharpened candle (for 'resist' techniques).
See  Brusho link

If you bring a hair dryer for drying a watercolour it can save you loads of time. As a watercolour tutor I always stipulate that I take no responsibility for students' own electrical goods being used in classes.

Some students like to work from an easel, but a table and board are fine for most.

Remember this tip:

The cheaper the materials, the more difficult they are to use effectively.  You can soon become disappointed.  Buy the minimum materials to start with, but go for the better quality.

Note: this information applies specifically to pure watercolour painting and does not cover acrylics or gouache. Remember this is my own list as a watercolour tutor.

ebay member: Watpaint.  See my  eBay downloads step-by-step.

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