Watercolour Essentials — Everything You Need To Get Started

Watercolour Essentials — Everything You Need To Get Started

 Get started with watercolour painting: a guide to our recommended tools and materials for beginners learning to paint with watercolours. Perfect for those looking to create expressive landscape studies, delicate brush illustrations and vibrant washes of colour, watercolour painting requires only a handful of essential materials making this medium a popular choice for painters starting their creative journey.


The Essential Tools

Watercolour Paint

Watercolour paint typically comes in a tube or compressed paint half pan. We offer Winsor & Newton’s Cotman watercolour range in both 8ml tubes and half-pan sizes, which is a great choice for beginners and experienced artists alike. 

While both offer the same quantity of paint, painting with half-pans can allow more control over the amount of colour and pigment you load onto your brush as these are activated by adding water to the compressed pan. Watercolour tubes are therefore better suited to large washes of vibrant colour, as you can either use the paint straight from the tube or add water to dilute and extend the paint.

For a beginner’s all-round colour palette, we’d recommend the following five colours. From these, you’ll be able to mix the largest range of different colours and shades. 

Alizarin Crimson Hue, Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber & Chinese White.

If you’re looking for a pre-made set, we offer a couple of different options by Winsor & Newton, each containing eight half-pan watercolours in a palette chosen to suit a particular subject matter — from landscapes to skyscapes to florals. The half pans are stored in a plastic case with enough room for four extra half-pans as you expand your range of colours, with the palette lid doubling as a handy mixing palette. Each set also includes a travel paintbrush, ideal for those looking to paint outdoors or take a set with them when travelling!

For a budget or child-friendly option, we’d recommend our classic red watercolour tin, containing twelve watercolour paint blocks in rainbow colours.


Watercolour Paint Brushes

Daler-Rowney’s Aquafine range of brushes are designed specifically for watercolour painting, made using a blend of synthetic and sable hair and available in a range of shapes and sizes. We offer a wide range of their brushes, but to keep things simple we’d recommend choosing two or three brushes to start with and adding to your collection as you get more comfortable with the medium. 

Daler-Rowney’s Sable Round brushes are the most versatile, with a fine point for creating detailed work and flexible bristles that can be used to create broad strokes by applying more pressure. We offer these brushes in eight sizes and we always recommend them if you're new to painting. Flat Shader or Oval Wash brushes are also widely used for watercolour pieces, especially for blending or creating expansive washes of colour, or for those working smaller you could try a Rigger brush, which has a long slender profile ideal for fine lines and details.

If you’d like an option free from animal products, we offer Pro Arte’s range of Prolene watercolour brushes. These brushes are all made in the UK from a high quality, synthetic material, designed to replicate traditional sable watercolour brushes.

Watercolour brushes can be cleaned by simply rinsing them in water and allowing them to dry. To keep your brushes in good condition, we recommend avoiding leaving them sitting in a pot of water as the bristles can become deformed and damaged over time as they’re pushed against the base of the pot. 


Watercolour Paper

Watercolour paper is usually available in three different finishes - Cold Pressed (NOT), Hot Pressed and Rough.

We’d recommend Winsor & Newton’s cold pressed watercolour paper for beginners. Made with a cotton blend, this paper offers a medium-level of texture and is suited to most watercolour styles, making it great for experimenting with different techniques. 

Hot pressed watercolour paper offers the smoothest surface, and is therefore usually favoured by illustrators as it is much easier to create crisp lines and fine details as there are no dimples for the paint to gather in. 

Rough watercolour paper is (no surprise) the roughest textured paper. Best suited to a loose style of painting, the texture can make brush strokes appear broken on the page, lending itself to an expressive style.  


Anything Else? 

All you really need to get started with watercolour are paints, brushes and a surface to paint on. Grab an old jar or glass from the kitchen to hold your water and rinse your brush in and you’re ready to go. However, below are a few other supplies you could add to your tool kit to get the most out of your painting experience. 

Mixing Palettes

Watercolour paints have a tendency to gather in beads on plastic or metal palettes as they have a resistance to the surface, and while this does wear away the more you use the palette for mixing, you could opt for a ceramic palette for easier mixing. Ceramic palettes are also easier to clean and the non-porous surface is less likely to stain over time. 

Reservoir Brush

Our Van Gogh reservoir brush is another great tool for experimenting with watercolour. The hollow, squeezable handle can be filled with water or watercolour pigment and refilled as necessary, so you don’t need to keep dipping your brush into a pot of water between brush strokes. It’s not an essential tool, but definitely is something fun to try out, especially if you love painting outdoors. 

Masking Fluid

A liquid medium that you paint on paper so it becomes a solid “mask” over certain areas, masking fluid is favoured by artists looking to layer up their watercolour paintings. Once the medium has dried, you can paint your design over it and then carefully peel the masking fluid away to reveal the white paper underneath. Masking fluid can be applied with a fine tipped brush, and is perfect for creating very fine lines or highlights. 

Watercolour Pencils

Looking for more precision in your watercolour artworks? Winsor & Newton’s set of 12 water-soluble pencils are ideal for those looking for the appearance of watercolour paint but with the control of a pencil, and can be used almost like a half pan block with wet brush, directly in wet paint to create interesting marks or to add pencil texture and details into your paintings once they’ve dried.

Looking for some inspiration?

We offer a couple of different watercolour painting books, including 15 Minute Art: Watercolour and The Joy of Watercolour. Each feature illustration projects in varying subject matters, from animals and florals to portraits and patterns, and clearly explain each step making them perfect for beginners. We personally love the The Joy of Watercolour by watercolour illustrator Emma Block, which includes a list of swatches at the beginning of each project and lots of helpful tips, helping make watercolour painting accessible to all. 


Have any questions? Please feel free to email us at hello@saltartsupply.co.uk, and we’d be happy to help you! We love to see the work you create using our tools, materials and recommendations, so make sure to tag us @saltartsupply on Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok. 

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