Tutorial 7. Basic materials for watercolour painting.

This post is about basic watercolour materials.   

Something I have noticed over the years is that many people arrive at workshops, or go out for a day’s painting armed with everything and the kitchen sink:).     

Keeping life simple is definitely a good rule to live by, and this also applies to art materials. 

Frame 1 and 2 – Palettes

When painting indoors, I have used the same palette for over thirty years.     You will note that when I finish a day’s painting, I don’t scrub the palette clean…..to do so is to throw away good paint and money.     Rather, I hold it under a slow running tap and then with a watercolour brush clean off any areas where I have mixed paint.   

Even if the palette has been left to dry for several days, all I need to do is wet the remaining paint on the palette and the paint is activated again. 

My favourite watercolour palette:-



I was given this little travelling palette about thirty years ago by a dear friend in the States.     The original blocks of paint have long gone, and so I simply fill the wells with tube paint.   Yes, it looks a little sad, however, after holding it under a running tap for a few seconds, it’s ready to go….



Frame 3 and 4 –  Sketch books and paper. 

When travelling, I always carry a small sketchbook.    This is for recording quick images and writing notes.   This one is 5 inches square.      Note, one brush will do, plus a credit card with the corner cut off….also the credit card allows me through customs. 



I will write a separate blog about watercolour papers, but today we are talking about papers and sketchbooks for playing and experimenting.      

I highly recommend that you purchase a ‘sample pack’ of watercolour papers from your supplier.    The packs are not expensive, and will allow you to play with different weights and types of papers.     

One of the suppliers I use, sells packs of 50 off cuts.    This is a very affordable way to purchase paper…for playing purposes.  Note I have put a colour ground on two of these. 



Frame 5.   Watercolour Pencils

In my last demonstration using the Calla Lily as a subject, I sketched out the the Lily using a watercolour pencil.    To be honest, I hardly ever use them, but it reminded me how useful they can be.

In the first example, I have pulled out paint with a clean, wet brush from the hard line.    In the second example, I scribbled colour and then added water.   In the third if mixed blue and brown together and then added water. 

Watercolour pencils can be purchased from an art supplier. 



Frame 6. – Brushes and knife. 

Note that I like to use a big brush and would suggest that when playing, you do the same.   It frees you up.    In this frame there is an uncharacteristically small brush for me, however, for demonstration purposes I used it to make the fine line.     The Rigger Brush (so called because it was used by Maritime artists to paint the rigging on ships) has a much longer head on it…and is very effective for fine lines.     

I have had this knife for about 17 years, since I absconded with it from a friend’s kitchen in San Francisco:)    I become attached to my materials and this knife is no exception. 

Note I made the broad marks, using the big brush and a mix of Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue, and then pulled out with my knife. 



Frame 7.   Juicy paint vs Transparent paint.

I often refer to juicy paint when I am teaching.     This means that I load my brush with tube paint, and very little water.

When I want the pigment to be transparent and light, I use much more water and very little pigment.    In the first example, I have used a mix of Burnt Sienna, Prussian blue….I loaded my big brush and applied directly to dry paper.     I then took a clean, wet brush and teased out the edge.    

In the second example, I have applied Winsor & Newton Green Gold, using my big brush and lots of water….very little pigment is needed.     I have then taken a clean, wet brush and pulled out the edge. 

Using my knife, I have then scraped through.      This is the kind of exercise that I highly recommend.   



Frames 8, 9 and 10  –   Watercolours. 

These are what the Winsor & Newton Cotman series watercolours look like.     They are very reasonably priced and are excellent for beginners and advanced painters, alike.       I purchase the big tubes, however, they also have smaller tubes.    



When working on a colour ground, I use Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache Permanent White.   There are some pigments where I choose to use the Winsor & Newton artist’s grade colour which is more expensive.      By the way, Winsor & Newton has recently changed their tubes and so don’t be thrown by this. 



A few years ago, I was introduced to the Daniel Smith range of watercolours and I love them.    They are more expensive, but absolutely worth it. 



The following are some of the pigments I use.    

Winsor & Newton, Cotman series. – Burnt Sienna, Prussian Blue, Dioxazine Violet, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Orange, Alizarin Crimson, Turquoise, Sepia, cadmium yellow hue, Burnt Umber 

Winsor & Newton – Artists grade – Green Gold, Burnt Sienna 

Winsor & Newton – Designer Gouache – Cobalt Turquoise Light, Opera Rose, Naples Yellow. 

Daniel Smith – Raw Umber Violet, Carmine.

Here are the websites for my favourite suppliers.

http://www.jacksonsart.com      http://www.kenbromleyartsupplies.co.uk     http://www.danielsmith.com  http://www.winsornewton.com

When I travel, as I did recently to the States, I order my paper from a supplier in the country where I will be working (in the States, Daniel Smith).    There are many excellent suppliers worldwide….the four that I have given here, I highly recommend.     All supplies can be ordered on line and delivered to your door.

Happy painting.

A Bientôt   




9 thoughts on “Tutorial 7. Basic materials for watercolour painting.

  1. gini

    What a wonderfully full blog today. I can’t find words to express how inspiring you are. Very clear and useful tips.. last year I bought a really fat brush like you showed here. It was magical.. and it was expensive.. hee hee. I cannot handle those tiny brushes for some reason.. they do not seem to hold paint long enough for me to make a complete line. I have never seen watercolor pencils..probably I have but thought they were just colored pencils. I sometimes forget my reading glasses when shopping.. 🙂 Love to you dear Janet.. You would have been an excellent art teacher in school systems. xx

    1. janetweightreed

      Thank you so much Gini….and am so glad that you have found this to be helpful. You are right, small brushes don’t hold a lot of paint. Chinese brushes do this very well. You can load them, and the paint seems to last forever.

      You have brought up an interesting subject…working within systems. From early days I made the decision not to be part of a system. I have preferred to be a free spirit and give workshops around the world for private and institutional organisations.:) This means that you don’t have the security of the institutional umbrella, but you do have the freedom to work as you wish and I believe be more creative when teaching.

      I am currently being interviewed on line by an artist I know at the University of Arizona about how social networks and giving workshops in the private sector, vs. working in schools or universities, works for me as an artist.

      Happy painting Gini.xx

    1. janetweightreed

      Good morning Dina…..No, I haven’t, and as you are the third artist to mention this to me, It’s time to give them a go. I love working in mixed media and can see where the crayons could give some very interesting results. Thank you:)xxxx

  2. gini

    Will be looking for Chinese brushes now. Again, I’ve never really noticed the label Chinese on a brush. Hope we have them in the States.. Thank you. Interesting perspective on School systems Janet. Free Spirit of course talks to me.. (smile) Art IS ‘sort of’ forced on school aged people but every once in awhile one of them has a LIGHT BULB go off in their head.. My Grand daughter for one. She is so talented in all areas of art.( I think the system works that way sometimes) I hope she will continue and blossom into the FREE SPIRIT AGE.. (WINK) xxxx I now can see her years ahead traveling the country and sharing her talented gifts. ( a good vision,INDEED) Thank you for that .. XXXX

  3. janetweightreed

    Hi Gini…I will post a picture of Chinese brushes on the blog next week…I do know that you have them in the States, and when you see them, I am sure you will recognise.
    How wonderful to hear about your granddaughter…and that she has a Grandmother like you who will encourage and support her….this is so important.
    Here’s to the free spirits of the world:)xx

  4. kathryningrid

    Simply marvelous! I do so love the behind-scenes educational posts that show me something of your process and approach. Absolutely wonderful: yes, literally, it fills me with wonder! Thank you, Janet.


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