Watercolor Supplies Guide: Pens, Paper, Paint Brushes, Waterproof Ink, Lighting and Top-Down Video Recording Basics for Artists.
My favorite watercolor supplies! This list covers waterproof inks, pens, paint brushes and paper (affordable student cellulose to high end professional cotton). I'll also cover what else is on my desk including porcelain mixing palettes, swatch cards, color wheels, paint storage options, lighting, tools, camera equipment and even some basics of top-down video making for aspiring YouTube artists and crafters.
I have included affiliate links to where I purchased these items, including Amazon USA. When possible I'll also include links to Jackson's or Blick that ship worldwide, but in general this is just a reference guide regarding the type of things I've personally found helpful. Basically, a summary of everything I use for art creation (other than paint)! Artists in different parts of the world may need to search for similar options from different brands or stores.
1) Pens, Pencils, Inks 2) Watercolor Paper 3) Paint Brushes 4) Mixing Palettes and Bowls 5) Swatch Card Stamps 6) Color Wheel Tools 7) Empty Paint Palette Containers 8) General Storage and Desk Organization 9) Lighting, Lamps, Bulbs, UV 10) Top-Down Video Making Basics.
Pencils, graphite transfer paper and basic tools: I usually start my painting process with a mechanical pencil, ideally 0.3mm extra fine to 0.5mm "fine" (not 0.7 or thicker leads). Using a regular pencil or dark leads higher than 2b (such as the soft and darker 6b rating) can lead to messy graphite smudges on your paper that can be hard to hide with transparent watercolor paints. I do my rough sketches on scrap paper, often transferring just the cleaned up line work to my good paper. Graphite paper is an easy tracing method, but a light box or window could be used as well. I use Seral white transfer paper for dark surfaces such as toned mixed media paper or black watercolor paper.
Color pencils: Want to make your lines colorful? There is only one brand of pencil that I trust to be lightfast and that is Luminance. They are high price, but also the highest quality. They didn't fade like dozens of other pencil brands I've tried, and are available open-stock to buy individual colors or in sets. Be aware that unlike graphite "lead" pencils, colored pencils have wax or oil based cores that repel water. They may not be easy to layer over, so depending on the pressure you applied the pencil it could remain that color even if a darker watercolor is used on top of it. Pressing hard with pencils/other dry media will score/dent paper, which is one of the main down sides compared to liquid inks. They are really good for giving precise spots of color, such as adding darker values in small areas as the final layer in your painting process. Individual pencils from Blick here. Amazon also carries sets:
Pens: Once I'm happy with my basic line work I decide if I want the line art to be pronounced (an illustrator/design style vs natural/realistic). If you want black outlines, like a coloring book, BEFORE you paint - a waterproof ink is required. This prevents the lines from bleeding/reactivating while painting. If you're looking for line art you can use like a coloring book, I offer printable art files here for the USA and on Patreon worldwide.
My favorite disposable waterproof pens are Tombo Mono OR Winsor and Newton's fineliners. I primarily use the finest tip size 01 for all work. This gives a fine line with the freedom to go over areas you want a thicker line width again if needed. You can also find W&N pens at Blick here or Jacksons here. I no longer use Micron pens by Sakura after several colors failed a lightfast test (the most fading was seen in red colored inks) and they require more time to dry before becoming waterproof than my other pens.
Dip pens and technical pens can use inks that are too thick / clogging (pigment sediment) or too damaging to flow from fountain pens (shellac or acrylic with a glue-like binder). Great for use with acrylic ink or airbrush paints like Schmincke's Aero color. Dip pens are simple, just dip and make strokes until the ink runs dry, then re-dip. Technical pens are a bit more involved and finicky, but are capable of the finest lines and can accept a wide variety of ink types. Rotring Isograph is my favorite in 0.20mm. Fill the reservoir with your choice of ink, shake the pen side to side to start the flow. Waterproof inks (shellac or acrylic) need to be flushed from the technical pen before storage for a week or more, or they can get severely clogged.
Waterproof inks: Bombay India Ink is a quality, lightfast, shellac based ink from Dr. Ph. Martins. You can find Bombay individual bottles on Blick here or Amazon below. While slightly more expensive and harder to find in sets, my favorite option for dip pen is Aero Color by Schmincke (available individually on Jacksons here) - a fluid acrylic commonly used in airbrushes. Like any waterproof ink, they do require some clean up and frequent re-dipping as they start to dry and coat dip pen nibs (literally painting them with a waterproof finish, unless used very diluted). Aerocolor is particularly well behaved and it's super fine particle size + fluid nature help the ink flow off your nib without running dry or coming out in blobs. Note: I do not recommend their metallic/pearlescent colors (I've tried brilliant gold, space holographic silver, and metallic medium white pearl - all are thicker and more problematic for dip pen than their standard colors).
SketchInk by the German company Rohrer & Klingner is one of the most useful inks ever made for watercolorists. My favorite option for technical pen. Very fluid, not as prone to stickiness or clogging as other waterproof inks. It's nearly instantly waterproof and comes in a variety of lightfast colors. Unfortunately they are a bit hard to find in certain parts of the world. The fountain pen store called "Jet Pens", as well as Amazon, does offer these inks to the USA. When using a technical pen, I prefer Rotring Isograph .20 tip. When using a dip pen, I use Tachikawa with a Zebra Comic "G" pen nib.
