My Tools, Materials and Supplies as a Watercolour Artist
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Each artist has their go to supplies, tools and materials they love. In this blog post, I've listed all of the materials I use on a daily and weekly basis as a full time artist.
My plan is to keep this updated, because as artists we know it's nearly impossible to go into an art store without buying something new you didn't go in for. I hope you find this post useful as an artist, and please let me know in the comments if you have other great recommendations so I can check them out!
Pens and Inks
Without a doubt, the number one question I get asked the most often is "What type of pen do you use?"
My absolute go to pen is a Lamy Safari Pen with a converter (the thing that sucks up the ink), using India ink. I haven't tried other fountain pens and this is the one I feel most comfortable using. They range in price from $27-40 CAD.
This combination comes with a caveat: most artists or fountain pen fanatics recommend not using India ink and a fountain pen together. Why?
The reason is because fountain pens can clog easily due to the pigment particles in India and acrylic ink, eventually ruining your pen. Whereas most fountain-pen-approved ink is not waterproof and washes off easily, once India ink or acrylic ink dries, it's very difficult to remove.
While I'm sure there have been countless fountain pens thrown away for exactly that reason, I always make sure to clean my pen with warm, soapy water each time my ink converter runs empty. So far I have been using the same fountain pen with India ink for about two years without any major issues.
I will sometimes add a very small amount (a few drops) of distilled water to my ink if I feel it's not flowing as nicely, and this does the trick.
As for which inks to use in the pen, I bounce between two - my Speedball Super Black India Ink, and Winsor and Newton India Ink.
Since both inks play nicely with watercolour, I can draw rich dark lines either on top or underneath my watercolour paintings, and the ink does not bleed.
Not sure what pen to use with watercolour? I have a lengthy and detailed blog post where I review 14 different black pens/inks. Read that here.
You can view this pen and ink combo in action here on my Instagram page.
Other pens that I use almost daily in my art practice include:
The Sakura Pigma Micron pen is hands down my go to pen when I do not want to whip out my trusty fountain pen with ink above.
I bought my set off of Amazon so I could get a variety of sizes. They've lasted a long time, and work great with watercolour. The pigment is nice and rich, and they aren't crazy expensive either.
I find Winsor and Newton art supplies to be a hit and miss, but their black fineliners are great for small details and feel great in the hand. You will find them much cheaper at art stores, but that link gives you an idea of what they look like.
I also use the Pilot drawing pen: It is really a solid little pen, the ink is dark and rich and it draws smoothly. I use this to sign my art prints. However, I don't use this for is drawing with watercolour, because I find that the ink fades after applying paint on top.
Lastly, I've recently started using Tombow Fudenosuke brush pens. I would have bet money that they would bleed with watercolor, but they do not! I love brush pens for packaging and thank you notes, but now I can also try to experiment using watercolour. Can't recommend these pens enough.
When I was first starting out using watercolour, I knew there were some expensive brands out there but I didn't really think it made a difference. I started off using a mid priced set that I got from my local art store, called Mungyo watercolours (I believe they are from China).
These student-grade watercolours did the trick, but when I finally saved up enough to splurge on a Daniel Smith Ultimate Mixing Set, I saw some serious differences in the quality of the paints.
For one, the Daniel Smith paints are professional-grade watercolours, and the colours of their watercolour sets are usually chosen by well known watercolour professionals. The pigments are bright, vibrant, and mix beautifully. As well, when I first opened the palette I saw that each paint colour looked different - some where shiny, and some were not.
Now that I make my own watercolour, I know that this is because each pigment in the paint requires its own binder to pigment ratio. Pretty sure Daniel Smith has an entire secret lab (complete with mad scientists) who come up with the perfect ratios for the pigments. They are so delicious to use!
The Mungyo watercolours on the other hand, mixed okay, but the colours weren't as vibrant, and they felt cheaper. They really looked like just sad blocks of dried paint in the palette.
I'm not saying it's bad to start out with cheaper materials at first - I wouldn't have appreciated my Daniel Smith paints if I had began with them first. But, there really is a difference in student, artist and professional grade paints. Find and use what works for you!
When I was learning about colour mixing, I was also using my Royal Langnickel watercolour paint set. I do not usually use watercolour out of the tube, I find them slightly harder to work with. But, this set is cheap and comes in a bunch of different fun, bright colours (plus the colour palette essentials).
Lastly, I started making and selling my own handmade watercolour paints on Etsy back in June 2021. I hand mull each paint myself using non-toxic artist's grade pigments, gum arabic binder, distilled water, essential oil, vegetable glycerin, and honey on a glass slab. Just like they did in the old days!
My handmade paints are my go to paints now, though I will use my Daniel Smith watercolour set to travel or if I don't have a colour I've made yet. Handmade paints usually have a much higher pigment ratio, meaning each colour really packs a punch. They're not filled with additional extenders or preservatives, so you're really getting what you pay for.
