Watercolor Illustrator Starter Kit

Let's say you've been watching watercolor tutorials for years now, and you're ready to take the plunge!  You want to skip a lot of the student-grade stuff and invest your money in art supplies you're going to enjoy now- and for years to come.

Or maybe you're a professional artist- just new to watercolor.  You already have a trained eye, skilled hands, and know that good art supplies are worth the investment- you just aren't sure where to start!

The labeling on most art supplies promise all sorts of things
artist quality
professional quality
high quality pigments
but since those promises aren't regulated, there's no guarantee that they're the truth.  Over the years, I've reviewed a lot of art supplies that promised a lot and delivered frustration, so hopefully my recommendations today will help you buy with confidence! 

All Amazon links are affiliate links- I see a small bounty when you shop using those links!  This is a great way to help support the work I do here, at no extra cost to you.

My Reccs:

Daniel Smith Essential 6 Mixing Set- $49.99 on Amazon
Qor Mini Palette- $69.78 on Amazon
Watercolor Pencils: 
Derwent Inktense Watercolor Pencils- price varies by set on Amazon
Cotman Mop- $16.00 on Amazon
Princeton Aqua Elite- prices vary by set on Amazon
Creative Mark Mimic- Size 10 or larger- $19.79 on Jerry's Artarama
Silver Black Velvet Brushes- Price varies by size on DickBlick
Winsor and Newton Series 7 Brush- Size 5- $34.00 on DickBlick
Large Hake Brush- prices vary on size on DickBlick
Papers- Cellulose:
Canson Montval- prices vary by size on Amazon
Canson XL- prices vary by size on Amazon
Papers- Cottonrag: 
Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress- prices vary by size on Amazon
Fluid 100- prices vary by size on Amazon
Blick Studio Premier- prices vary by size on DickBlick
Padbound Arches Coldpress- prices vary on Amazon

Wanna get all your shopping done in one place?  Here's a link to the Amazon list

  • My most commonly used brush type: round
  • My most commonly used brush material: squirrel synthetic mix
  • My most commonly used brush size- 6 or 8 round
  • My most commonly used paper sizes- 9"x12", 10"x14"
  • My most commonly used paper type for illustration- cottonrag
  • My most commonly used paper type for comic pages- cellulose
  • My most commonly used paper surface- coldpress texture
  • My most commonly used paper weight- 140lb

What about accessories?!  I've written about them here!  But here's a few relevant links and blurbs from that post! 

Winsor and Newton Masking Fluid
This is the brand I use and have had best results with.

Pebeo Masking Fluid
This is the brand Kabocha uses and has had the best results with.

Masking Fluid Accessories:
Synthetic watercolor brushes
Brush Soap
Masking Fluid Pick Up
Sakura Pigma FB, MB, BB
These three brushpens provide a variety of lineweights and are alcohol marker and waterproof.  I use these in many of my videos!
You can really use any, but I particularly like these collapsable cups by Faber Castell.  I recommend two dedicated watercolor cups- one for clean, one for dirty.

Spray Bottle

Eye Droppers

Paper Towels
Any paper towels will work, but I really love Viva paper towels, especially the ones with no texture.

Gator Board or Corrogated Plastic
I use this to serve as a support for my stretched watercolor pages.

Masking Tape
I prefer the 3M blue crepe masking tape linked above- it adheres to the page without tearing the paper on removal.

Bulldog Clips
Binder Clips
I use binder and bulldog clips to help secure my paper to the board when stretching watercolor paper.

Paint Keys
Top three:  Canson Montval Watercolor Paper 
Middle Three: Montval, Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress, Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress
Bottom Three: Canson Montval Artboard, Cheap Joe's Kilimanjaro, Strathmore Toned Tan Mixed Media Paper 

What's to love about:

Daniel Smith Essential 6 Mixing Set 

A lot of professional artists talk about mixing every color you need from a good set of limited colors.  This is absolutely possible, and my pick for that is the Daniel Smith Essential 6.  Daniel Smith is a professional line of watercolor made and manufactured in the US using high quality pigments.  Their staff are friendly and willing to answer questions, and provide a lot of outreach.  Starting with a limited palette of six colors helps you learn the intricacies of color mixing while saving A LOT of money- just add to your palette as you go.