Fine line painting pens: This tool is ideal for those working with metallic / pearlescent (mica based) watercolor paints. It creates reliable strict determined width lines (not variable width like a flexible dip pen nib).
Sometimes called a detailing applicator for repairing chips in automotive paint. This tool is most often available in "fine" 0.5mm size, but King Art brand also has a two pack that also includes an "extra fine" 0.25mm. These can only be used with finely ground pigments, not coarse / chunkier glittery colors that won't flow through the small tips. Most Finetec, Coliro and Paul Rubens "glitter" watercolors DO work with these (with the exception of just a couple big particle pearl colors).
Glaze Pens: A mess-free alternative to permanent masking fluid. This thin fluid, glue-like, liquid can be drawn onto your paper. Comes in a standard ball point pen form. Once dry it is slightly glossy and repels subsequent watercolor layers. This preserves any color you had down first. If your paper is white, you'll have preserved white lines. If you do a wash of magenta, then draw with these pens it would be magenta lines and you could paint darker colors around them, similar to batik resist in fabric dying. A nice tool for toned paper as well. They do also come in transparent colors. You can buy glaze pens individually at Blick art store here, or on Amazon below.
White gel pen or gouache - A white gel pen can be a convenient way to add final touch highlights to your watercolor painting. This is ideal for things like a sparkle on a wet surface, an eye and areas you want to appear like light is hitting it. This is much easier than preserving white space or using masking fluid. Over time I have realized that all gel pens, uni ball signo or gelly roll bold 10, eventually skip or blob out ink. They are both very nice, opaque pens, but I have decided that I have better control when I use a fine detail paint brush and white gouache instead. Almost any gouache brand will work, I usually use Winsor and Newton's Permanent White or M. Graham's Titanium White Gouache.
2) Watercolor paper comes in cellulose (misc. tree and vegetation pulp) or cotton fiber "rag" (more durable). Thickness: 90lb/# paper is too thin (similar to card stock) and often warps/bends with water, so I recommend 140lb/# (the most common standard thickness, generally similar to a textured manila file folder). There is 300# paper out there, but it's almost like illustration board/cardboard and I find it prone to damage since it can not be bent slightly without creasing permanently. Almost all of the most affordable cheap papers are student grade cellulose papers, which can turn yellow or decompose over decades (though I've had problems with Bee brand paper yellowing quickly in under 3 years). The higher end cotton papers are ideal for serious art that will be framed to sell or portrait paintings to pass on as family heirlooms. Even non-cotton misc. pulp papers by reputable companies like Canson and Strathmore can be quite reliable, acid-free and stable for many years.
Understanding "sizing" + caution: Be aware that stocking up on too much paper (especially when it doesn't get used for 6 months or more) is not a good idea. The "sizing" (a word describing the coating usually made from gelatin or starch glue that repels watercolor so it doesn't spread uncontrollably through the paper fibers) can go bad over time. It dissolves worse in humid climates, resulting in splotchy absorption of color or white speckles. This texture problem can happen to "new" paper if it was shipped in humid conditions or stored at an art store that has low sales resulting in products that sit around for a year.
Are your colors lifting/erasing/being disturbed too easily when working in secondary layers after the first has dried? While granulating colors lift easier than smooth colors, odds are that it is not your paint. Some brands have extra sizing, sometimes noted as "hard sized", which increases the lifting/erasing capability of colors. I prefer papers made for layering with less sizing instead (Arches, Winsor & Newton, Langton Prestige, Kilimanjaro, Saunders Waterford etc.). I used to love BEE brand because it stains very easily, making layering almost guaranteed to not disturb other colors, but that paper is not archival.
Vegan options - Note that many brands use gelatin sizing, an animal based product. If you're looking for alternatives, Strathmore, Hahnemühle and Canson's Heritage, Jackson's store brand and Cheap Joe's Kiliminjaro papers are made with plant based gelatin-free sizing.
In any brand of paper I prefer COLD press (sometimes called NOT), a slightly textured surface. Hot press (smooth) often causes uneven drying of very wet washes, unpredictable granulation results and is mainly good for fine detail work where uninterrupted lines (no bumps) is very important. Botanical artists often use hot press. Rough press is best for abstract and heavily textural, granulated washes. Cold press papers do vary in depth of surface texture by brand, but are generally the most likely to do everything you need.
Notes regarding specific paper brands I've used:
ARCHES - The 140# cold press cotton is my main go-to paper. It stains slightly BUT has a durable surface which allows for scrubbing if lifting is desired. It helps showcase specific pigment properties by allowing granulating colors to easily lift, but staining colors to leave a stain. I use it for swatching and art. Accepts many layers and does well with glazing. Multiple wet washes can be applied and the coating will still allow for crisp fine detail marks (no fuzzy edges, holds strokes). Smooth edge blending was easy to do on this paper - helpful when doing successful portraits where secondary warm blush layers on a face require a gradient edge (fading into undisturbed previous tan layers). Technical pen does not tear it's durable surface, but slow drawing over the bumps is required to reduce skipping of lines. All cold press papers will ruin the nib tip of fineliners after a few drawings, technical or dip pens may be more economical.
