Basic Watercolor Supplies + Skills

Dear Wonderful, Creative You:

I get a lot of questions about watercolor painting and supplies, so today I’m setting out to make a comprehensive guide to help you on your watercolor journey. Watercolor can be a very technical, precise art form, but lately I love to use it for layering gorgeous abstract swaths of color. One of the things I’m often chatting with folks in my membership about, is the importance of making room for playfulness so that when you are playing with watercolor or any other medium, it’s inviting, not intimidating.

I also use watercolor with my drawings in art journals. You can do so much with the basics.

I find that while it takes practice to get a hang of the basic watercolor techniques, if you don’t have good supplies, it doesn’t matter how much you practice, your results will never be the same as the ones you see in the tutorials. My advice is to buy a little bit of the best supplies you can afford, whatever that means for you.

However, if you already have some paints, just start with what you have and see where that takes you. If you are open to play and experiment, it can take you pretty far, and then if you decide you are really into watercolor, you can buy a nice brush and a few nice paints and pad of cotton paper.

I’ll walk you through what supplies I use, how I economize my materials and make them last a long time, and then teach you some basic techniques. At the end I’ve got a lovely invitation for you too:

Join us for the Watercolor Wonder Retreat on March 20th and 21st. You can learn more here – it’s on early bird sale!

Watercolor Paper

Most often I work on Arches cold press 140lb cotton watercolor paper cut into smaller pieces – sometimes in quarters, or sometimes small enough to fit in my hand. This helps me to experiment and push my ideas by working small. It also helps me feel less precious with the paper.

Cotton paper is more expensive than the wood pulp papers, such as the Strathmore papers I use for slow drawings, but the results for watercolor techniques are far superior using cotton paper. This is a great paper for doing watercolor bleeds and blooms that so many folks want to learn. Dick Blick also makes a pretty good paper for practicing.

Watercolor Brushes

I tend to use round brushes most because I find them versatile and easy to manipulate. I love the Golden Taklon or Utrecht series from Dick Blick.

I also love to paint with bamboo brushes for loopy, loose, organic lines in abstract pieces that I combine with my slow drawing patterns. Don’t worry, while it looks all messy when it’s dry, once you wet it, it gets that beautiful point.

How do I hold my brush?

Many people hold the brush closer than I do – on the ferrule. Experiment and see what feels comfortable for you and how you feel you get the best results.

Generally speaking I hold my brush the way I hold a pen or pencil, but a bit further back – just above the ferrule – the metal part that holds the bristles to the brush. When I’m doing tiny details, sometimes I hold it on the ferrule – closer to the tip.

If I find my hand is unsteady, like if I’m try to use the tip of my brush to make a very fine line, I will sometimes use my other hand to create a tripod of sorts and steady it. This really helps.

If I’m trying to make loose, intuitive lines, I will hold even further back on the brush and with a very light grip – this helps me to let go figuratively and literally and get the inner critic out of the way so that I can paint more freely.

Watercolor Palette

I mix on a big, white ceramic palette so I can see clearly what colors are mixing for me. You can also use white dinner plates or white plastic trays from the thrift store.

I’m hosting a lovely live gathering to teach all about how I create with watercolor on March 20th and 21st live on Zoom. Join us for the Watercolor Wonder Retreat March 20th and 21st. You can learn more here.

Since my palette does not have cups for dabs of watercolor paint, I squeeze my paint blobs onto the edge so that I can pull color into the palette to mix, but only intermingle it with other colors when I want to. This makes sure I have a big space in the middle for mixing colors, which is one of the most fun parts of watercolor painting for me.

Watercolor Paint

You don’t need a ton of watercolor paints. One of the most common misconceptions about watercolor paint is that you need to buy every color under the sun. Instead, buy a few basic colors in the highest quality paint you can afford, and then mix your own color variations. Your colors will be more dynamic and rich.

I love Daniel Smith watercolor paints, the colors are beautiful and intense. The watercolor tubes in the photo above show my entire collection of tubes. The ones I personally use most often shift with each creative project, but I especially love yellow ochre, burnt umber, rose madder permanent, indigo, and lately, quinacrindone burnt orange and phthalo turquiose.

For my projects, I typically only use 2 -3 colors at a time. I mix them liberally and get to understand the range of colors they can produce together. This creates a harmonious palette on my pieces, but also allows me to get to know each color well.

For a beginner, I would suggest purchasing a basic set of 6, such as this one from Daniel Smith. You can mix so many colors with these.

Isn’t watercolor paint expensive?

While each tube of watercolor paint is expensive – I find they last a long time. With acrylic paint, once you squeeze it out, you use it or lose it. Sometimes you might be able to save it a day with plastic wrap, but generally speaking you must use what you dispense and mix in the moment. I use and reuse the paint on my palette – and anything I squeeze out can be used today and on future sessions – you just add water to reactivate it. Also, because I tend to work small and experimental, my paints go a long way.

Water

Water is a really important element in watercolor painting. I love that because I feel like I am collaborating with nature when I paint. I use two water jars – one clean for creating a clear wash on the page when I do wet-on-wet technique, and one for rinsing my brush.

