Watercolor Tools of the Trade

As a watercolor artist it’s imperative for me to have the necessary tools for painting. Often, there is a significant variety of materials available, and everyone has their favorites for different reasons. Over the years I have narrowed down the tools that work best for me and have compiled a list of my favorites.

 I think you may be surprised as to what made the list! I hope my list answers questions, and possibly helps fellow artists along the way. 

The first step in getting the proper tools is knowing where to shop for your supplies! Most of my materials come from a local art store called Artist & Craftsman located in Portland, Maine. As luck would have it they also have a website available for our shopping needs! You can check out their link below. I have also listed a couple of other popular online art suppliers as well; DickBlicks and Jerry’s Artarama.




Tip: All of the tools and materials mentioned in this post should be readily available at one of these locations. 


1. Arches 300 lb Hot Press Watercolor Paper

The watercolor paper I use is probably the single most important material to me. It’s very important to work with high quality paper that will have the absorbency necessary for the results I require. I love to paint a ton of layers and washes, and for this reason I use a very heavy paper, 300 pound Arches Watercolor Paper to be precise.

Tip: Watercolor paper comes with two surface textures, hot press andcold press (sometimes even a third choice – rough press). Hot press is smooth and cold press is rough. I like both the hot and the cold press, but usually prefer the hot press for it’s smoother surface.  


2. Winsor & Newton Watercolor Paints

Watercolor paint is also another important tool as it’s primary function is to give you the ultimate variations in vibrancy and depth in your paintings. I use Windsor & Newton Watercolor Paints. This popular brand has been around for a while and is well known for its high quality paints. Through the years I have experimented with all sorts of colors, and have compiled a list of my tried and trued favorites!

 Tip: Here is my list of favorite paint colors:

– Payne’s Grey       – Alizarin Crimson

– Sepia                    – Cerulean Blue

– Yellow Ochre      – Burnt Umber


3. Watercolor Mixing Palette 

Having an organized area dedicated to your color palette is important; however it is also crucial to have a space large enough that you can mix your colors with ease. As you can see in the image below my paint palette does not stay clean for long due to the wide varieties of colors I like to mix in order to get the precise shade I am looking for. 


4. Brushes 

The proper brushes to use is an interesting topic as some people feel they have to be the absolute best.  I on the other hand feel this is an area that has some wiggle room. I tend to use the less expensive synthetic brushes for most of my paintings because I’m a little rougher than most when I paint and like that they are disposable. I do however have one very important must have brushwhich I will go the extra mile to get and that’s a large watercolor goat hair mop brush

Tip: When my smaller brushes are no longer useful for painting, I turn them into my art masking fluid brushes to get a few more uses out of them before throwing them away.


5. Natural Light

Whenever you are trying to achieve precise colors in a watercolor painting the proper lighting is imperative for best results. Natural lighting is the best possible source of light, which make painting in a room with windows ideal. 

Tip: If you are in need of artificial light try a halogen light fixture as a supplementary source of light. It’s the closest replica to the real thing.


6. Clean Water

Another important tool that is sadly underestimated is clean water! Lets face it, when you get really into a painting you are focused, and getting up to change the water can get overlooked easily. However, as the title “watercolor” clearly states water is a basic necessity when painting, and the cleaner the water the better the colors!

Tip: Change your water frequently! 


7. Paper Towels

Paper towels is an inexpensive and extremely helpful tool! I use paper towels for all sorts of reason when painting. I always have a towel under my brushes, under my water jar, and a crumple up one in one hand in case I have the need to blot my painting. I also have several pieces of towels handy for soaking up the excess water that goes flying around when I paint a wash on my paintings. Yes, I make a mess when I paint which makes having paper towels readily available vital to my painting process!


8. Scrap Papers

Having a few scrap watercolor paper by your side while painting may seem like a trivial tool to have, but if you want to save yourself the heartache and frustration of trying to correct a poor color choice then these little bits will be a lifesaver! I was taught at a young age to always test my color on a scrap before painting, and its a habit I still practice today. Testing colors can be a tedious chore at times but is well worth the practice in the end.


9. Kneaded Erasers 

Kneaded erasers areanother simple yet valuable tool.They are inexpensive and can be found at any art supply store. They allow you to make corrections on your watercolor paper without breaking down the fibers of the paper leaving it in perfect condition for painting.

Tip: To really learn just how valuable these kneaded erasers can be check out my quick tip video on Kneaded Erasers


10. Art Masking Fluid

Another valuable tool of the trade for me is Art Masking Fluid. This really allows me to create the clean lines and intricate detail in my paintings. Although at times it can be somewhat tedious and time consuming the end result that it provides is well worth it in the long run.

Tip: Do not use Permanent Masking Fluid! It’s important to be sure you use the removable mask as it simply rubs off leaving you with the perfect edge every time.


11. Fine Mist Spray Bottle

I always keep a fine mist spray bottle handy with water. It’s important to help wet and soften the paints. This simple step will extend the life of your brushes by leaps and bounds. 


12. Travel Paint Kit

Lastly, but certainly no less important is a good travel kit. I started painting when I was 10 years old so as you can imagine I didn’t always have an ideal studio space to paint in, and for that matter I still don’t when I am traveling around to art shows. This is a picture of the travel set that I got when I was in college, and I still use to it today. It’s like an antique now! Lol. I love it though, and it still works just as good as the day I bought it many years ago. As an artist I know that I love what I do and I want to be able to paint wherever I am; this allows me to do that!


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