BAOHONG Academy, Artists (Pro) and Masters Choice (all 100% cotton papers) - In progress.
BEE - I did love it in the past, but I no longer use it. Easily staining, allows for layering and building up color values without disturbing previous layers. They used to be more affordable, being an ideal learning paper before graduating to other papers that take layering well like Arches. Unfortunately BEE yellows over time and the sizing breaks down causing splotchy uneven absorption, particularly if a package is stored open for too many months. While made of cotton, the fibers seem shorter and less dense, so pilling is possible when lifting (little paper lint balls). If you are familiar with BEE brand papers, they were budget friendly and in recent years increasingly hard to find. It was great for student practice, not ideal for professional art to sell as it started to absorb/desaturate colors over years. I felt that it was better than most cellulose papers, resulting in beautiful granulation and bright vibrant colors (at first). It was always very easily staining, which is good for those who want to practice layering/glazing but not for lifting techniques. All of my old color charts have also had slight hue shifts / dulling / odd absorption into Bee papers. It is a fine paper for practice if it's easy for you to obtain, but is really not good for lifting (erase with a damp brush techniques).
Bockingford - Not for pens, sensitive surface. This paper was nice for flow and absorption of watercolors, but despite allowing for easy lifting I can't say it's actually good at that due to the pilling. Paper pilling/tiny loose fibers came up with any repeat scrubbing of its delicate surface. This was notable when using fineliners, dip or technical pens, since the needle tip cut through the paper wet with ink. It's affordable paper that I would only buy if you are a gentle painter.
Blick - Store brand (USA) - In progress.
Fabriano Artistico or Fluid 100 cotton papers - This brand has been changing their packaging and paper surfaces in recent years including offering new "enchanced" surface and is available in natural or extra white (this possibly may yellow over time, but initially helps color vibrancy and contrast). My past experience was that these were fairly smooth, staining papers that kept colors in place. I used their small blocks with glued-down sides to practice sea and sky scapes. I will yet to evaluate the new versions.
Hahnemuhle offers many types of papers such as The Collection, Bamboo, Agave, Toned - In progress.
Jackson's - Store brand (UK) paper is a vegan sized (not animal gelatin like Arches) cellulose (no cotton) affordable paper that takes technical/fineliner pens well in the first pass. Once the paper has been wet there may be some minor ink bleeding as the sizing breaks down. I had a hard time making soft edges in washes as well as accidentally lifting secondary layers (too much sizing, easily lifting). It took some work to do soft edges. I can see this being a good paper for quick line and wash studies (ideally where not much layering will be done).
Kilimanjaro - Cheap Joe's store brand (USA) is a cotton paper that performs similarly to Arches. I found that the 140# was better (300# stained harshly and had too much fiber texture). Unfortunately it does easily warp, so extra tape/stapled edges/wetting the back to prepare the paper may be necessary.
Millford by St Cuthberts Mill - A hard-sized cotton paper with a durable surface coating that promotes easy lifting and vibrant colors that sit on the surface with little absorption. Sizing may restrict the flow of some colors, can challenge established expectations of how your collection of colors normally perform. This is a specialty paper perhaps best used for abstract art, unusual textures or single layer washes. Slightly soft with a surface texture that is not ideal for fine tip pen work.
Saunders Waterford - Beautiful, durable, takes layering well like Arches and Winsor and Newton's absorbent papers. Unfortunately it's very yellow/beige and this darker off-white does not allow the vibrancy of watercolor pigments to really shine. It's harder to find than Arches and more expensive, but if you have easy access to it and love Arches you may really enjoy this paper as well.
Strathmore 400 tree pulp and 500 cotton - These papers have vegan sizing that for whatever reason is prone to white speckling texture with certain staining watercolors. While they otherwise perform well, this unwanted miniature snow-scape in each painting is not desirable. I tried several batches, both produced this effect with staining colors (like Phthalo Blue, Paynes Gray, Dioxazine Violet) which almost seemed to want to stain faster than the paper would allow (tiny bubbles?). I decided to use this paper with gouache and acrylic, where the texture could not be seen through the opaque paint layers.
Winsor & Newton PRO (I do not recommend the cellulose student version) - The professional high quality cotton paper is very durable. The cold press is slightly more firm (possibly a touch thicker) and surface textured than Arches. Accepts fineliners, but dry media/pencils/pens will have to draw slow to avoid bumpy lines. This paper does well with wet washes, glazing and layering. Accepts extremely wet pools of water for promoting granulation texture or color separation effects with pigments that flow/disperse at different rates. The hot press is smooth yet provides surprisingly decent granulation effects, but water absorption is slow and can cause backruns in wet washes where spots suddenly dry faster than others.
