Watercolour References


Starting Watercolor

Watercolour: Materials & Skills by D. McLeod


Beginner Watercolor Supplies (Scratchmade Blog)
See also Steve Mitchell's video: Paper, Brushes & Paint [ Mind of Watercolor site ]


You should use watercolour paper which made from 100% cotton. Cheaper paper made from wood pulp makes it nearly impossible to apply the basic techniques of watercolour.

Initially, you should use Cold press and 140lb paper.

Comparison: Cotton vs Pulp


Brushes come in various materials, sizes and shapes. You don't need many, but each should be chosen with a definite purpose in mind. In order of importance, here is a useable set: Professionals prefer natural hair brushes which can handle lots of water; but good quality synthetics brushes are quite acceptable. The following video shows various brushes at work: rigger, hake, mop, fan,...
Alek Krylow's Brush Video
Note: CeeCee, a Montreal artist, recommends The Brush Guys, a US on-line store with reasonable prices.

Picking Colours

How many colours do you need when starting watercolour... and which ones?

Paint manufacturers - like Daniel Smith - offer over 200 different colours; but students can do quite well with 6-8 well-chosen ones; and even professionals do most of their work with only a dozen.

The reason is that any colour can be obtained by judicious mixing. Theoretically, all you need are the 3 primary colours: Red, Yellow and Blue. By mixing any two of those primaries in various proportions, you can obtain all the colours in between - as shown on the Colour Wheel. For example, mixing Yellow and Blue gives you various Greens, Red and Blue gives Violet(s) and so forth.

Lighter versions of a given colour are obtained by using more water and less paint. And you can darken a colour by adding its complementary - the colour opposite on the Color Wheel. For example, to darken Red, add some Green; to darken Blue, add some Orange, etc... and a perfectly balanced mixture of a colour and its complementary can give you Black.

More on colour and pigments

So much for theory. In practice, to simplify mixing, you'll want some additional colours like the secondaries: Orange, Green and Violet. This gives you all the standard colours; and you don't need much more because different hues and shades can be obtained by just adding a touch of a neighbour or complimentary colour. Adding a whole bunch of other colours to avoid mixing is counter-productive because the fun and art of watercolour comes from mixing. For example, the illusion of shape and life in the "Apples" at left comes from subtle graded blending of a few basic colours; not from a large collection of paint tubes.

Watercolor box sets with 12 "pan" colours which cost less than $40 are ideal to start with. The good ones are small (5" x 2.5" ) and sold as Travel Kits; however, they provide all the necessary colours along with a carrying case and a mixing area. Here are some examples available locally (Montreal, 2019)

Beware of cheap paint sets ( <$10 ) meant for children; they have weak fugitive pigments. Click HERE to see some other things to avoid.

As you become more proficient, you will want to use paint tubes like the professionals.
Buy an empty box with larger wells (see Amazon) and pick your own colours. But tube paint is expensive - over $10/tube - so that just getting the same colours that are in your $25 box could cost $150. A good strategy is to start with a minimal palette of essential colours distributed evenly around the colour wheel. In addition, you need some earthy colours - from the center of the wheel - because real world colours are generally more muted or dark.

A minimal palette:

Any choice starts with the 3 primaries to which we add some useful secondaries. Jane Blundell, a foremost expert on colour, suggests the following selection of primaries with the addition of Green ( for landscapes ) and Burnt Sienna which works well with Ultramarine. Dawn McLeod, also gives a similar 5 colour palette with Rose and Ultramarine but a different Yellow and Green.

Some will be surprised by the choice of "Rose" as the basic RED instead of a more fire-engine hue. It turns out that the accepted versions of RED and BLUE shown on colour wheels don't work as primary colors from which you should be able to mix all others: RED has too much yellow and BLUE is too violet [ Ref1, Ref2, Ref3 ].

The printing industry has long recognised this fact and uses MAGENTA and CYAN instead. The suggested Rose is near Magenta; and mixed with yellow gives the traditional Red. The inclusion of Green compensates for the fact that Ultramarine (being too red) can't produce a decent Green when mixed with Yellow.

Note: Abbreviations like PB29 and PBr7 refer to standard industry pigments. Pigment information allows you to find equivalent colours between different brands in spite of name differences. See the HANDPRINT Site for more details. That site also gives an advanced colour wheel showing the exact position of each pigment.

Split Primaries

Many artists resort to a split primary system, which uses 2 versions of each primary - a cool (bluish) one and a warm (yellowish) one, spreading their pigments more evenly around the colour wheel. They also add some earthy "dirty" pigments to tone down mixtures and match colours found in nature. A typical set is shown below.

Cool Yellow: Lemon Yellow (PY3) or
  • Winsor Lemon, Hansa Yellow pale, Cadmium Yellow Pale

  • Warm Yellow: Hansa Yellow (PY97) or
  • New Gamboge (PY153), Cadmium Yellow or Earthy shade like Yellow Ochre

  • Warm Red: Cadmium Red Light (PR108) or
  • Winsor Red, Pyrrole Scarlet (PR255), Naphthol Red

  • Cool Red: Permanent Rose (PV19) or
  • Alizarin Crimson (hue), Quinacridone Magenta

  • Warm Blue: Ultramarine Blue (PB29) or
  • Cobalt Blue (PB28)

  • Cool Blue: Phthalo Blue, Green Shade (PB 15:3) or
  • Prussian Blue (PB27)

  • Green: Phthalo Green (PG7) or
  • Viridian (PG18)

  • Mixers
    Earthy Orange: Burnt Sienna (PBr7) or
  • Transparent Red Oxide (PR101), Burnt Umber (PBr7)

  • Earthy Yellow: Yellow Ochre (PY43) or
  • Quinacridone Gold (PO49), Gold Ochre(PY42), Raw Sienna, Indian Yellow

  • Darkener: one of Payne's Grey, Indigo, Sepia or D. Smith's Moonglow

    Prepackaged box sets tend to have the same selection [with inferior pigments] and add Black and White to increase the colour count.

    In the section on a "basic" palette, our color encylopdia, HANDPRINT, gives a choice similar to the above, explaining the choice on the basis of hue, permanence and other attributes. In another section, the complete palette, he gives specific names used well known companies for our chosen pigments.

    == We end with palette choices from various artists.

    Urban Sketching Palettes

    Advanced Palettes

    Professionals' palettes differ according to their abilities, needs and quirks; but it is rare to see palettes sizes over 18. Often, attributes other than color play a part, like staining, granulation, opacity or workability. Some like more choices in one colour group or may feel they need fewer because of their mixing dexterity. Here are some selections.

    Demo Videos

    Adding Figures in your Scenes

    Life Drawing:

    Portrait Tutorials

  • Demos by Masters
  • Other Outstanding Artists

    Watercolour Tutorial Sites

    Watercolor Jumpstart

    Steve Michell Stan Miller Bob Davies
    Bob has been creating instructional painting videos for years. He is now associated to the ArtTutor commercial site.

    Steven Cronin

    Jerry's Artrama
    Jerry's is a chain of Art stores in the US which has a library of interesting Videos: I particularly like

    Useful Books

    Art supplies


    Grid Drawing tool (Art Tutor)
    Jean Vaucher
    Sept. 2020