It was at the beginning of my watercolor adventure and my first class where I learned to use student-grade supplies and I developed some bad habits with using the cheap paints and cheap papers. I kept hearing buy what you can afford. At some point in my watercolor painting life I was miserable with what I created and could not get to the next level of seeing any improvements in what I was painting. My paintings were dull and lifeless.
I found a local artist who had a studio in town and she took me under her wings for a few weeks. I showed up for the first session and she told me to get rid of my student grade paints and papers and start using artist quality supplies. She mentioned there’s a huge difference in quality between student grade and artist grade. She let me use her tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist paint for my first lesson and I immediately saw a difference. A few weeks later my mentor saw a huge improvement in my paintings. This eye opening experience brought life back to my art adventure.
When I graduated to artist grade supplies, I had to re-learn or develop new habits with using better grade paints and papers. I went from paint fillers to pure translucent colors. In regards to paper, I went from cellulose paper to 100% cotton paper. It was definitely an eye opening experience and instead of frowning at what I created, it was pure joy to see beautiful colors pop on my cotton paper.
If I had learned to use artist grade supplies at the beginning, I would have immediately developed good habits right from the start.
I was thankful to have the basic small tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist colors and not go hog-crazy getting the rainbow of colors they manufactured. I learned to mix the basic colors of yellows, reds, and blues to create the secondary colors. For example yellow and red to create orange. Yellow and blue to create green. Red and blue to create purple.
I followed several watercolor artists on the Internet and noticed they were branching out into other watercolor paint manufacturers. One brand that peaked my interest was a US based manufacturer, Daniel Smith. I purchased a few small tubes of his paints and immediately fell in love with his pure bright colors.
A few years ago, I signed up for a refresher watercolor class at my local art center. I was glad to see the instructor’s art supply list included Daniel Smith paints and I was happy to try out new colors. I had a lot of fun in that class and enjoyed learning new tips and painting styles. It showed in my final paintings I produced.
Over the last few months I saw Daniel Smith had a watercolor “dot sheet” that contained almost all of the Daniel Smith watercolor paints available. The sheet is arranged by colors and the one I purchased had 4 sheets covering a total of 238 color dots. That’s a lot of colors from one manufacturer! Scroll through the following pictures to see the 8.5″x11″ sheets of colors:
I spent some time playing with the dots. I took my #6 round paint brush and applied some water to each dot. I painted out each dot in rectangle blocks of color. Most of the colors immediately reacted with the water and it was easy to pull the colors out. A few were so dry that it took some time to get the paint to react to the water and move it around the paper.
For the last 10 years, I have accumulated over 40+tubes of Daniel Smith watercolor paints in my collection. As I mentioned before, I used to mix the basic colors to get my secondary and some tertiary colors. Some colors like turquoise and teal take more effort to create. It made more sense for me to purchase a tube of the exact color I needed.
Did I mention DS makes shimmering paint colors? They are actually called Duochrome and Iridescent colors. Here’s a few close up pictures:
I have my shimmering fountain pen inks to thank for getting me into the sparkling watercolor paints. I never thought I would end up with tubes of shimmering beauties. Oh my! Daniel Smith is doing a great job with their paint offerings.
My paint bin is full of paint tubes. I had to create an inventory (spreadsheet) of my watercolor paint collection. Out of the 40+ tubes in my possession, only 5 colors were duplicates. Not too bad as they are the colors I enjoy using the most.
I plan on getting back into creating some watercolor pieces of art. I just need to carve out a few hours a day and just do it!
Before I sign up for a class (online or in person instructions), I look for the instructor’s supply list to see which brands of paint they use or like to use. It’s not uncommon to see good instructors use a combination of brands like Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton Professional. Artists/instructors will have favorites they like to use. That’s part of my art adventure and enjoying new colors I have not tried.
You may have heard the saying “a tiny bit goes a long way”. It definitely does with Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton Professional paints. Artist grade or professional paints are made from pure pigments of color. Student grade paints are made with a small amount of pigment and lots of fillers and that explains why I used up so many tubes of the student grade paints. Student grade can also be opaque and not as vibrant in color.
Dot Cards are a good investment. Both Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton have dot cards. As you can see from the previous pictures, the cards contain the actual paint dropped onto a card along with the name of the paint, lightfastness, staining/nonstaining, granulation, and transparency. The color dot can be activated with a damp brush. Remember I mentioned about a tiny bit goes a long way? This card makes swatching so easy. You can see what the colors look like and the consistency before committing to a tube of paint.
Winsor & Newton has two lines of watercolor paints. One is their “Professional” artist grade paints. The other is their “Cotman” name which is their student grade paint.
I have not discussed watercolor paint brushes. For me, it’s a personal choice. I’ve accumulated several different brands that I’ve tried over the years. I still have a few of my student-type brushes that have served me well. I did try out a few real sable hair and squirrel brushes that I still have and use occasionally. I now prefer to use synthetic brushes. I enjoy the synthetic sable brushes for the lovely points they keep and the synthetic squirrel for the amount of water and color the brush can carry.
My Favorite Watercolor Supplies
Paints: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors
Paper (140lb/300gsm and 100% cotton): Arches Cold Press, Strathmore Series 500 Premium Cold Press, and Bee Paper Rag Cold Press
Brushes: Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece, Escoda Versatil, Robert Simmons, and Princeton
Travel Palette: Art Toolkit by Expeditionary Art
Mixing Palette: Small 3″-4″ round porcelain dishes (Tuesday Morning or Home Goods)