When you're just starting out it can be intimidating (and expensive) to acquire all the supplies you'll need. Although I completely believe in the importance of using what you have, I also think that purchasing the highest quality materials you can afford will help relieve a bit of the frustration of the learning curve.
That's not to say that by using good materials you'll immediately be good at painting. Learning to paint, like anything, takes time. And patience. And practice. (Don't believe me? Read more about my artistic journey here). It's hard to take the time and to use up those costly materials creating practice (not-so-good) paintings, but it's necessary. Truly, the only wasted materials are those that sit in a drawer unused.
With that little pep talk out of the way, how about I dive into my thoughts about paint?
I prefer working with pan watercolors. I feel as if I waste less paint with them (I don't have to estimate the amount of paint I'll need from the tube, just brush up the exact amount from the pan). Also, they're very long lasting. Paint in tubes can dry out and become unusable. It happened with watercolors that were passed on to me second-hand -- I couldn't get the thickened, old paint out of the tubes. Paint in pans is already dry and doesn't need anything but water and a brush to get it out of the pan and onto your palette. (You can also make your own pans, squeezing paint from tubes into empty watercolor pans).
Pans are a bit harder on your brushes and have the potential of becoming dirty. To combat those negatives, I now mix my paint with a cheaper brush and am careful not to contaminate one color with another (and wipe off any errant paint if it does happen).
All of the paints I use are professional (sometimes called "artist") quality. Professional watercolors have more pigment. I've also read that they're more light-fast than student-level paints, although this does vary by pigment.
The paints I've been using the longest are these Sennelier French Artists' Watercolor Half Pans (I got them somewhere around or slightly before October of 2011). This is the travel set. I've switched out a few of the colors over the years (one got lost, a couple others I rarely used).
Sennelier watercolors are formulated with a honey base which gives the paints longevity as well as smoothness and luminosity (read more here -- and watch the video if you have a chance, too. It's fun to see some of the sights of Paris and watch paints being created in the factory).
Another brand I like to use is Winsor & Newton's professional watercolors (their student line is called Cotman).
I've slowly filled up this palette box with paints as I tried various colors. Once you have your basic colors, it's nice to try some others that you can't mix from the primaries. The pinks (Opera Rose and Cobalt Violet) and that turquoise (Cobalt Turquoise -- a gorgeous color, but one that doesn't like to stay mixed with other paints) are a couple good examples. I've also enjoyed trying different reds and yellows to find my favorites.
One of the best ways to get to know your paints is to make swatches of the colors. I've done that in my sketchbooks. Giving the swatch a gradient will help you to know how the paint looks in different concentrations (this works best if the paper in your sketchbook is watercolor paper).
Pre-mixed greens are often really unnatural looking (to me, at least), and I've tried a lot of paints in my search for the perfect green.
These are the least expensive of my watercolors and they're also the most moist. They are a bit sticky in the pans whereas the others I use are dry to the touch. These are full pans (my others are half pans... you can see the difference in size in the top of this picture. There's one Sennelier half pan in green stowing away in this box).
As for greens, I like using Yarka St. Petersburg's Russian Green (you can see my pan in this box is almost empty). I mostly mix it with yellow to brighten it and/or red to deepen it. It makes a gorgeous, deep brown when mixed with enough red.
I don't have a palette box that fits these pans, so I used what I had on hand. To keep the pans from shifting around in the box I hot-glued them in place.
With this brand I've found some other pinks and a purple that I use a lot: Violet Rose, Rose and Quinacridine Rose.
Although I have a lot of paints in my collection, I don't want you to think that you need to have a lot in order to be successful. In truth there are quite a few that I never use.
Also, I rarely use a single color straight from the pan, choosing, instead to mix just the right shade for my project. With just a few colors you can mix many, many others.
A pre-made set of colors is a great place to start, but you can also create your own. Choose a warm and cool red, a warm and cool yellow and a warm and cool blue and you'll be good to go. Add a pink or two if you want to paint with that color (I adore pink flowers as you can see here) and if you feel the need (or desire) to experiment with other colors, add them as your budget allows.
Finally, remember that these are my personal preferences. I've developed my likes and dislikes over the last six-plus years of experimentation and practice. Every artist is different. Use what feels comfortable and what works for you. You might not know what that is yet, but you'll find out. Experiment. Play. Have fun. Read books. Take classes. But don't forget that the best way (really, the only way) to learn how to paint is by painting.
I hope that this post has helped a bit. Please let me know if you have any other questions about watercolors.
I'll be sharing more about paper and brushes in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
Have a joy-filled and creative weekend!
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