--- So what do I use most often? ---
Arches cotton #140 cold press! NOTE: I have experienced a defective pad recently that appears to have bad sizing (white speckle dots that resist being colored) despite being brand new. I also had another pad seem to go bad quicker than usual (after being open on my desk for just a few weeks) though I do live in a high humidity environment. I am uncertain if any recent ingredient changes have happened. More people seem to be mentioning issues as of 2020-2021, likely due to pandemic material supply shortages. This overall still appears to be a small chance to receive a bad batch, but I can only advise trying this paper if you can get it from a company with easy return/exchange policy. It's sad since this has been a staple for my artwork for many years. On the bright side I'll keep trying new papers and writing notes for each new brand on this page.
I have found this paper to be very durable and it's usually easy to find. It's surface allows me to repeatedly layer or glaze without fear of paper pilling (no falling apart from rubbing/water damage). No loose fibers means even the finest needle-tip technical pen can draw on it without damage. I get mine through Blick or Jacksons who often have the best price. You may also be able to find it on Amazon, but the cost fluctuates there.
If I run out of Arches, I'm most likely to reach for Winsor and Newton's professional cotton watercolor papers which come in "hot" press (smooth), "cold" (sometimes called "not" in other countries) and "rough". When I want a more compact "sketchbook" for travel, I use Winsor and Newton's spiral bound "journal". I have tried a lot of sketchbooks and most of them lack a good paper quality, but these are reliable and if something turns out good it could be removed to frame. This cold press paper is very durable, but a bit rough. The durable cold press surface can be used with needle-fine tip technical pens, but drawing has to be done slower due to the bumpy texture of the paper. This paper allows for very wet washes, particularly useful in creating superb effects with granulating pigments, which can flow and settle into the valleys of this paper in a dramatic way. I like it for use with color-separating mixtures like purples made with ultramarine blue and magenta.
Winsor and Newton's hot press finish pro cotton paper is also great, but its smooth surface may be less durable for repeat wet washes. Because of my love of granulating, highly textural pigments, I do not often use hot press papers. While not as good for handling excess water (usually used to promote granulation texture), I will say that specifically W&N brand hot press paper happens to perform unusually well with granulating pigments. The effect of which is usually dramatically lessened by the lack of surface texture on other brands of hot press. When doing only a one or two wet washes it performs very well and it can take many dry layers. This ironed-flat surface is ideal for those seeking control over fine details, without the risk of interrupted lines from paper texture. Botanical artists and those who use fineliner pens, color pencils or dry mixed media may appreciate this smooth paper. The surface sizing (coating) seems very strong and capable of handling anything you throw at it, despite excessively wet washes overall being a better technique for cold press papers.
BLICK often has a great price on W&N paper here. Amazon seems to go out of stock of this paper fairly frequently. I have not yet experienced a bad batch in this brand, but I have noticed a new package design in 2021. I will be testing the updated product with the new look, to make sure no significant changes have been made.
I used Winsor and Newton's spiral bound journal to swatch the super granulating Schmincke watercolors in this video:
Black watercolor paper: Legion Stonehenge Aqua Black is ideal for opaque media like gouache and metallic watercolors. It is the only 100% cotton watercolor paper that is easily purchasable in the US at this time. I have tried the Van Gogh black watercolor paper, and while it holds water well, it is tree pulp based and has repetitive lines imprinted that can be distracting. I like Legion aqua black for using metallic watercolor paints like Coliro / Finetec or Paul Rubens.
Low price cellulose (misc. tree, plant and undisclosed pulp papers): Canson XL is a go-to because it's common and made by a reputable company that makes quality products. You can find this paper in many craft stores, Amazon, blick and even in the tiny art/craft section at Walmart. It's NOT the "best" paper, but it certainly is affordable and great for basic swatching. It's an easy to find option for getting to know your paints and practicing water control and brush strokes without feeling like you're "wasting" paper. Blick art materials tends to have the best prices on Canson XL here.
--- I recently tested the affordable new Fabriano 1264 cellulose and the Fabriano cellulose + cotton blend papers available as a "Fat Pad" 50 sheet bulk pads on Blick here.
At this time I'm of the opinion that it is worthwhile to spend a little more to get the 25% cotton version, because Fabriano 1264 has an unpleasant repeating pattern texture that can show up in your washes (especially effecting the texture of granulating paints). It also is prone to leaving a glossy surface shine by not absorbing the gum arabic binder in watercolor paints as well as cotton papers. The biggest perk of these pads is cost, likely being the best for things like swatching and card making.
3) Paint brushes come in sets or individually in dramatically different price groups for beginner/bargain sets vs professional quality. I do not recommend extremely expensive brushes or genuine sable/real animal hair, as these are sometimes questionably sourced (fur farms that kill the animals for no other purpose), can be overpriced and wear down (disposable) over time just like cheaper brushes.
In general the best brush to use is the one you're used to. I spent the first couple years of painting using low quality brushes that only cost a dollar or two a brush and the most important part of my success was practice. I knew how to hold each one, what their tip point and spring was like (bending and springing back to it's original shape), the marks they were capable of and how much water each brush holds (how long of a stroke you can make).
