4 More Useful Watercolor Tools for Beginning Painters

Published Dec. 12th 2013


In each of my last four articles, I have looked at the most important tools in painting with watercolors—things like paper, paint, brushes, and palettes—which are of course the things that EVERY watercolor painter uses.

But today I’ll be discussing a few little odds and ends that you definitely need, which are often an afterthought, especially for a beginner.

1. Water containers

Since water is key in watercolor painting, we want to have containers that suit our purpose. My suggestion is you have plenty of water at the ready. (And clean water too—dirty water makes for a dirty painting!)

Because watercolors depend on clear brilliant transparency, the water you are using must stay clean. This can be achieved in three different ways: you can change your water often, you can use a very large container so the water does not get dirty as fast (I know an artist who uses a five gallon bucket!) or you can use two containers—one container with clean water to paint with and one container to rinse clean the brush.

That last one is the method I use, but feel free to find what suits you and your approach best. If you are taking classes or plan to paint plein air you might want collapsible containers that pack easily and save space. These are easy to find at art stores and come in a variety of sizes and types.

Another valuable water container for watercolor painters is a squirt bottle.

Pick a small bottle to travel or a larger one for the studio. These little gems are helpful to keep the paint in your palette moist-just a spray now and then keeps them from drying out-especially outdoors.

The second reason to get a squirt bottle (which we will look at as we move into our lessons) is to help direct and move the paint as well as provide interesting textures and patterns with the spray. But more on that later. :)

2. Paper towels

You may not think of paper towels as a tool, but paper towels are essential!

I use paper towels to wipe clean and moderate the amount of water my brush holds every time its dipped in the water to be cleaned or to paint. I have one in my hand at all times to catch a drip or pick up some paint either purposely or to fix a mistake. And of course they are a necessity when its time to clean up. Don’t forget the paper towels!

3. Drawing tools

Unless you plan to draw with your brush or are going to paint in a more abstract free flowing way, you will something to draw with—and it will take a certain kind of pencil.

Watercolor paper, while not delicate, can be easily marred with a pencil with hard lead or a very sharp point. This creates a scar in the paper, which watercolor paint will run into and stain, making the line or mark very obvious.You’ll want to use an HB or 2B pencil only. If you just sharpened the pencil, dull the tip a bit on some other paper before you begin your drawing.

Since the paper also picks up the oil from your hands, which can affect how it takes paint, try to keep your hands clean and touch the surface a little as possible.

Erasers can also cause problems, since some erasers tend to smear graphite around on the surface as you erase, rather than cleanly erasing stray marks. I suggest using a soft kneaded eraser for best results. The kneaded eraser also picks up the graphite while it erases.

Often there are other types of erasers that will work just as well, so this may be a minor issue, but it helps to be aware so you get the best results possible (especially if you erase a lot).

4. Brush holders

Having invested in some decent watercolor brushes, you will want to take good care of them, and a brush holder will protect your brushes from damage to the tips.

A watercolor brush should never be left in the water while you paint. While made for water, soaking it will ruin the materials. As you are painting, your brushes should be placed flat on the surface beside you. When you are done painting, placing your brushes in a holder will keep the tips from being crushed and bent. It’s very difficult to paint with a brush that’s dried bent to one side!

If you pack up your supplies when you are done painting or if you will be taking them with you, a brush holder is a must! If you have a place set up permanently, where you can paint and leave your supplies out, then a simple cup can hold your brushes.

Of course, there are many ways to store your brushes. A piece of cardboard and a rubber band to hold them in place will work. I prefer a bamboo brush holder because I like to know my brushes will dry easily. But whatever you choose, brushes are a significant investment so make sure to treat them well.

Let’s paint!

You’re probably itching to get started and are wondering if all this detail about tools is necessary. Can’t you just paint with one of those pads from the arts and crafts store and some watercolor pans? Well of course you can—and if that’s what you’ve got and all you can get your hands on, then by all means, use what you have.

What I’ve described over the last few months are tools that will make it easier to paint with watercolor and hopefully give you better results when you do. You don’t need to rush out and get them all at once and your needs will change over time, but a few good brushes, the right kind of watercolor paper, a nice palette, and paints will go a long way to success as you learn to paint with watercolor.

Beginning in the New Year I will begin sharing painting technique tutorials. Let’s paint with watercolor together! Happy Holidays!

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