Watercolor Brushes and Paint for Beginners

Watercolor Brushes

Brushes used when painting with watercolor come in many forms and quality levels.

Some of the most common types are:

  • Round Brushes
  • Flat Brushes
  • Mop Brushes
  • Fan Brushes
  • Rigger Brushes

I use round brushes for 95% of my work, but also use all the others as I need them.

For beginners Round Brushes are the best way to go so will concentrate on these for this article.

When selecting a round brush the key thing to look for is a brush which comes to a good point when it is wet and you tap the ferule (the metal part that holds the brush hairs on the wood handle) on the side of something hard like your water container. The brush must also hold a lot of water. You can see an image of good round watercolor brushes below.

Round Watercolor Brushes hold lots of paint and bounce back to a point

Good quality round watercolor brushes have a good point and hold lots of water

In the past the standard recommendation was to buy the most expensive brush you could afford (usually this meant one made from sable – if you could afford it). These days there are brushes which are much less expensive and still do an excellent job.  The ones I use are a mixture of squirrel hair and manmade fibers.

Why do you want such a brush?  Well if it has a good point it means you can use it to paint both broad and fine areas without having to change brushes.  And why is this important you say? Well each time you have to change brushes you lose valuable time during which your painting will be drying (remember the water in watercolor) and if it dries too much you may not be able to produce the particular effect you are after.  Understanding what the water is doing on your paper, in your brushes, and in your palette is critical to painting good watercolor paintings.

Key points for watercolor round brush selection for beginners: Comes to a good point and holds lots of water.

Artist’s Quality Watercolor Paint

Artists quality paints often appear excessively expensive when you first start out however as in most things in life you get what you pay for.

Why Artist’s quality paint should be used instead of student grade watercolor paint?

Artist’s quality paints generally use purer pigments. Usually the student grade paints use pigments that are the “hue of” some color or pigment rather than the real thing. This means the colors are different. This is mainly a problem if you are taking a class and you have different paints than what your teacher is using and you ask him what paints he used to create a particular color.

Artists’ watercolors have much less filler (used to alter the way the paint behaves out of the tube) than student paints. This means you get more pigment per volume of paint tube. The colors will look cleaner and more transparent as often, in my experience, the fillers make the paint look more opaque.

Student watercolor paints also have more gum Arabic, the glue which allows the paint to stick to your paper, again reducing the amount of pigment which you are actually purchasing for your money.

So now that you have the correct materials and you have decided you want to paint a particular subject matter how you should tackle your painting.

For now we will assume that you have a good design, I will be talking about the importance of good design in another article.

After doing a light drawing on your paper, begin by mixing your starting colors in your pallet before you touch the paint. I often have three of more colors already mixed before I ever touch the paper with my brush. Test you colors on a scrap piece of watercolor paper to make sure each mix is correct color you are after and is of the right consistency.

Usually you will start with the large shapes in your painting e.g. the sky and the ground, so use your largest brushes for these. As these shapes are often the lightest tones, you will have more water in your mixes than later on.  Then as your painting progresses, you will work with smaller brushes and thicker paint (less water) as you work on smaller and smaller shapes. You can read more about this in my article on watercolor painting steps and my watercolor progression chart.

Remember, it is very important to observe what the water is doing. So keep an eye on it, on your paper, brush and palette.  The more in tune you are to it the better and more confident your work will become.

One thought on “Watercolor Brushes and Paint for Beginners

  1. Viki M.

    Thank you for these great tips. I found it very easy to understand and very well written. I have been an artist for years but I’ve had very little experience or satisfaction with watercolor. However, I am being drawn more and more to it’s grace and beauty as well as the gentle simplicity of final effects of watercolor. I’m encouraged by everything you have shared and I’m anxious to get started. Thank you to take the time to help teach others. Viki

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