Everybody loves watercolor.
Now, before you start thinking that you don’t because of how difficult it is, and what a mess you can make if you don’t know what you are doing, here’s more what I am thinking.
Everybody at least loves to look at watercolor.
There is something so wonderful about all those brilliant colors tucked in a box like candy – eye candy for sure.
And watercolor is the most portable of paint mediums so it is very popular with sketchbook and journal people.
And it’s transparent so any white page is going to backlight it and make the color even more beautiful.
But watercolor is fickle.
It is not something you can throw around casually like you can some other types of paint because it has a mind of its own, because it demands respect.
Watercolor is NOT too difficult if you just take the time to understand it. Because it has a mind of its own, it demands that you give it the respect it deserves, or it will punish you by making a nice mess.
Brand and Quality Really Matter
With acrylic paints, and even oils, you can go a long way with student brands and not get in too much trouble. With little exception, even inexpensive brands behave well enough. They may not last or hold their color over a long period of time, but when you are painting with them, you pretty much get what you expect.
Not so with watercolor.
The pigment load (how much color is in it), staining and lifting qualities, flow and blending results vary tremendously between cheap student brands and more expensive professional brands.
For this reason, when learning watercolor, you are much better off with just a few tubes or pans of good quality paint than lots of colors of a cheap brand. You can mix most colors from just red, blue, and yellow, in fact.
And even among high end brands, there are very noticeable differences in behavior. These are not good and bad differences, however, because all the big brands are great, and only someone with lots of experience would notice the differences.
Most practicing watercolorists have favorite brands based on how the paint behaves in their own working style.
These are some very good brands, and the difference between them is a matter of personal preference (what works best for the way you do things).
Winsor-Newton, Daniel Smith, Schmincke-Horadam, Maimeri Blu, Holbein, Old Holland, Sennelier, and M. Graham.
Most artists have one or two favorite brands, and a few tubes of other brands in special colors that are not available in their favorite brand.
All brands can be used together in the same painting and mixed together on your palette.
After 40+ years of being a professional watercolorist, my favorite brands were Schmincke, Winsor & Newton, and some Daniel Smith.
When we were in Tubac for the retreat in March, I realized I had forgotten my tube of Yellow Ochre, which was absolutely necessary for painting adobe walls.
There is just one small art supply store in Tubac, and they carry just one brand of paint – one I had never tried – M. Graham. Their claim to fame is using blackberry honey as a binder.
Because I had no choice, I bought a tube.
After that, it was a good thing that art supply store was only a half block away from the inn, because I bought five more tubes.
I could not believe that a watercolor brand could be that different!
The paint is ultra creamy and stays moist so it wets instantly.
There is so much pigment that you need to use very little paint.
It blends like heaven, and lifts beautifully.
LUSCIOUS is the best word I can think of.
I came home from the retreat and starting filling out my palette – 33 tubes so far . . . and counting.
I got the best pricing by buying sets on Amazon:
This is hands-down my favorite, and because it is so different, it makes my “Most Amazing Art Supplies of the 21st Century” list. So far, we have Inktense and M.Graham Watercolors on the list.
I needed a new palette, so I got this one from Amazon
They have 6 left in stock, more on order . . . ($23.39 – Prime Shipping)
Open, it looks like this . . .
The trays lift out, so you have three big mixing palettes if you need them.
I keep my watercolors this neat by doing all my mixing on a separate palette. Some folks like a big messy, muddy palette, but I much prefer pure color – to look at and to use!
Looking at a box of color like this makes my heart leap.
But, it takes more than a beautiful paintbox to make beautiful watercolor paintings.
You also have to know what you are doing. You know what you are doing by learning all about what to expect from this medium and adjusting for it. Because watercolor is doing its own thing while you are trying to make it do your thing, it’s a lot like trying to herd kittens.
There is VERY LITTLE adequate watercolor instruction available for beginners, although there are hundreds of books and workshops on the subject.
Many of those books and workshops have great tips and techniques and sample paintings. Some even have step-by-step, but they are more like “leap-by-leap” instead, leaving the beginner wondering how on earth step B got to Step C. And forget about Step D!
And half of every book is devoted to introducing supplies and materials, providing a bunch of information the beginner is not ready for until they get their brush wet, so to speak.
What you really need is something that tells you to “do this” and then “do that” and “here’s what happens” when you do.
I wrote a workshop like that, and I think it’s the best beginner workshop there is.
You learn how the paint behaves and why, and exactly what you need to do – and why. And even how your own studio environment affects what you can expect from your watercolor.
If I had to rank my workshops according to progress made by the students who have taken it so far, this would be right up at the top.
Read lots more about it here:
Summer is an awesome time for learning watercolor and painting in your little Nature Sanctuary.