December 2017 marked the third anniversary since I began sketching and painting, and what a fun journey this has been! Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks, and I'm ready to grow and learn more in 2018.
This past year, I was able to test many different sketching and watercolor supplies. I am so thankful for this for several reasons, mainly because I learned a lot. These trials and tests taught me much about why certain sketching and watercolor supplies behave the way they do, how I can use and combine various ones to greater advantage, and the reasons why I prefer certain brands and tools over others... and why you might also!
I often had to adapt and learn to work with a paint, paper, or brush that initially gave me grief. In one of those cases, sticking with the learning process helped me to discover a brand that would eventually become one of my favorites, even though it was far from love at first sight.
More often, the opposite would happen. I usually found it easy to love a paper or paint in the honeymoon phase, but after further testing, sometimes I would discover irreconcilable differences. This is one of the main reasons I thoroughly test all supplies for extended periods before I ever write a review or post a recommendation.
Though I will constantly be open to new tools and techniques, one of my goals for 2018 is to explore my tried-and-true sketching and watercolor supplies so I can learn how to use them more effectively and accurately.
In the hopes that what I've discovered may help you also, I've comprised a list of my favorite, go-to supplies for 2018.
Post-2018: I now keep an updated favorites’ list here but not much has changed. The supplies listed below are still among my favorites. Although you can see my new 18-color Scratchmade Da Vinci palette here, many of the colors have remained the same. I still recommend the palette below (it’s a good one too!) and my Palette Guide is still a valuable resource. Thanks & happy painting all year long!
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Before we begin...
• Since every artist is beautifully different, you may love some of the tools I use and hate others. That’s more than okay—it’s great! Feel free to leave a comment and share your favorites. I always enjoy hearing about what works well for others.
• You are welcome to peruse my previous favorites and learn a bit about how and why I choose supplies, where I splurge and where I skimp, tips on choosing your own supplies, and more. No matter what supplies you choose, I always recommend quality over quantity.
• If you're just getting started with watercolor, you may also find this resource list helpful. It includes a beginner supply list along with more information on choosing and using watercolor tools.
• When choosing art supplies, performance reigns, but it is quickly followed by price and customer service.* I consider all three aforementioned factors when making a final choice about what products I choose and use.
Now onto the list!
*Hosting an art blog, I work with a lot of retailers and art supply manufacturers. There are some that are lovely and some that are unresponsive and/or unhelpful. I take this as a indication of how a company will treat a customer whenever an issue arrises.
2018 Watercolor Palette
Why oh why do we love peeking into each others' palettes? I have no idea, but I'm addicted to it also! Since most watercolor junkies also tend to be color junkies, I'll kick off this list with the 18 colors that I've chosen for my 2018 watercolor palette.
After each color, I've listed the pigment numbers because this is the true information. Color names can vary and really don't mean a lot. Plus, the pigment information can help you make substitutions, if needed. You can learn more about this here.
Colors are listed from left to right, top to bottom, as they're located in the palette above. I've listed these by their common names, but click on the color to see the brand and color name that is currently in my palette along with current pricing. If I've reviewed the pigment or color here at the blog, I'll also add a link to that post under "more info."
Pyrrol Red (PR254)
Hansa Yellow (PY97)
Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65)
Green Gold (PY129)
Phthalo Green (PG7)
Perylene Green (PBk31)
French Gray (PW6/PBr7)
Goethite/Brown Ochre (PY43)
Raw Umber (PBr7)
Raw Umber Violet (PV19/PBr7)
Past palettes & Other Ideas
2018 Watercolor Palette Guide
If you're interested in knowing more about the colors in my palette, I've created an in-depth resource that shares complete details about my 2018 watercolor palette along with plenty of additional information for building your own perfect watercolor palette.
Selecting colors for a palette
Tips for color placement in a palette
Color suggestions for beginners
Full swatches of each color in my palette
Explanation of color choices & their uses
My top mixing pick for each color
More favorite mixes plus tips on mixing watercolor
Putting together a palette on a budget
Alternate, limited palette idea
This 21-page, printable PDF guide is formatted to be easily printed on letter-sized (8.5x11-inch) paper & all of the proceeds help support my work at this site, so thanks!
Favorite Watercolor Brushes
Isabey Pure Kolinsky Sable
These are my favorite brushes in the world, but they are pricey! I only own two—a #10 round and #3 rigger—but I paint nearly everything with them. This year, I plan to add more to my collection if my budget allows.