My favorite, most used, brushes are Princeton Neptune and Heritage series. Neptune is a synthetic squirrel fiber brush that mimics the absorbent nature of natural squirrel hair. These soft, floppy brushes are good for broad wet washes and filling large areas. Heritage series has more spring, a stiffer brush with a fine point, that is good for detail work. I use a 0 to 3/0 small size "round" brush for painting tiny fur and feather details as well as adding highlights with white gouache to my paintings. A size 4 Neptune or 6 Heritage pointed round can be quite versatile, often being the only brush I need for an entire painting (note that I work small, generally on ATC, 5x7 or 8x10 inch art - if you paint big, bigger numbers of brush size may be needed). Blick offers these paint brushes individually - Heritage here, or Neptune here.
Low cost student brushes that can provide good results with practice include: Princeton Snap is a firm, detail oriented brush that can be particularly suited to brush lettering and loose florals. Dugato and brands that mention "synthetic squirrel" (usually with black bristles) better absorb water, holding a lot of paint per stroke with a softer bristle.
For lifting techniques: You will want a flat "bright" brush ("scrubbers" are usually too harsh). This is used when you want to "erase" watercolor paint (usually after it dries) with a damp brush. It needs to be a soft, yet firm, synthetic fiber / bristle brush for this. Often used for highlights, sun light beams and shading in botanical art.
The above low cost lifting brushes are for sale here. If you do a lot of landscapes, trees/bushes/foliage textures you may also be interested in a "deer foot" brush. This allows you to blot (stencil-like) uneven rough textures to mimic distant clumps of leaves.
Brush organization: Brush Grip Paintbrush Holder. Brushes can take over your desk. It's easy to collect a lot of them, each with enough useful purpose that you can justify always having them on hand. You could throw them upright in a coffee mug, but over time the water seeping into the ferrule / barrel of your brush will cause it to rot/ loosen glue / shed fibers. In order to avoid this, it's best to store your brushes horizontally (more manageable than hanging them to allow the bristles to air out pointing downwards). In order to still have my brushes out for easy access, I use a brush holder tool that can be attached to my lamps like a belt. I have also used other types of brush organization tools that don't rely on a nearby lamp to fasten to, such as these:
4) Porcelain mixing palettes. Porcelain has a ceramic glaze finish that is glass-like and resists staining. It is super easy to clean and doesn't cause wet paint puddles to bead up / shrink / move unexpectedly as you mix colors (like they do on plastic or enamel coated metal tins). When using tube paints for practicing color mixtures and practicing things like replicating brand convenience colors (like Daniel Smith's Moonglow) I find a many-well palette allows me to place a dot of color in each well, so I can keep track of ratios (ie. 1/3 blue 1/3 red 1/3 green = neutral purple).
Brush rinsing bowls / water containers. I use purified water to prevent introducing mold from my tap or well water sources into my paint pans. It's also important not to use hard water with some paints, particularly honey based paints like M.Graham which can have odd texture reactions visable in your artwork. Because of this I am extra cautious about how much water I use, and the bowls can influence how much gets disposed of.
A shared multi-section bowl may be helpful. It can be great for those who use tap water, allowing you to keep a single dish that separates clean from dirty water while painting. Rinse your brush on one side, load your clean rinsed brush on the other. This can help keep your colors vibrant by avoiding muddy water.
That type of multi-section bowl system does not work for me, as it promotes emptying out all of the water at the same time. Even if some of your water is still clean, if the part with critically dirty brown murky water needs to be rinsed, it all has to go at the same time. This can become costly if going through too much purified water (sometimes used to avoid adding mold spores to your supplies or changing paint textures caused by well/hard water). Because of this I keep minimum 2 separate cups, but have recently decided 3 works best for me. The third bowl / cup is for sparkly mica or opaque paints that easily contaminate everything else (particularly metallic watercolors that stick to the brush bristles and make all your subsequent colors a touch sparkly). I use little sauce dipping cups, ramekins or small square ceramic bowls (added bonus of not looking like a cup you should drink water from absent mindedly while painting):
5) Swatch card rubber stamps, binders and storage for DIY paint catalog. Regardless of your collection size, having a way to organize your paint swatches can be very helpful. No more scattered piles of random size scrap test paper. I can save all of my mixing recipes, color combination ideas, texture tests and more in organized coin collector pages. I no longer accidentally buy a color twice, or buy too similar of a color (not on purpose anyway) when I can just check my binder to see what I have. You'll need a big 3-ring binder that is made for tab folders to make room for these, not just a standard binder for punched line paper. You could use other size page protector sheets if making your own custom swatch cards (such as "business card size" or "trading card" protectors). Here are the the binders and 2"x2" coin protector sheets that I use:
Swatch card and color wheel rubber stamps: I've created my own rubber stamps and color wheel palettes - available here. They were designed to be used with watercolor, but my stamps contain no text making them useful to those organizing their other media like inks, pencils, pastels, acrylic, oil etc. While I do not currently ship outside of the USA at this time, the digital files are available worldwide. You can find them at www.Patreon.com/KimberlyCrickArt if you are interested in line art for practice painting, swatch card or color wheel templates to print.
Waterproof ink pad for stamping: Archival Ink by Ranger is my favorite for swatching water based paints like watercolor, gouache and acrylic (use Memento for alcohol inks). You can see if we have this item in stock here, or check Amazon below.
