Buy the good stuff already!


When you're just starting out with watercolor, it can be overwhelming to contemplate the range of supplies and their cost. Pretty much anywhere I looked gave recommendations, but always had caveats that every artist is different, you'll have to just try it yourself to see. Who the heck has time and money to spend on trying every supply under the sun when you don't even know if you'll enjoy watercolor?! It can be very tempting to buy some cheap supplies to dip your toes in the water. In fact, I tried just that, and can confirm that it doesn't work. At all.

When I started thinking about trying watercolor, I decided to go to a big box store and grab some budget supplies. I didn't want to commit to spending a lot since I didn't know if I'd even like painting, after all! I had done little to no research, and only had a vague idea that "real" artists used paint in tubes, not the pans we used as kids. So I grabbed the store brand watercolor tubes, a pack of tiny brushes, a pad of the cheapest paper, and proceeded home to give watercolor a whirl.

I'm sure you can see where this is going--all of these supplies were a complete disappointment. The paints mixed to make mud, and the brushes were ridiculously too small. I didn't actually have any opinions on the paper because I simply had no expectations at all. Probably because I did not do any research or studying before I started. I was underwhelmed by the whole experiment, and set it aside. 

A few months later, my local public library offered a free watercolor class, with all supplies provided. My mind was blown. We used student grade supplies, but the difference in vibrancy and mixing capabilities was like night and day. I went home after that and did the opposite of the first time--I researched the heck out of watercolor supplies! I purchased a few sets of quality paint online, and picked up some clearance brushes as a local art supply store. I kept the same paper--sunk cost after all!

I tried to start learning from a book, but that was an exercise in frustration. I'm not one to prefer video or audio learning, but watching videos in this case was a huge relief--even to see how vigorously the artist rinsed their brush was helpful. But now I had a new frustration--nothing I painted behaved the way I saw in those videos. The paint dried so fast, I got hard lines, and couldn't blend anything the way those artists demonstrated. I was getting frustrated again. Luckily, I went back to the big box store and got a pad of the expensive paper--Arches 100% cotton cold press--just to see if that would make a difference.

Finally the heavens opened up and fortune smiled on me. It was like night and day. My imitations weren't perfect still (I had a long way to go in learning how to balance the ratio of pigment & water to paper--that's the lifelong struggle with watercolor I suspect), but I was a lot closer. And I was a convert. Supplies make a difference with watercolor.

Don't sabotage yourself with the crappy stuff. It is not indicative of what working with watercolor can truly be like. The number 1 supply to invest in however, is paper. Only buy 100% cotton paper. There are differences between brands, but without this, you cannot hope to create anything like what you'll see from the hundreds of tutorials online. Student grade paint and 2-3 brushes will get you off to a good start, as long as you invest in quality paper. 

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