There are other artists on Etsy making their own paint - I highly recommend checking them out for high quality, unique paints.
You can view me making paint on my Instagram!
Okay, so for my extra drawing tools (rulers, erasers, and tapes), I actually do not have any brand loyalty. A ruler is a ruler. I do however make sure to use a clear ruler so I can see my drawing underneath. I am still using my 6" and 12" clear rulers I bought from a Staples or Walmart some years ago.
For erasers, at the moment I am using a Faber-Castell eraser that I got from my local art store. It's a regular white plastic eraser for blacklead pencils. There are a surprisingly vast amount of options for erasers, so it might be worth having a read of Jackson's Art Supplies post on the 5 Types of Erasers.
For tape, I have found artists drafting tape to be too weak to hold watercolour paper properly, and paint seeps underneath the paint, damaging the painting. It's not fun. Instead, I use 1", 1/2", 1/4" and 1/8" painter's tape rolls that you can find in hardware stores or online in sets.
Why all these sizes you ask? I use some for holding the edges of the paper to surface I'm painting on (this makes the page lay flat while also creating a nice border). The smaller tapes I use when I have parts of my painting I do not want to paint over.
If you decide to go the painter's tape route, please be careful when removing painters tape from your paper! Since it's meant to stick on walls/trim/ceilings, it can be tricky to remove on something as delicate as paper. I had an artsy friend suggest sticking the tape to your pants before applying it to your paper so that it doesn't rip the paper when you peel the tape off. So far, this has worked great!
If I were to start offering commissions again, or if I had my work present in galleries for people to see, I would probably use more expensive paper. However, since I edit my paintings on my iPad and actually try to remove a lot of the texture for my prints, this isn't necessary. Seriously, you should see some of my originals - blotches of paint, accidental smudges, and shaky lines.
Truthfully, I wish I had more experience trying different paper, because there's some really nice stuff out there.
The paper that I use the most is my 300 gsm cold-pressed 24x18 Canson XL watercolour pad. I had bought this large pad of paper for a 24x18 commission, but it's been quite economical in that I can make four 9x12 pieces from one page.
I know I'll be painting for the rest of my life, so it made sense to get this large size. For beginner's I'd opt for Canson's smaller size or something similar!
The paper I would love to use consistently would be Arches paper 300 gsm, either cold or hot-pressed, depending on the project.
Cold-pressed paper is distinguishable by its rough texture. This is the more recognizable and used watercolour paper and is cheaper (at least, from what I've found). Hot-pressed paper on the other hand is smooth, almost like vellum, and works really well with ink. It is usually more expensive.
I also have a small Winsor and Newton watercolour travel pad that I use sometimes. I think I like this cold-pressed paper - it feels like good quality, but I don't like how quickly and voraciously it seems to drink up watercolour. You really need to have a lot of paint down, because the white of the paper sticks out if you don't have enough paint on your brush.
I generally stick to my Canson watercolour paper, but because it's a travel pad, it stays in my purse for when inspiration strikes!
Okay legit for the first 6 months of my business, I was using Dollar Store brushes, which I'm sure you've seen before either in store or online.
Since my art is mostly small and detailed, these did the trick. Most have been completely wrecked because I was using them for acrylics and watercolour, and I've since needed to buy more.
I've since upgraded to the Artecho 15 piece detail brush set, which I've really enjoyed using. The only issue I have with these brushes is that it doesn't have a small enough flat brush, which is what I use to paint my bricks. If you would like to paint bricks, or anything square/rectangular, you'd want to go for a set of flat brushes.
If you want really nice brushes, check out your local art store and see what options they have. They will have a higher price point, but you will be able to choose brushes based on what you need. You'll also be supporting a local business which is always a good thing!
Andddd to finish off my materials, for Christmas this year my partner bought me some Master's Brush Cleaner & Preserver. Although it only comes in a 1 oz jar, from what I've used I expect this could last years.
I did not really ever use brush cleaner, I just washed my brushes in plain old water. Now that I have nicer brushes, and I use highly pigmented paints like in Daniel Smith's half pan set (namely quinacridone rose and phthalo green/green staining colours), it is nice to use this cleaner to truly get rid of all the pigment in my brush.
For dollar store brushes or cheap brushes for your watercolour, I don't think it's necessary. For acrylic and oil painting, this brush cleaner could be a good purchase because it lasts a while and it will protect your brushes from all the rigorous cleaning the brushes need (especially for high quality brushes).
And that's it! If you have other recommendations as an artist, I'd love to hear them in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and happy painting ❤︎
Hello from Australia,
I recently stumbled across your blog and I must say it is full of the most useful information. I am beginning to throw myself back into watercolour painting for the first time since high school. The advice you are supplying is so helpful and I plan to refer back to your website for future tips & tricks.