- Daniel Smith paints : Essentials set + Primatek set + 238 colors dot card | Whole range. The dot card is the best tool for choosing your colors accurately, and the first thing to get before investing in bigger 15ml tubes. I favor this brand primarily for their unique range of semi-precious gemstone paints called Primatek, this mini set is perfect for trying them out. I also love using their unique blends of pigments creating separating colors such as cascade green, rose of ultramarine, moonglow and shadow violet.
- M Graham & Co Desert Southwest set of 5 : my favorite set from M Graham. I love the warm and vibrant combination of these five colors together. And for all colors I honestly think that M Graham paints are the most pigmented, I’ve been blown away from the start. I especially recommend them if you live in a dry climate. They contain honey and will never dry out (I live in a dry region and this is making my daily practice so much easier!). I recommend Terra Rosa, Neutral tint, Sepia, Anthraquinone blue and any pigment that would be hard to rewet with other brands (Viridian for example).
- White Nights watercolor set of 36 : My first palette, full pans (personal preference over half pans) and an unbeatable value for the money. This giant set is really more than you need in terms of colors, and perfect for starting out if you have nothing else. I absolutely love their “Green”, a pigment rarely used elsewhere, and the colors are very vibrant. A few colors in the set aren’t fully lightfast, just keep that in mind if you create a piece outside of a sketchbook or plan to sell an artwork.
- Roman Szmal watercolors : Full pans (again, my brushes and I are grateful), amazing specialty colors like Aquarius green, Przybysz’s Grey, Mineral Violet, Shadow Violet, Indigo & Payne which are my favourites. I don’t own a set from them but I have seen great options as well for those who need to get the classic colors as well.
- Jackson’s own brand : I own almost the whole range in tubes and not only are they great quality, they are very affordable too, bigger size tubes and they are often on sale! What more can we ask for? More colors of course!
- Schmincke super granulating series : Glacier, Galaxy, Deep Sea, Tundra and Forest. I really enjoy them all as I was able to use some of them in a variety of paintings, I am a granulation and texture lover and recommend them if you are too.
- Paper samples and packs : You know it’s my thing to test papers all the time. I get all my samples for experimenting on Jackson’s website : Find a variety of samples here. And really, just have fun with them… Discover your favourite textures, how the pigments interact with the paper, how long it takes to dry, try different techniques… I learned a lot and found my way by just experimenting with papers. It is the most important material in watercolors, before paints, before brushes. I realized this early on in my journey : you can’t pass on quality with paper, if you work wet on wet especially.
- For learning all you need to know about paper, Jackson’s recently released this Paper Guide which is something quite unique and much appreciated.
- Arches watercolor paper blocks | Arches pack of Imperial sheets : I use all the textures for different projects. Buying Imperial sheet packs is more economical.
- Legion Stonehenge Aqua (I use hot press 300gsm) | Canson Moulin du Roy 300gsm
- Jackson’s Two Rivers is an amazing handmade rag paper, the rough texture has a superb organic feel. You can also try Khadi papers handmade in India, the sketchbooks options are particularly interesting.
- Sketchbooks Stillman & Birn Beta series (for sketching in watercolor & inks) | Stillman & Birn Alpha series (thinner paper but more pages : for my mixing recipes, swatches and ink doodles) | Strathmore 400 series (my travel sketchbook, not too big and sturdy rigid cover) | I also make my own handmade sketchbooks with my favourite cotton papers, and encourage you to try making one too, it’s very satisfying and won’t cost you a fortune like the 100% cotton ready made sketchbooks out there!
- My brushes : Silver Black Velvet (I use rounds, dagger, flat, liner) | Da Vinci Casaneo Slanted Edge | Escoda Versatil (travel round) | Jackson’s Raven Mop 6 | Jackson’s Dagger | Princeton Elite round 12 | Pro Arte Stephen Coates Foliater
- Hake brushes : useful for wetting the paper, blending washes, very affordable.
- I take care of my brushes by cleaning them with the Da Vinci Professional Brush Soap. I’m often surprised at how stained my brushes are after a session, especially with modern pigments.
- My favourite metal palettes are from Jackson’s : I remove the plastic thing and it holds about 52 half-pans or 28 full pans that I stick up at the bottom with magnetic squares like these. Cheap and compact, I love these.
- Ceramic palettes : Daisy flower shape | Stackable or any porcelain dish plate. If you have a Japanese store near you like Muji or Daiso, they have rectangular porcelain trays perfect for mixing colors.
- Painter’s tape (I like the blue one from the hardware store, by 3M) or just any Washi tape for more fragile papers.
- Basic clipboards, or plexiglass panel boards for bigger sizes.
- Other essential tools : Water jars/tanks (two : one for dirty water, one for clean water. I use Mason jars or ceramic plant pots covers with no hole), towel paper and old cotton handkerchiefs, sponge, ruler, brush holder.
- Many additional materials, mediums for texture like the Winsor & Newton granulation medium, Masking fluid etc can be used too : experiment and see what works with your style. I consider them non-essential for beginning a watercolor practice though.
- Fun tools at hand : anything you already have at home such as old plastic cards, old toothbrush, salt, needles, cling wrap, soap bubbles… Fantastic effects can be created with such simple tools, experiment and have fun with them. Be creative!
