Watercolour beginners kit without spending a fortune

When we are beginners in watercolour, we think that before reaching a high quality level we should just buy the students’ range of materials. If this can be true in other kind of arts, when you approach watercolour you cannot choose cheap entry level materials as the result you will get will be so frustrating and disappointing that you may risk of abandoning watercolour forever thinking that it’s you who is not good at it, while in fact all depends on the kind of materials you have chosen.

The second aspect of watercolour materials is that there are so many that we don’t really know where to start from. This is true especially for paper: hot pressed paper, cold pressed paper, NOT paper, acid free, cotton, weight… There are so many words that don’t really mean a lot to you and the only thing they do is to create more confusion in your head. Isn’t this true?

Here below I’ve created a simple list of some technical words with their meanings, materials you really need, quality and brand you can buy with a good compromise between quality and price.

The three types of watercolour paper

Let’s start from paper and clarify some technical meanings so you can choose the one for what you want to achieve in your art.

HOT PRESSED Is very smooth. It almost feel like velvet under your fingers. It is good for detailed work. In fact is used by illustrators and botanical artists.

ROUGH It has a heavy texture. It is very versatile and good for a wide range of loose effects. Certainly you can’t reach a detailed kind of work. So use this in case you want to enjoy expressive brushwork and looseness.

COLD (also called NOT = Not Hot Pressed) It’s s smoother than rough paper, but still textured. It is the best paper for general use.

Which Brands of Watercolour paper you should buy?

The ones I suggest are:

  1. Saunders Waterford cold pressed block of 20 7x10in // 18x26cm

  2. Arches cold pressed block of 20 sheets 10x7in // 18x25cm

  3. Fabriano Artistico cold pressed block of 20 sheets 9x12in // 23×31 cm

Once you decide for a brand, the other vital factor is to choose 100% cotton paper with minimum 300gsm (140 lb).

Why? Because 100% cotton paper will make pigments and water absorb beautifully without sitting on the surface for too long. If the paper is not 100% cotton it means has chemicals into it as a binder. These chemicals will affect the pigments and water in two ways:

  1. your colours will sit on the surface for too long and you will get a frustrating buckling effect

  2. your colours won’t get beautifully absorbed by the paper creating puddles and looking flat and too washed out when dry out.

The other question is, why minimum 300 gsm? Because you don’t want to get buckling effect. 300 gsm is the minimum weight necessary to avoid this up to a size of 30x40cm. If you want to paint something bigger than go for 450gsm or heavier weight.

Which Basic Colour Palette you should get?

One of the biggest joy of watercolour is mixing your own colours. Once your mix has dried on the paper you will be able to distinguish little tiny particles of individual colours. This is one of the key aspects to bring a watercolour painting to life and make it look less flat.

A basic custom palette that I recommend is made of 8 colours:

  1. Lemon Yellow

  2. Cadmium Yellow

  3. Alizarin Crimson

  4. Cadmium Red

  5. Burnt Umber

  6. Burnt Sienna