Watercolor Painting Starting Kit

This is my recommended watercolor painting starting kit for my students. It may not suit everyone so please check with your teacher for his or her requirements.


Arches Rough, 300gsm, one full sheet 56cm x 76cm, cut into quarters.  Do not skimp on paper, poor quality paper will make it impossible to do good work.


They must come to a nice point when wet.

Round brushes sizes 10,16 and 24. I use NEEF 4750-LP squirrel mix brushes as they have a great point and are not too expensive.


White plastic one with large mixing areas and large paint wells to hold plenty of paint.  A pallet which has narrow small wells for paint will make it difficult for you to get the paint out.  It will also cause more wear and tear on your brushes and will make it harder to keep paint clean.


I use Winsor & Newton Artists quality paint.  It is better to buy a few tubes of artists’ quality paint than lots of student grade (cheaper) ones.  There are many reasons for this. One of the main ones is because your tutor/teacher will not be able to help much with colour mixes because pigments used in artist’s quality paints are almost always different than those in student grade paints.  So if you ask your tutor which colours he used in a particular mix it won’t do you any good as you will be using different paints.  Other reasons for going with artist’s quality paints include purer and more transparent colours, better archival qualities and better handling.

Ideal starting colours for beginners would be

French Ultramarine

Cobalt Blue

Alizarin Crimson

Cadmium Red

Cadmium Orange

Cadmium Yellow Pale


Yellow Ochre

Raw Umber

Burnt Sienna

Cobalt Turquoise

Initially you could make do with

French Ultramarine

Alizarin Crimson


Yellow Ochre

Raw Umber

Burnt Sienna

Miscellaneous Items

Piece of plywood about 5 cm all around wider than a quarter sheet of watercolour paper

Box of cheap plain white tissues

An old hand towel

Spray bottle with a fine mist

Roll of 2.5cm masking tape

Kneadable eraser

Water containers and watercolor desktop easels provided in class.

Happy painting,

Joe Cartwright

Watercolor and Gum Arabic

Here is a link to an interesting article on gum arabic. Its uses from food additives to watercolor along with its history: gum arabic history.

Happy painting,


Painting With Watercolor

The thought of painting with watercolor often sparks fear in the eye of new artists.

Too often they have been told by others, who probably have not been well taught themselves, that painting with watercolor is extremely difficult and should not be tackled by an inexperienced artist.  This just is not the case, anyone who really wants to know how to paint with watercolor can do so if they follow some simple guidelines. Obviously, just learning watercolor painting techniques will not necessarily mean you will create watercolor masterpieces, but it should at least give you to the tools to move in that direction.

Usually the biggest source of tension when one paints with watercolors is the feeling of the painting drying too fast and the feeling of not knowing what to do next.

To help alleviate some of this fear of painting with watercolor and to help move my students along with their work I give them the following advice which can be summarized into the following:  PLAN ->MIX->PAINT-> SPRAY. So what does this mean?

Planning your watercolor painting

Painting with watercolor is more subject to the influence of time than most other painting mediums.  The reason for this is that once you start painting, the medium begins to dry very quickly, especially in warm or air conditioned environments.

For this reason, you do not have much time or the ability, once your painting is started to change its overall design.  Consequently the more you can plan before you start painting the better.  I can usually see all the steps I have to take with a painting before I even touch the paper. This is a skill that developed over time as I practiced planning my painting before I actually started.

This planning can include, mentally stepping through each step you will take towards the finished watercolor painting. It can also involve doing thumbnail sketches and color swatches to help clarify items of design.  Sometimes, if I am really stuck or uncertain about how to create a particular effect I will practice it on a separate sheet of watercolor paper till I am happy I can recreate the effect with ease.

Mixing watercolor paints

Once you have your plan laid out and taped you watercolor paper to your board, the next step is to mix sufficient colors from your pigments to easily cover the areas you want to paint in your first wash.  A common problem is students having to mix additional paint after they have started a watercolor wash, this almost invariably leads to the creation of mud.

If I am painting a tree, I will almost always mix three different tones and colors of green before I start painting.  I will still vary these as I paint and keep changing their consistency, but these small changes to not take so much time so do and consequently don’t add a lot of stress to your painting.


Once you have mixed sufficient paint you can start your watercolor painting.

The general steps of painting in watercolor are covered in another post titled Watercolor Painting Steps so I will not repeat them here.


I find a spray bottle with a fine, soft mist is indispensable for my style of painting and I have found it to be of similar service to many other watercolor artists.

If while you are painting you feel you are about to run out of time i.e. the wash you are working on is likely to dry before you can complete it, then give it a light spray to keep the shine of your painting.  The word shine is critical here because the time to spray your painting, so you can continue to work on it, is while the shine is still there.  If the water on your paper has evaporated to the point that the shine has gone it is most likely too late to spray – unless you want to create a mottled texture on you painting.  I will talk more about how to use a spray bottle in a future article.

Obviously there is a lot more to watercolor painting but I am sure the above will be of benefit to many  beginner watercolor artists, and those who have been having some trouble.

How to Paint Watercolor Paintings

A watercolor painting usually progresses in the following manner:

  • Large shapes to small shapes
  • Wet on wet to wet on dry (could also be read as from soft edges to hard edges)
  • Light tones (more water in a mix) to dark tones (less water in a mix)
  • Cool colors (distance) to warm colours (closer to the viewer)

All four groups move along at a similar pace at about the same time.

Watercolor Painting Progression Chart
Watercolor Painting Progression Chart


The above is meant as a general guide only not as a rule.

Happy painting,

Joe Cartwright