I recommend also buying some inexpensive empty half pans and creating your own mini palette using a mint tin.  Personally, I find working from half pans to be easier than working directly from tubes, and generates less waste.

Check out the fieldtest for these- they demonstrate just how mixable they are!

Qor Mini Palette

Maybe six colors just isn't enough.  The Qor Mini Palette of 12 brilliant colors is one of my favorite go to palettes for travel or limited space.  Although the halfpans are smaller than normal, a little goes a LONG way, and these colors are super saturated and fun to mix!  This is a palette I grab all the time- it plays particularly well with cellulose watercolor papers.

Check out the unbox and swatch for my first impressions, and the fieldtest to see how well they handle!  If you go through my Watercolor Basics playlist, you'll see this palette pop up often- it really is a favorite! 

Derwent Inktense Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils can be great for travel, or for adding finer details to watercolor illustration.  I use them all the time for 7" Kara comic pages.  I've used and reviewed a lot of different watercolor pencil brands over the years, and Derwent's Inktense line is one of my favorite, and a fairly economical option.  These India Ink pencils are not true watercolor pencils, and will be fairly lightfast and indelible once dry, so save them for your final details! 

These pop up in a number of my 7" Kara process posts, frequently in my Watercolor Basics series, and in several Youtube videos!  A standalone review has been recorded, and is in the hopper, so keep an eye on my channel! 

Cotman Mops

Mops are ideal for covering large areas of your paper with color or water!  Cotman watercolor mops are available in two sizes and use synthetic fibers, so they're a very economical option for your studio that will last a LONG time.  I use the same mop I purchased ten years ago, when I first started painting 7" Kara!   This is great for toning larger panels and pages, and useful for stretching smaller watercolor pieces.

Since this is so frequently used, it's appeared in several Watercolor Basics posts, in a number of Holiday gift guides, and has made many an appearance on my channel

Large Hake Brush

One of my favorites for stretching watercolor paper- I can apply water faster and more evenly than using a mop!  These are really inexpensive, and great to have around. 

Since this is a newer improvement in my life, it hasn't yet started to filter into blog posts and on Youtube, but keep an eye out, now that I've tried it, I'm convinced others should too! 

Princeton Aqua Elite

A stiffer synthetic brush that's useful for applying gouache, thick applications of watercolor, or pulling really precise lines.  

Creative Mark Mimic- Size 10 or Larger

Natural hair brushes, particularly squirrel and sable, are expensive at larger sizes.  I recommend buying synthetic brushes for these larger sizes- they're economical and will last a long time.  I use synthetics for anything size 8 or larger, with my largest brush being a Creative Mark Mimic in size 26.  These are really handy for blocking in color or applying light glazes, and the Mimic is far less stiff than many other inexpensive synthetic brushes.

Since this is so frequently used, it's appeared in several Watercolor Basics posts, in a number of Holiday gift guides, and has made many an appearance on my channel! 

Silver Black Velvet Brushes

A mix of synthetic and natural hair brushes, Silver Black Velvet handle ALMOST like Kolinsky Sable, but cost far less.  These are great studio workhorses, and the mix of synthetic add durability, while the natural squirrel hair holds onto water and paint to reduce dribbling.

These appear in several newer watercolor videos, as well as in my 2018 gift guide

Winsor and Newton Series 7

Brush work is important- it adds a lot of vitality to a piece.  Having a brush that work WITH you, not just pushing paint around or puddling everywhere, makes painting a delight and will improve your work.