6) Color wheel - a very useful tool for choosing colors. It's helpful if you get a book regarding color theory, or do a bit of research online about harmony and mixing neutrals. Primary color mixing is something every painter can benefit from knowing, so here's some basics:
When a color on a 12 slot (or an even more detailed 24 slot) color wheel is opposite from another color they are considered compliments. Mixing complimentary colors results in neutral browns and grays. Knowing this can help avoid accidental mixing of mud browns as well as helpfully intentional mixing of shadow colors. It also is a great suggestion for colors to pair side by side for striking contrast, or harmonius color schemes (like rose red and floral green). I always keep a color wheel in view, which can help speed up decision makings mid painting.
Metal tins: I'm not a big fan of the clip-in-place system and how much space is wasted inside of the container because of that. Most of these containers are not flat if you remove this tray, reducing the usefulness of removing the insert. There are extra durable metal tins out there, such as that used for the Paul Rubens set shown below (an option even for the case because of it's price compared to empty containers). In general I don't buy metal tins for their mixing areas, since paints are much more likely to bead up and stick to your brush instead of the palette compared to ceramic/porcelain mixing dishes.
You can use empty Altoids tins or other new tin containers made for candy/mints. This allows the use of a magnet on the bottom of your plastic pan, so you can easily swap out/replace colors instead of glue/taping them in place. I have discovered a few downsides to using metal tins that are not properly sealed. If it does not have a thick white enamel coating it will very likely rust over time. This can also cause a chemical reaction with certain paints (particularly iron oxides that are common in browns and black watercolors as well as rare minerals like Malachite). Even spray sealing my mint tins with acrylic based varnish did not save it from rust long term.
Plastic containers: Pan sets that come in plastic cases can be a nice solution, often having spaces in the middle that fit brushes that can be removed for extra space. Some fit FULL size pans (like those made by White Nights or Roman Szmal). Paul Rubens offers a large latching plastic case that has removable inserts providing a blank space to fit any size of pans or combination of pan sizes on Amazon here. While you could use the included trays for tube watercolors, when removed this becomes a big plastic box to hold 128 half pans per side or an assortment of different size pans (or 70 full size pans, 77 smaller white nights "full" pans). For a medium size solution, the Jerry Q sets are full of paint, but cheap enough that emptying the paint out of them may be worth the cost of the palette itself. Empty White Nights containers can be carefully altered (razor blade away the nubs in the channels) so they can fit other brands of pans, like Roman Szmal. Van Gogh has a nice empty palette for half pans or filling with tubes as well.
For a tiny, compact travel set that will fit in your pocket I really like the Daler Rowney aquafine 12 pan set available on Amazon here or Jackson's here. The white case is about the size of a cell phone, has mixing areas, comes with a size 4 round brush and the panel that holds half pans can be popped off to fit more paint. There are 10mm "mini pans" (square sample size) that could fit in here to make a 48 color set that fits in your pocket - such a great option for travel!
Wood containers: Not as travel-ready for outdoor/plein air/urban sketching. If you own a lot of mixed brands, various pan sizes and tubes, you may enjoy using a simple slide-top wood box. I do not like hinged closures since repeat opening and closing puts strain on those parts and requires more desk space once opened. A slide top can just be set under your box or away from your work space while painting. Some wood boxes add an elegant appearance to your collection that just can't be beat by plastic.
Fun DIY palette project: Most wood containers are not made for watercolor pans so these options may require some creativity. Ideally find a box that is at least 0.75" up to 3" deep (plenty to accommodate most 12mm tall pans). If the depth is 1.5" to 2.25" I cut two pieces of a cardboard box to fit into the box, tape-sealed with package tape for padding to raise the pans up. You can use double sided tape or glue to secure your pans to this insert. That way there is no unpleasant deep angle when you use your brush to gather paint. Blick art materials online store has a box that is about 1.25" tall - see Blick's Bamboo Watercolor Paint Box here. I've also seen thin boxes made for things like car keys or USB stick storage as well as jewelry boxes like these:
Some boxes (like the Oirlv jewelry boxes with magnetic clear acrylic tops) are very shallow and only fit pans, no extra inserts (such as magnets). I have found that using something like polymer clay or air dry clay can be a way to make unique custom shapes (like color wheels) to hold your paint as an alternative to empty individual plastic pans. Clay projects can be made to fit inside these boxes to protect the paint from getting dust in it, also allowing for easier stacking of multiple palettes.
For slide top boxes, if your chosen box is 2.25" deep or more, there may be room to add optional pen or brush storage below the paints. You can do this by attaching a folded tape piece or a glued on lift-ribbon to your cardboard insert (the insert that will have pans attached to it so it can be lifted out to reveal your extra supplies). Wood containers can be decorated more easily than metal or plastic. Embellish with clay carvings, rhinestones or glue-on beads, rubber stamp, heat carve with a wood burning tool, paint with acrylic paints, gesso, watercolors and varnish. You may find nice boxes online marketed for trinkets and jewelry as well.