Since I let paint dry on my palette – I use my spray bottle to wet the colors I’m going to mix before I begin. I do this both for the paint blobs and for the mixed colors that have dried in the middle of my palette. I let spray water sit for a few minutes to activate the paint before I begin mixing – this helps me get intense colors.

How do you mix the beautiful colors you use?

I’d love to share with you about how I mix the colors I am using currently.

Let’s dive into this video about my basic watercolor techniques:

One thing I like to always suggest when mixing colors is to use a color test sheet.

If I need to mix more of a color, I can see how close I am to my initial mix and make adjustments. I can also see how my colors look next to one another before I commit to my painting.

Want more guidance and play?

I am hosting a watercolor live Zoom retreat on March 20th and 21st and you are invited to join us. Watercolor Wonder is two creative, luxurious evenings of exploring and dwelling in the flow of watercolor paint. You’ll get to know your paints and brushes through exploratory exercises. You’ll create blooming, bold clouds of color, and gentle washes and marks that will set the stage for your slow drawings and mark-making.

What are your favorite watercolor tips and tricks? Tell us about it in the comments!

Creatively Yours,

Amy

24 Comments

  1. Adrianne Tayler

    Thank you for your generosity Amy, this is really inspiring. 🌻

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      OH yay Adrianne. I’m so excited to hear it. xo

      Reply
  2. Carolyn Rohm

    Thank you SO MUCH for this, Amy! I am completely new to watercolour and have been experimenting and playing, and this has just given me so many more ideas. And glazing! I need to go and play with that concept right now. I am so grateful to you for your generosity. 🎨 🙏

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Yay Carolyn. I have to admit that I sort of agonized over this post – I so appreciate your comment. Happy glazing! xo

      Reply
  3. Margie Kuhn

    This is a wonderful blog and video. I love the look and feel of watercolor paints, but have had no training in painting at all – or art for that matter. I have given myself permission to play around with my watercolors and have had a lot of fun. Your video has given me so much information and food for thought. I can’t wait to get back to experimenting with my new knowledge. Thank you, Amy!

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      YAY Margie – that makes me so happy. Play is so important! xo

      Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it. xo

      Reply
    • Julie West

      I can tell you put, not just a lots of info and skills development into this video, but a lot of your unique style and focus too! Well done! 👏🏻
      It’s really helpful to me as continue to explore watercolors. I also loved Magic + Mist.

      Reply
      • Amy Maricle

        Hi Julie: This makes me very happy to hear! I put a lot of heart and sweat into trying to cover all the questions my students had submitted. And I’m so happy you loved the Magic + Mist watercolor retreat. YAY! xo

        Reply
  4. Deborah Daniel

    Thanks so much for this, Amy! It’s nice to have all this information in one place.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Oh good Deborah – that was my hope!

      Reply
  5. Carmela Rz

    Thanks for this informative overview of the basic watercolor techniques that you use. Because your main focus is on drawing line in its myriad variations, this approach shows how watercolor can enhance line drawing techniques. I think that you made the right choices for this blog post. The examples added to overview–thanks for a thoughtful answer to our questions about watercolor.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Thanks so much for taking the time to take it all in and your kind compliments, Carmela. Cheers!

      Reply
  6. Carol Schwaber

    Thank you Amy. This information could be gleaned for your weekly mindful art sessions, but it is so nice to have it all right here in one concentrated video on the different techniques you have taught us. This was a great video!

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Carol.

      🙂

      Reply
  7. Donna Johnson

    Thanks, Amy, for your generosity. ❤️
    Donna

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Donna. I’m so happy you found this helpful.

      Reply
  8. Sandra Lawrence

    Thank you for “All There Is To Know About Watercolor” and more Amy! I’ve watched it more than once. Each time I see something I didn’t see the first time, or second…! There is so much valuable information and links to quality supplies. You need to know how much this is appreciated and no charge to us novice artists. I do have one question. Where may I purchase the fine mist spray bottle like yours? ❤️

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      HI Sandra: Oh I’m so glad that this post is so helpful to you! And the spray bottles are available in lots of places – your local art store or you’ll find one at Dick Blick here. Happy painting! xo

      Reply
  9. Karen Hugo

    This is wonderful information! I’ve tried to do some watercolor effects but have had little success. This gives me something tangible that I can work with. Thank you so much Amy!

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Hi Karen:

      Yay I’m so glad this is helpful. I think it will take you a long way, and if you are excited about learning more, my upcoming retreat Watercolor Wonder would be a great way to get started in a supportive, step by step class. If it piques your interest, I invite you to join us!

      Reply
  10. Sarah Rockliff

    I know this was a while ago but thank you so much for generously making it available.i have come out of hospital and this has been a joy to watch and make me feel I can get going creatively again very soon. I love your book too but seeing you work and hearing your guidance has been lovely. Thank you Amy .

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      HI Sarah: I’m so happy that you are enjoying this post and the watercolor techniques. Wishing you all the best! xo Amy

      Reply

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