Loew-Cornell Golden Taklon & Joe's Pseudo Sable
Synthetic brushes are fantastic workhorses, and I often recommend these for beginners. I prefer Loew-Cornell's Golden Taklon or Joe's Pseudo Sable. I don't like to use my expensive brushes for testing colors, building mixing charts, etc, so I keep synthetics on hand for everyday tasks.
I list my favorite travel brushes and share more about the Pseudo Sable brushes here.
Favorite Watercolor Papers
Saunder's Waterford is my paper soulmate. It suits me so well that I never have to think about this paper when I'm painting on it. Instead, I'm free to do whatever I like because this paper keeps up. To save money, I use 90# (190gsm) cold-pressed for sketching and journaling, but I switch to Waterford's 140# (300gsm) for painting. When I need something a little heavier, Saunders also offers a beautiful 200# (425gsm) paper that is divine!
Cezanne 140# (300 gsm) matt or cold-pressed paper is absolutely lovely and one of my favorite papers to paint on. It's a bit harder sized than the Waterford so it has massive flow and super easy lifting. Waterford isn't cheap, but Hahnemühle costs even more. (The link above goes to Amazon but check Jackson's also.) Because of its cost, I don't reach for it often but when I do, I'm never sorry.
For testing and swatching out paints, building mixing charts, and other exploratory watercolory things, I'm not too picky. I'll often scout out watercolor papers on the clearance rack at my local art store, Cheap Joe's, or I'll use a 9x12-inch Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal. (See my full review.) It's hard to beat 22-pages of 140# watercolor paper for around $10!
Another frugal goodie is the Strathmore Windpower Watercolor Pad. It has less pages than the Visual Journal, but the paper is surprisingly nice for a budget watercolor pad. I often find myself using this pad for painting!
I share more about these and other brands of watercolor papers and their characteristics here.
I no longer use sketchbooks on a daily basis (more about that here) but I still keep a few around for special themes. For example, I keep an ongoing mycology journal, and this year I'm attempting to complete an illustrated monthly diary.
I've only found two sketchbooks that I love with watercolor:
When I'm sketching on the go, in addition to watercolor paper, I also like to carry a lightweight journal for field notes, doodles, ideas, lists, etc. At the moment, my favorite is Pentalic's affordable Recycled Drawing Book. It will easily handle pencil, pen, and light watercolor and ink washes.
Favorite Pens & Inks
I've never had enough time to master calligraphy (one day!), but I love writing with calligraphy pens. I have all the Lamy calligraphy nibs along with a set of vintage Sheaffer calligraphy pens. I use converters so I can fill them with the waterproof inks above.
Favorite Sketching Extras
Below are a few more favorite, indispensable supplies that are always cluttering my desk.
I've tried more than a dozen fancy artist pencils, yet I've never found any reason to switch from a simple No. 2 or HB lead pencil. Just don't use that nasty eraser!
Watercolor pencils are great for quick journaling or filling in tiny spaces in lettering or other sketches. I could do without them, but they're very convenient to have on hand.
Eraser & Eraser Brush
I've become partial to soft erasers and really love the Factis oval eraser. It erases pencil marks extremely well but leaves pen and pigment alone. To keep skin oils off of paper, I always use a big soft brush to brush away eraser crumbs.
I constantly use boards of various sizes to hold my watercolor paper. A friend turned me onto this material (aka Coroplast, also available at home improvement stores) and it's grand! It doesn't hold water or warp like wooden boards.
So far, my favorite tape is Nichiban Architectural tape, but before that I used blue painter's tape so that's not really a fair comparison. Regardless, the Nichiban works extremely well for taping down watercolor paper.
Molotow Masking Pen
Before I ran cross this pen, I hated using masking fluid. Now I love it! Be sure you shake well before using, and you'll have to constantly prime the tip by pressing up and down, but yeah these make masking effortless.
I use repurposed glass jars to hold water at my desk. In the field, I carry a collapsable cup and a non-disposable water bottle for drinking and filling my cup. (Cup tip! Buy an XL cup and don't extend it completely before filling; this leaves a wide, secure base and reduces spillage.)
The only other supplies that I use daily are paper towels and/or a rag.
Did you know you can help support this website at no cost to you? Simply shop via my links! For recommended places to shop for all of the supplies mentioned above, see my resource page.