Troubleshooting: Not ideal for messy painters who may repeatedly soak the box (no judgment), as this is a natural material that can absorb and swell. If you know you splash water in your paint box a lot, you could spray or brush seal it with acrylic paint, clear matte medium/gesso, resin or varnish first. I use magnet tape for underneath my pans, for easy swapping of colors. Acrylic jewelry boxes may also be a good fit for you when working with larger, very wet, brushes. The containers without divider trays are really nice for storing collections of different pan sizes (even Kuretake/Gansai XL pans) and tubes, unlike products made for watercolor that often only hold one particular pan size. If you find that your wood box has a tightly fitting lid, gently wiggle the lid side to side before trying to slide it out. Making sure not to insert the lid diagonally or a quick rub of the edges with sand paper will likely solve lid issues. Here are some of the boxes I've tried from Amazon for making mixed size multi-brand palettes. These are particularly good for decorating (painting, stamping, gluing adornments to the top):
You can also get crafty and use a small hand saw to cut square wooden dowel sticks to size, glue onto wood, chipboard, small canvas panels or mdf particle boards. If you're making a lot of boxes, you may find that DIY saves you a lot of money per box making it as cheap as $3-4 a box (quite affordable in comparison to about $20 for a pre-made jewelry box). Thin wood panels/mdf boards can warp, so this is not ideal for messy painters. Any flat boards with dowels glued to all four edges first will be able to accept acrylic paint as a sealer without warping (the "frame" holds all the edges down, much like watercolor paper and tape). Sticker paper could be a good option for simply covering blank boards, but the cheapest thing to do is just use it as a plain undecorated brown box.
For those who enjoy clay crafting, oven bake polymer clay (like Sculpey/Premo), air dry paper clay, apoxy or resin clays (like Apoxie Sculpt) can be used to make custom palettes. When fired glazing for porcelain/ceramic is not an option, acrylic paint can be used to waterproof the clay surface. Varnish, thick wood sealers or resin pour (such as Art Resin or Ice Resin) may be an option for creating a glass-like surface with less staining than acrylic paints. Use the bottom of a half pan tray, or even the cap of chapstick, to press wells into your clay. You can make custom shapes like color wheels. I sometimes make clay inserts to place inside wood boxes for storage.
8) General storage, organization. I put groups of tube paints in a small stacking drawer system, each drawer is themed for use in an upcoming video. This smaller storage drawer system helps me temporarily organize paints by something like color, rare pigment, OR brand. I use larger storage tubs and ziplock bags to organize my paints by brand when in longer-term storage, underneath my desk or on another shelf to keep my workspace clutter free. My Bino brand acrylic jewelry drawers are perfect for pencils, pens and a good portion of my paint brushes (that don't have extra long handles).
9) Lighting: lamps, bulbs and flash lights. To reduce eye strain and to provide adequate lighting for video making, you will need multiple lamps. Each light should be coming from a different angle, to prevent hard shadows being cast across your art as you move your hand. I prefer to have at least 1 to 3 generic floor lamps or overhead lights equipped with a "daylight" bulb with the highest lumens rating you can find. This will give your room an overall light, reducing the need for too many higher cost desk-top "task lamps" functioning as spot lights on your desk.
Desk top spot lights - Ottlite is a brand that makes lamps and bulbs for artists and crafters that provide day time or "sunlight" spectrum. This is important because some normal indoor lamp bulbs are either bright white/cool or often yellow / warm which cause colors to look like different hues.
If you work at night under a lamp you could be surprised how different your art looks outside during the day time. I love the light provided by the bulb that comes with their folding task lamp - bulb model "T1333E 13-Watt HD".
I've had some problems with Ottlite's older lamps over the years (they have changed the bendy arm models shown in my photos since then) but they were reasonably priced and easy to find in stores. I prefer the spot-light they provide for night time tasks at a desk in comparison to more common basic lamp bulbs. My old model lamps have some on/off buttons that stick which resulted in one of them constantly trying to turn itself on and burning the bulb out early. It's a bummer because the old model with a bendy arm was convenient for pointing at my art, but the folding task lamp (one hinge open-close) has performed better for me. Even the problem lamps lasted through about a year of regular use before having any issues.
I'm currently testing out some different brands, such as the extravagant BenQ LED Desk Lamp. It does not have replacement bulbs, just a very very long lasting LED (many of these types of lamps including Ottlite are rated for 10,000 hours or more). I will update this section once I have an idea of how many years it lasts. Most of these types of lamps seem to last a very long time. Aside from my older Ottlite bend lamp that had the button malfunction, I have never even needed a bulb replacement after using my lamp 3+ hours every few days over several years. This experience has made me less concerned about bulb replacement. Regarding the BenQ lamp, I feel that this lamp is priced for professional use, artist or office settings. It provided good overhead lighting, wide area instead of spot light. This was in between taking the place of a ceiling fixture/floor lamp and the desk-top spot lights. Though it is not ideal for whole room lighting, but more so task areas (like an art desk or night stand for reading). For space reasons, I could see wanting a single more expensive light compared to many cheaper individual bulbs/spot lamps. I prefer a combination of these lighting options. I find that the tap-on lamp like the BenQ is quite convenient for quick sessions at my desk when I'm painting for myself, rather than turning on a ton of different lights for video making.