- Indian Ink : Jackson’s has the best value for black ink | Dr Ph Martin’s Black Star India Ink (hi-carb)
- Daler Rowney FW acrylic inks . I really love these. They’re like liquid watercolors but dry waterproof. I create background washes or draw details with them.
- Dr Ph Martin’s Bombay India Ink (I use Sepia and plan on investing on a whole set)
- Viviva Colorsheets : I call them my “portable inks” because they behave like inks, with deep and colorful hues. I carry them in my pocket wherever I go, it’s extremely handy for sketching outdoors.
- My fountain pen inks (non waterproof inks) : Noodler’s Heart of Darkness | Diamine Red Dragon | Noodler’s Apache Sunset | Rohrer & Klingner Verdigris | J. Herbin Poussiere de Lune
- Waterproof fountain pen inks : Platinum Carbon ink | De Atramentis Document inks
- Fountain pen : Platinum Carbon Desk Pen, Super Fine
- Dip pens : Speedball Sketching set | Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder + Zebra Comic G nib
- Pentel Pocket Brush pen | Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens
- Yasutomo Bamboo Hake Brush
PENCILS, PENS & MISCELLANEOUS
- Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils | Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils : I use just a few pencils from these two brands, bought them open stock for details or finishing touches only.
- Colored pencils : Faber Castell Polychromos 111th anniversary set of 12 (I admit that I wanted that cute vintage box… for a watercolor palette eventually) | Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils : Again, just a few ones, for details and finishing touches on certain paintings. I choose some neutral tones, like a grey, a sepia, brownish shades.
- Sakura Pigma Micron, Copic multiliners : I use them for drawing final details, adding trees, branches or silhouettes while finishing my paintings, and sometimes for sketching.
- Viarco Artgraf Tailor Shape Set of 6 Earth Colors : Earth colors lovers, big brushes lovers, playful folks, this is for us. Absolutely in love with the giant, highly pigmented squares. We can get spontaneous and messy by taking them in the hands.
- I have two minimal sets of gouache : Traditional gouache Holbein Primary Set of 5 | Acryla gouache Sample set of 5 (acrylic gouache), and a single tube of White gouache (which can be enough if you mix it with your watercolors). I mainly use the white gouache for highlights in watercolor paintings, and create gouache artworks by mixing the bright primaries from the sets.
- My printer : Canon Pixma Pro 10 + genuine Canon archival pigment inks
- Papers : Depending on the artworks I use Canon Pro Premium Matte, Canon Pro Luster or 100% cotton luxury cardstock cover paper
- Extremely expensive brushes : I realized that I was afraid to ruin them, ended up never using them. In fact, I grab my cheapest brushes the most and find them good enough for my own practice. If you feel too precious about some tools, just consider this issue.
- Bad quality papers (but that is quite subjective anyway) : As much as I think that brushes aren’t so important for my personal technique and style, I think that paper is the most important tool and if it isn’t sized properly or doesn’t work in a certain way with the pigments, there’s just nothing I can do to make it better. And this is the most frustrating thing that can lead you to give up out of desperation. I recommend 100% cotton papers if you work wet on wet primarily because they stay wet longer, and because the pigments will spread more smoothly and evenly : that makes all the difference. For quick sketches, no glazing, swatching tests and ink doodles though I have no issues working on cheaper cellulose papers.
- Materials on sale or clearance that were never needed or in my wishlist in the first place. I keep a list of things that I would definitely love to try one day and I know that these are okay to buy if a good occasion comes. I know it’s tempting to jump on sales, but if you want to avoid cluttering yourself – and your mind! with useless things I’d stay mindful of how I fill my drawers. I made this mistake a few times and regret wasting my hard earned money on items I didn’t really want or need (like this beautiful Christmas edition metallic watercolors set from one of the best brands – don’t get me wrong they’re great quality and all, but I have no use for them…). Get what you really need and wish since a long time, it’s more satisfying – random items lying there on clearance are still not free.
- Too many sets. Watercolor sets, brush sets, or ink sets are great for beginning and they are often a great deal. When I started out, I really needed one useful palette (as mentioned in the watercolor section I have one big palette of 36 full pans that I started with) but after that, I stopped buying classic sets altogether and started getting single tubes mostly because 1) I already have the classic colors that are present in all and every set of paints. 2) I want to try specialty paints & “signature” colors instead and I know they aren’t included in sets, in general. 3) I just need a few tubes or pans to complete my collection and make myself happy. 4) I hate certain colors and never ever use them so why would I clutter myself with them? Again, no need to overwhelm yourself with quantity. Get a good quality set for starting out, use it and get a sense of which colors you use the most. And try single colors that truly appeal to you. At the end of the day, art and colors are something supposed to make you happy so listen to your heart.
* I hope this list will help you in beginning your art journey, or simply give an answer to the questions I’m often asked about materials. To maintain the integrity of this site, I do not accept sponsorships. I also do not ask for your email address or any data from you in return. Instead, this page is supported through some Jackson’s affiliate links, it means that shopping through these will help to support this site at no cost to you. I own and have used every item listed here for quite a while, I bought them myself and I recommend them as my personal favourites.
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