If you are joining my watercolour class, I would recommend that you don't buy any materials before the first lesson as I will go through everything and explain exactly what you need and why.
These notes are intended to be used as general information about my views about materials - every artist will have their own personal approach to selecting materials which is just as valid as the one presented here.
The materials you use are really important, and I urge you to avoid student grade materials altogether. The reason is that student grade materials often are inferior enough to seriously compromise their usefulness for painting at any level of proficiency. Let me pose a question: would you, if you decided to take up music, even consider the purchase of a plastic violin?
First, the paints: any reputable brand of professional grade paints should be suitable. These are available in tubes or in small open containers called pans. The pans are made in a standard size regardless of brand and are designed to simply clip into purpose-made paint boxes. You can choose to use tubes or pans according to personal preference. In my own work I find that pans are more convenient, especially when painting outdoors or in class when the equipment has to be easily portable.
Of the available brands of watercolours, I particularly recommend the the Horadam range made by Schmincke or the Old Holland brand. Well known brands, such as Winsor&Newton and Rowney are also good but with these, choose the Artist grade. The Cotmans and Georgian ranges from these manufacturers are Student grade and are better avoided. For the budget conscious, the locally made Art Spectrum represents excellent value; the quality is high and the cost is modest because there are no importation expenses.
Another general recommendation would be to NOT buy a pre-packed set but rather get exactly the paint selection you want and an empty paint box to suit. Most good art materials stores carry such boxes. If you choose tubes, you'll also need some kind of palette which can be as simple as an old saucer or a purpose-designed palette with areas for mixing and holding the paints. Most watercolour boxes have lids that are designed to function as colour mixing areas.
Some of the pigments used for artists' paints are expensive and most manufacturers offer cheaper substitutes for the more costly colours such as cadmium yellow. The substitutes are usually identified by the word "hue" in the name of the colour; i.e. cadmium yellow hue. As a rule, these should be avoided, the inexpensive substitutes do not compare well with the real pigments.
The following list of colours will fill most needs.
Light Red (sometimes called English red; this is a rusty red colour, the pigment is iron oxide
Mars Violet (sometimes called Caput Mortuum; the pigment is iron oxide)
Cadmium Yellow (make sure it is not a "hue")
Cadmium Red (as above)
Quinacridone Red (pv19;called 'Permanent Rose' in Art Spectrum, or 'Ruby Red' in Schmincke Horadam )
Phthalo Green (pg7; W&N call it Winsor Green)
The choice of paper is also worthy of attention, the final image depends as much on the paper as on the paint to achieve the luminocity that is characteristic of watercolours.
As with the paints, Student grade is best avoided. The choice of paper is more difficult than that of colours, because there is a wide range of quite different, excellent papers available. With time you'll find your favorites and I will limit myself here to recommending a few papers as a starting point for developing your own connoisseurship.
The best papers are made from rag, usually cotton and the more modest ones are made from woodpulp. Some papers contain a mixture of fibers. A higher rag content is usually seen as more desirable. A heavier grade of paper is preferable to a lighter one because it buckles less when wet; unfortunately heaver papers are also dearer. If economy is important, it is better to choose a light good paper than a heavier paper of inferior quality.
The papers are produced with different surface finishes from very rough to almost shiny smooth. For the less experienced artist a moderate surface texture is most likely to give good results. Such a finish is usually described as Cold Pressed. A smooth finish is often called Hot Pressed and the term Rough is self explanatory. These terms vary with the different manufacturers, so I recommend that you also feel the paper when making your choice.
The thickness of the paper is expressed in grams per square meter and a paper that is 185 gsm would be regarded as a light one, a 300 gsm very nice to work with, a 600 gsm is truly lovely but very expensive. Of the woodpulp papers, I have found the Canson Montval to take the colour beautifully, as does the Canaletto Cordenon which is imported and packaged by Art Spectrum.
If you prefer a higher quality paper a good starting point is the Arches range of papers, these are 100% cotton and give beautiful results.
On the subject of brushes, the general rule is to get the best one you can lay your hands on. Normally you only need one brush, it should be as large as possible and still be capable of forming a fine point for small detail. It needs to be large in order to hold a good quantity of paint. The best brushes are made from pure sable and are expensive. It is possible to find good brushes that are made from synthetic or mixed synthetic and sable hair.
Additional bits and pieces that you need are TWO water containers, one for clean water and one for less clean water. A packet of paper tissues is also very useful. An eye-dropper isn't absolutely necessary but a very practical accessory for moving water to the paints.
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