... and what was that about a flashlight? Yup, a UV black light is a really helpful tool for determining which of your paints contain fugitive dyes (especially student/bargain watercolors without pigment information provided). It detects fluorescent colors that reflect light as if they are glowing. The brighter it glows the more fugitive your "opera" pink watercolor is (the faster the dyes will fade if exposed to nearby window daylight). Technically you could get a bulb or LED strip of lights as well, which are best for purposeful art display of UV reactive colors. Note: there are a few rare lightfast fluorescent pigments, which can be read about on the neon / opera / fluorescent colors page here.
BASICS OF TOP DOWN VIDEO MAKING FOR ARTISTS AND CRAFTERS.
10) Camera options, holders/stands and recording equipment. I currently use my IPhone 11 pro to record my videos. I didn't have a smart phone before, so this was quite an investment - and it was worth it. (I'll talk about lower cost web cams below). Smart phones can be very beginner friendly and many apps are available to help you edit right on your phone. For long videos (horizontal/wide screen and lasting over a few minutes) to put on YouTube, I edit the phone files with VSDC on my PC computer (no problem sharing files between my apple device and windows system). If you are making short videos (likely 1 minute or less, vertical view instead of widescreen) for apps like Instagram or TikTok they are easier to edit in those phone apps versus moving files to a computer. For either style video, the simplest way to make videos is to do a single recording session, voicing over as you go or setting it to music.
I prefer to make roughly 10-20 minute timelapse, info dense videos that edit out any drying time/steps not vital to the content. While it results in extra editing work, I find my videos turn out the best if I record in many small segments to string together later. When I add the parts to VSDC software I decide how fast or slow each segment should play (usually 100% real time to 3000% speedpaint). Once I have an idea of the overall pacing of the planned video, I write and record the speech. Some phone apps can help you stitch multiple files together or control time-lapse / speed paint pacing instead of doing it on a separate computer. This can get quite complex depending on how often you stop recording between segments (such as after unboxing an item before setting up to swatch the paints, letting them dry before doing another layer). Try hitting stop/record as few times as possible to make your life easier when first learning your video editing software.
If you are planning to use social media apps like TikTok and Instagram, using a smart phone (with a good camera such as in IPhone, Android or Galaxy phones) to record will be the best option for simple uploading to those platforms. If you have wifi at home, the IPhone "cloud" app can be linked to your computer (PC or Mac), which will conveniently transfer picture and video files from your phone to your computer when you charge your phone. It's also possible to plug in a data transfer cord to remove files from your phone, so that you can edit the videos on your computer.
YouTube has better PC support than Instagram and TikTok (which only work well with phones instead of computer browsers). Because of working well with standard TV or PC/Mac monitor resolutions, YouTube allows for a lot of flexibility in recording methods (uploading multiple file formats regardless if recording on a phone/camcorder/digital camera/webcam). The horizontal orientation of recording is ideal for multiple quality playback settings (ranging from low res for low internet speeds, HD to crisp 4k) as well as the ability to have subtitles, play tv-style commercial ads to make you ad-revenue etc.
Already own a digital camera? I have used a digital camera (any point and shoot by Canon or Panasonic is likely acceptable, particularly any current models which should all be rated to film in HD quality). Video quality settings should be HD 720x1080 with a frame rate of 30 (higher resolutions like 4k or 60 fps result in very large file size and are not yet the standard viewing quality). Unfortunately even nice digital cameras are not made for this type of job and will often have record limits of 20-30 minutes. This is to prevent the camera from over heating, as it was not designed to be a video camera. I used my Panasonic DC-ZS70 for a while to make short clips that I later strung together in a video editor before deciding to get a web-cam for unlimited recording time.
Lower cost, simple starter option for beginners. * Start here if you have a good computer, but lack a smart phone or good camera. * A logitech web cam can be plugged into a desktop computer via USB cord. A screen recording program such as Xsplit (which costs very little and is often available for free trials) will create video files out of anything you stream from your web cam to your computer. The clamps/stands/camera holders above were designed for holding these types of web cams, but can be adapted for phone use as well if you decide to upgrade in the future. I used this set up for my first year of video making.
Microphone: A USB microphone will allow you to record voice overs for your videos separately from your visuals. This is ideal for those who don't know what to say in the moment (write a speech for later) or find it distracting to talk while painting. Windows has a free "voice recorder" program which only requires you to plug in your mic and hit record to save an audio file.
Video editing software: VSDC is by far my favorite program and best of all IT IS FREE! There is also a low cost option to upgrade it to a "pro" version with faster processing speed and some minor perks, that can be decided on after you use the standard program to see if you like it. They have a lot of tutorials both on the VSDC website and their YouTube channel. I find it incredibly helpful to organize all video clips in a designated folder on my desktop, file names numbered in the order they go for the video, so I can group load them into VSDC to stitch them together. They also allow you to speed up (by any %) each clip. So say I'm swatching really slowly and it takes me over 30 minutes, I can put it at 1000% to get that down to just a couple minutes of watch time instead. You can delete any audio captured on those video clips (neighbors dog, scratching, clanging, dropping your stuff etc.) and replace it with your "voice recorder" audio clip (from your mic + windows).
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In addition to Amazon you may also find similar items, especially paper, pens and brushes on Blick or Jackson's websites below. Thank you :)
If you're looking for PAINT recommendations, check out my lightfast testing and brand reviews section.
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