It’s what entices most people to try watercolor, that little paintbox brim with a rainbow of color possibilities. Scarlet and sienna. Umber and viridian. Ochre and cerulean blue. Color can seduce the human eye and evoke as many emotions as one can dream up over a lifetime. It can also be overwhelming when as a beginner we are trying to decipher the hundreds of choices arranged in brilliant rainbows all along the shelves at the art supply store. How many colors do we really need?
If you want to get started as a minimalist, the best choice is a split-primary palette: a warm and cool version of the three primaries, red, yellow and blue. With these six paints you can mix an infinite range of color, but the keyword here is: mix.
Buy the best quality you can afford. Student grade paints are usually less expensive and if you are just beginning and hesitant to invest a lot, I say spend the extra money on your paper and find a colorful set of student grade paints. However, there is a difference between artist-grade and student-grade watercolor paint, and eventually I want you to experience just how lush and beautiful the finest paints can be. So, remember quality over quantity.
Tubes versus Pans. You will notice that watercolor paints come in either small tubes of wet paint, or tiny pans of dried paint. Tubes are more economical in the long run, but I suggest buying pans or a travel palette to fill from the tubes, and refill as they get low. This insures that you don’t waste any paint and allows you to get started much quicker than having to squeeze paint onto a palette each and every session. Pan paints are super convenient and can be purchased individually as well as in sets. I suggest choosing your own colors from open stock, then finding a small metal tin, like those that breath mints come in, in which to store them. You can glue tiny magnets to the bottom of each pan, then pop them into the metal tin. You can even decorate the tin in a way that pleases you. When doing intuitive art I work from pans 100% of the time.
Handmade versus Brand Name. Most people begin their watercolor collection with name brand paints that can be found at any art supply store. They are readily available and a great place to start. However, there is a whole world of handmade paints to explore if you choose to start there. For me, the biggest benefit of handmade paints is the wide variety of subtle colors available, but also the fact that an individual artist/paintmaker has created a product with love and fine attention to quality. When we buy our paints from makers we are supporting the work of another creator. I love this. I have listed several wonderful individual paintmakers and I encourage you to check out their offerings. Often they sell individual pans of glorious colours made from earth pigments and even gemstones. They also curate inspired color sets that might appeal to your own sense of beauty. Handmade paints do cost a bit more, but if we keep to quality over quantity, a finely-crafted set of six handmade paints in colors that make your soul sing will take you far and bring another element of joy to your creative practice.
• Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor (My preferred brand)
• M. Graham Watercolors
• Holbein Watercolors
Some handmade paints that I love:
A Gallo Watercolors: https://www.agallocolors.com
(Fave)Arts by MCM: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MCMarts
Rublev Watercolors: https://www.naturalpigments.com/watercolor/paints.html
Ruby Mountain Paint Company: https://www.etsy.com/shop/RubyMountainPaintCo
Studio Julia Kallen: https://www.etsy.com/shop/JuliaKallen