Nicole Black.


A Beginner's Guide to Watercolour. Part 1: Materials

There's something really beautiful about watercolour. 

It's one of my favourite mediums to use for its versatility and translucent quality. It offers its users an array of effects; from washy hints of colour to punchy statements achieved by 'working up' the pigment. Due to its dependency on water, there is an element of uncontrollability that can give it a look of characteristic spontaneity. At the same time, this can be a characteristic that will deter those who are new to using the medium.

It can take a lot of practice to achieve a look of 'effortlessness' with watercolour but knowing some of the tips and tricks can make this process a lot easier to navigate! As a medium it is really accessible and a great past time to be enjoyed. In this post I will share some of my tips on materials to invest in to get a kit started.






This can come down to personal preference whether you use a palette, paint in tubes or even watercolour pencils (which will give you a lot more control when starting out). I have recently started experimenting with Watercolour textas so there is a lot in the market to choose from!

Personally I like to use Koh-I-Noor palettes (the 'Brilliant' palette offers some beautiful, punchy colours!) more than any other alternative and they usually retail for around $15- $25 AUD depending on how many colours you get!

Alternatively, you may be enticed by the paint in the tubes. I have recently invested in some Winsor and Newton paints for their reputation in watercolours but they do come with a higher price tag (starting from around $10 AUD per tube)!

Rather than purchasing a huge array of colours that are available in their range, I selected a 'warm' and 'cool' tone of each of the primary colours plus a 'lamp black'. Traditionally, there is little need to invest in a white watercolour paint as you will generally rely on the paper to shine through for highlights.  

If you are new to colour mixing, it's good idea to create a cheat sheet with the colours in your set so you are familiar with how you can achieve certain tones before diving into a new work. 

Despite having copious amounts of art supplies, I still tend to ask the advice of friendly art supplies store assistants so don't be shy (or feel free to add your questions to the comment section below)



Again something that you will develop a preference for when you get familiar with the varying effects you can achieve through different papers. Basically though, you will want to pay attention to a couple of things:

  • The 'GSM' (otherwise known as paper thickness)  A good rule of thumb is that if you are applying a lot of water and layering up the painting, you will need to aim for a thicker stock (from 250-300 GSM) alternatively, if you know that you are going to work with less water (in a dry brush method) and not as many layers, you can get away with a paper as thin as 180 GSM.
  • The texture: the 'smoothness' or 'roughness' of the paper which refers to the texture. The rougher the paper texture the more 'granulation' will occur as the paint dries on the page. If you are planning to use multiple mediums on the page (for example pen lines as well the watercolour paint) you may want to go for a smoother paper stock. A good mid-range brand is the Canson paper varieties.  

Like the watercolour paints, you can spend a lot of money on paper if you want to but might not be advisable when you are starting out and are getting to know your preferences. I would advise aiming for a mid range paper and maybe even looking at sampling a couple of different varieties if your budget allows you too.



Many art supplies stores will offer sets of brushes specific to watercolour that offer a good variety for starting your kit. Again, you can spend a lot of money on brushes but like the paper it might be worth trialling a couple of different brushes and pay attention to your preference with them as you are using them! Some of my favourite brushes to use aren't the most expensive so don't feel compelled to invest in brushes that are a certain hair of an animal (unless it is unicorn hair, then it may well be worth the investment) In your kit you will want to have a variety of sizes from really fine (for adding in fine details) to a larger brush that can be used to 'load' the water on the page (especially for background washes).



So you've got the big purchase items out of the way and you're almost ready to go! Here are a couple of other items I've found really useful when conducting a watercolour painting:

  • PAPER TOWEL: Seriously the most underrated art assistant for watercolour. Having some paper towel close-by will enable an increased level of control when it comes to painting (to be explained further in Part 2) I find myself constantly moving from the palette, to the paper towel, to the page to check the darkness of the colour I'm putting on the page. It's also really good to adjust the amount of water on your brush if you are working more delicately. 


  • MDF BOARD: You can buy boards that are made specifically for your art work but a MDF board from your local hardware store with a bull dog clip works just as well! You can also tape your paper to the board with masking tape that has less 'stick' so it won't tear the paper afterwards. The reason why I advise using a board is it give you a little more flexibility to move your work around again, increasing the level of control you have whilst working. For example if you want the watercolour to run around the page you can tilt the board accordingly!


  •  WATER VESSEL: In the name of recycling, an old pasta jar is perfect for this (OHS- remove the labels!) 


  • PALETTE: A small plastic palette is all you'll need for watercolour. The palette sets I mentioned earlier have a lid that you can use as a palette and it usually does the trick! Alternatively, plastic lids from ice cream containers can work really well as palettes. Make sure they're white so you can still see your colours clearly!


  • WHITES FOR HIGHLIGHTS: As I mentioned earlier, I don't tend to use white watercolour paint. Instead, I try and plan ahead for where the highlights might be in the painting and leave the paper as is or I add them in the last stages of the painting. For this I use white pencils (Faber Castells or Prismacolors) Posca textas (paint textas) white ink or gouache paint. 


  • PENCILS: There's nothing wrong with lightly sketching and planning for your painting. If you use a lighter pencil (2H, 3H or 4H) you will be able to erase back the lines (or even leave them if you like that look!) before putting the watercolour paint on the page. 

I hope this has been of some use! I would love to hear other suggestions that people might have on their preferences for materials etc.

Until next time,