Updated: June 14, 2015
Watercolor Painting SuppliesMost of us are first exposed to watercolor painting when we are small children, and the brushes are often our hands and fingers! As an introduction to art, this is fine, but real water-color painting requires proper materials and tools to do the job right. You can learn how to watercolor at any age, although some techniques and the patience it takes in waiting for layers to dry sometimes makes it more appropriate for adults. To get started, consider taking a watercolor painting class -- there is no better way to learn than from watching an experienced painter, seeing how they mix their paints, how they use their watercolor brushes, the techniques they use for creating different effects on the paper. Another option is to follow one or two instructional watercolor painting books, which we will take a look at below. But first, let's cover what basic watercolor supplies and materials are needed to paint, what they cost, and where you can buy them.
Best Watercolor Brushes:
As you can imagine, you can't paint without a few key supplies -- namely, watercolor paints, watercolor paper, and water color brushes (and of course water!). Let's start with the brushes. A brush is made up of the hairs or bristles at one end, a ferrule (which is the metal collar than connect the bristles to the brush handle), and the handle. Basic watercolor brushes have long, absorbent hairs. Sable hair brushes are considered the very best, and they are renown for their ability to be drawn to a fine point (by twirling the brush) and to keep that sharp point for detailed work. The main brush types are flat and round. Round brushes have a sort of cone shape to them, with a circle of bristles coming to a point. Flat brushes look like a round brush that have been squished flat and then had the ends all squared off, giving you a stiffer, rectangular painting surface. For round brushes, they are designated by numbers that indicate their relative size (000 being the smallest and 20 being the fattest). For example, a size 0 round brush has a very fine point and very few bristles, meant for the most delicate of detailed work - the diameter might be only 1/16 of an inch, with small bristles only 3/8 of an inch in length. A size 12 round brush is much larger, with a diameter of more than a quarter of an inch and bristles longer than 1 inch. Most painters have a collection of many brushes, giving them the flexibility to paint under many conditions, however you usually find that a good watercolor painter can do most of their work using just 3 or 4 brushes that are their favorites, with a smattering of additional brushes in inventory for occasional use when necessity calls. Sable brushes are the most expensive, so many artists, especially beginners to watercolors, opt for synthetic or part sable - part synthetic brushes to save on expenses. The Kolinsky red sable brush is considered the gold standard (Kolinsky is the type of sable they are made from, usually from Russia) - they are manufactured by a number of different companies, like Arches Kolinsky brushes and Escoda Kolinsky brushes. Other major brand names include Grumbacher brushes, daVinci, Isabey watercolor brushes, Rosemary and Co., Raphael, and Yarka. View a list of the best-selling watercolor equipment here.
There is nothing wrong with using synthetic brushes though some purists will scoff. But sometimes buying quality brushes that cost more and last longer and perform better is worthwhile. For beginners, we recommend going with cheaper synthetic brushes. How much do watercolor brushes cost? Most brushes come in various grades, from artist grade down to student grade (for serious art students starting out) down to scholastic grade (for kids). For artist grade Kolinsky sable brushes, one example price is $69 for a set of 3 brushes (size 4,6,8 round) from MisterArt.com - Amazon also lists a full range of Kolinsky brushes here. Or the JACK RICHESON 8000 Series White Synthetic Watercolor Brush Set (synthetic), with a 3, 6,and 10 round and one 3/4 inch flat for $30. Or at DickBlick.com, the Blick Master Kolinsky Sable Brushes (set of 6, size 1,4,10, and 14 round, size 6 and 12 flat) goes for $204. The Windsor and Newton Sceptre Gold brushes are sable blends, and a size 12 round will set you back $17, a size 4 round will set you back $5, and a size 6 flat costs $6. So you can see that the blends and synthetics are significantly cheaper than the genuine Kolinsky sable brushes. Unless you have an unlimited budget or are an experienced artist investing in a top quality tookit, save the Kolinsky's for later in your career. You can also buy much cheaper scholastic grade brushes, like a Reeves Pony kit of 144 brushes (24 of each, round 4, 8, 12 and flat 6, 8, 10) for just $50. For those just getting started, a good beginner set would include several size round brushes, like a 3 or 4, an 8, and a larger 12 or 14 size, along with a rigger brush (with long bristles for fine detail). For flats, a good one inch flat wash brush will go a lot of work for you, and throw in a 1/2 inch flat and a good squaring brush like a sho-card brush. One fan brush helps as well.