Watercolor Techniques #2: Favorite Materials

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite watercolor brands & palettes. If you're just starting out, I recommend an affordable set from your local art store to experiment with (seriously, Crayola is great for this, it's what I started with). This way, if you decide you hate watercolors, you won't be stuck with a regrettable purchase. 

This post is meant for those who have already tested the waters with a cheap set and want to jump into higher quality materials. Brand isn't everything, and I certainly haven't tried them all, so when searching for a good watercolor set, here's what I look for:

  1. Smooth, blendable colors: try to avoid chalky pigments. Very very dry watercolors are lacking enough binder that's necessary to keep the pigments flowing smoothly when wet. This results in unpredictable grainy patches on the page that distracts from the natural fluidity of the medium, and it's a total pet peeve of mine. 
  2. Color range: this is totally subjective, but if I'm buying a set of watercolors I'll gravitate towards the set with more colors. Blending watercolors to a specific shade is something that takes practice (and a lot of palette space), and most days I just want to grab a color & paint already! 
  3. Size: When buying a palette I also consider what I'll be using it for. If I want to paint outside or take it with me when I travel, I go for a small set or at least a set that has removable color pans that I can put into a smaller box. 

#1: Holbein Gouache 

You might be saying whoa whoa. What's gouache? Gouache is basically watercolor paint with higher opacity - and Holbein know what's up when it comes to gouache. They have an insane color range, they blend beautifully, and a little goes a long way so they'll last you a very long time. They range from $6-$20 per tube depending on the color/size, and they're are totally worth it when it comes to quality. In Boston, I get them at Blick, but there's a huge selection online as well.

HOLBEIN GOACHE: SET of 18 - $62.50 from Blick.com

HOLBEIN GOACHE: SET of 18 - $62.50 from Blick.com

#2: Kuretake 

Kuretake is probably my holy grail brand for watercolors. They're buttery smooth like nothing else I've tried, they blend amazingly, and they have a huge color selection. The palette I have is the 36 color set, and it is seriously drool worthy. And enormous! The whole thing is over a foot long, so it will definitely take up some desk space. Luckily, the pans are removable so I can take whatever colors I want if I plan to travel with it or paint outside. Also it has that nifty diy  color swatch chart on the inside lid, which is just so satisfying to paint. 

At $55 from amazon, it's on the pricey end of the spectrum, especially since the color pans are very shallow - I've had the set since December and I've already hit pan on some colors, which is a little disappointing considering my other watercolor sets have lasted a year before hitting pan. 

KURETAKE 36 PAN SET: $55 from amazon

KURETAKE 36 PAN SET: $55 from amazon

#3: Koi 

This is the best travel set I've ever tried! It comes with a palette to blend colors, a waterbrush, sponges (those two well-loved black strips on the sides were once pristine sponges) , and a whole bunch of colors. This compact 24 color set is about $24 (find it here), which I think is a great value for all that you're getting. I've had this set for two years and I just started to hit pan on some colors that I use on a daily basis. 

They aren't as buttery smooth as the kuretake colors, but I think that's actually best for traveling because they dry quickly and last longer. The only gripe I have is that one color (the forest green) is chalky and dries grainy . Maybe it's just my set? But I can't really use this color, which is a bummer. But, like I said, it is really a great set! 

KOI, WELL LOVED SET OF 24, $23.35 from Blick.com

KOI, WELL LOVED SET OF 24, $23.35 from Blick.com

Do you have any favorite brands or watercolor sets? I'm always on the hunt for new things to try! Let me know :)