The Series 7 is one of the best commonly available Kolinsky Sable brushes available in the US, and while quite expensive, it's an investment that will make painting a joy.  After years of using synthetic and squirrel brushes, the Series 7 seems to dance on the paper, and a well maintained round is capable of very thin lines as well as bold brushwork.  The flagged hairs of Kolinsky Sable hold on to paint and water, so drip drip dribbles are far less common, and the brush itself is easier to control.

Since this is so frequently used, it's appeared in several Watercolor Basics posts, in a number of Holiday gift guides, and has made many an appearance on my channel! 

Canson Montval

While this isn't everyone's favorite (I've gotten a little flack for recommending it from folks who've been burnt), it's still my paper of choice for 7" Kara pages.  I find it handles ALMOST like a cottonrag, but is capable of much finer detail- a must for painting comic pages.  

Since this is a personal favorite, it's appeared in several blog posts discussing papers for watercolor, and of course it appears in every 7" Kara process post- so you see it used frequently!  It's also in quite a few watercolor comic videos on the channel.

Obviously, since I've used it for hundreds of comic pages, I've talked about it a fair amount just about everywhere, from Twitter to Youtube to this blog.  And of course, you can check out my handiwork by reading 7" Kara

Canson XL

Sometimes it's nice just to have cheap paper handy- after all, sometimes you just want to sketch in watercolor!  I use Canson XL for watercolor sketches (I really like how commonly available their little watercolor sketchbooks are, I can get them just about anywhere with a small art supply section, even rural Luling's Walmart) and creating paperchildren.  Thicker than Moleskin and Handbook watercolor books, Canson XL may be a great choice for your watercolor doodles.

I use Canson XL pretty frequently so if you follow my Instagram, you've probably seen pieces painted on XL.   Here's an example!

Padbound Arches Coldpress

For standalone watercolor illustrations and paintings, I love using cottonrag watercolor paper.  Finding the right paper for your needs is important- there is no panacea paper designed to suit every artist.  I really like Arche's padbound Coldpress sheets- already cut to workable sizes, fairly affordable, and will run through my printer like a dream.  I buy the 140lb weight and always stretch my cottonrag paper.

Since this is so frequently used, it's appeared in several Watercolor Basics posts, in a number of Holiday gift guides, and has made many an appearance on my channel! 

Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress

Blockbound on two sides, you may find this paper a bit prone to buckling or removing itself from the pad, especially at larger sizes.  I remove it from the block to run through my printer, so I end up stretching this paper regardless.  Their coldpress is even available in black

If you're more of a fan of the smooth texture of hotpress, their Hotpress cottonrag watercolor blocks are excellent, and less prone to self-removal, as working on hotpress dictates fewer super wet washes.

Check out this comparative review between Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress and Hotpress

Fluid 100

A coldpress cottonrag paper that has ALMOST the texture of hotpress (although it's available in hotpress too!).  This is a very mild blockbound paper available in a wide range of sizes.  It's very economical for a blockbound cottonrag paper, and has a very easy to work with temperament- so it's a great cottonrag for beginners!

Check out the fieldtest here for more information!  And here's a standalone review.

Blick Studio Premier

I use this as a more economical alternative to blockbound Arches.  A favorite during my Unbox and Swatch videos- this paper has a lot of tooth, and an excellent block binding that's not going to self remove.  This is produced for sale exclusively at Dick Blick, so availability is limited, but you can order it online if you're willing to wait a week for it to arrive at your door! 

This paper pops up in most unbox and swatch watercolor reviews, but I also have a timelapse painting on Blick Premier.

Learn more about the paints you're buying:

Learn more about the papers I'm recommending:

Learn more about the brushes I'm recommending:

I've talked about watercolor recommendations for younger artists and for beginners in some of my Holiday Gift Guides, so if you're looking for something a little less expensive, I recommend checking those out!  And I'm always happy to provide curated recommendations- via Twitter, Patreon, or in my art-centric Discord server, The Paintbox!


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