All about watercolor and brushes.

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  • hi all, am trying to decide what paints I should use long term and should I buy more brushes.


    Hi Karen! Man, your question can have so many “correct” responses because choices about artist tools is so dependent upon personal choices and intentions. That caveat out of the way I’ll share with you a general kit I recommend when I teach watercolor to those new to the media.

    First off, I tend to advise tube paint over dry. There are, in fact, some excellent quality dry paints…but there are so many more terrible ones. Even student grade tube paint will result in more intense color than a mediocre dry kit.

    Invest your money in fewer brushes, but higher quality. One or two good rounds, or one round and a flat will get you through a lot. I have a very nice number 12 round that I use for 98% of my studio work and a similar size in my travel brush. I ask my students to get a number 8 (the larger size tends to intimidate them, even though both will make equally super thin lines with a bit of practice.) Water brushes are convenient and I like them too. They’re also cheap. But they are nowhere near as versatile.

    For transparent watercolor I advise my students to start with a palette of seven colors, made up of a warm and cool triad, and one neutralizing color. This might look like Ultramarine, Cad Red Light, Quin Gold, (warm triad); Cobalt Blue or Cerulean, Lemon Yellow Pale, Alizarin (cool triad); and Winsor Green (used to neutralize the reds and for mixing grays). I also like Perylene Green as well as a couple other colors for my own palette – colors I use to replace others from time to time. What sometimes looks like a bargain, but may not be, are the kits with basic colors selected for you. Usually those are more difficult to create color harmonies with.

    One final thought about color – and trust me when I say I could go on MUCH longer! – consider using a limited palette. A well chosen triad and one neutralizer will teach you way more about mixing and representing color in a much shorter time than a kit of twenty four pigments will.

    Good luck!

    I agree with Mark, and as he says, have some different “correct” responses.

    I also say tube over pan too, because you can buy pans and make a small palette ( and   However, if you want a palette then I am going to suggest one, and from there you can continue to buy and refill pans as you wish.  I bought it finally because the pan is a sturdy one, and Sennelier makes great artist grade paint…  OR try Jenn’s new Schminke palette (not my favorite brand but many swear by them and this is HER palette so it is going to be good!

    Brushes.  I would not spend money on hair brushes if that is your thing unless you can try them out.  Some stores let you do that with water…  I prefer synthetics (no squirrels dying for my brush hair).  I would recommend what I love best (Da Vinci Cosmotop) but suggest you look on this page and read all about brushes… there are several great threads!

    I disagree with Mark on his color choices only because I like transparent paints to begin with (which you can find out on good paint brand websites), so am not a Cadmium or Cobalt fan, though I make an exception for Cobalt Turquoise because sometimes you need THAT color.  I agree with learning to mix as a good idea but i did all that many years ago with acrylics (which I started with) and so, I love the convenience of color.  My travel palettes reflect that, and I have three that are my regulars, depending on what I am painting — city painted ladies (Victorians) versus a base travel palette versus my Primateks, which I use a lot in mixing.

    I see no reason to limit myself to a couple of paints unless I am really trekking, and I don’t.  IF you are going to do this, then choose three warm primaries and three cool primaries and a good grey for ease — I am not a QoR fan but I LOVE their Ardoise Grey as it is near to transparent!

    When you look at an artist’s palette choices look at what they paint before jumping in… Do they live in the desert or on the ocean or in the city or in the country?

    There are some excellent bloggers here — myself included — and Jennifer (above) and Tonya (ScratchMadeJournal) and Sandra (LifeImatateDoodles) and others — they write succinctly about why they like this or that.

    Hi Mark!


    Many thanks for detailed reply!


    I too think I will use tubes but I don’t know my permanent palette of colors yet which is the trouble. So far I have been buying small sets  and samples to try out different singing styles and all. Half pans are expensive, but I don’t seem to have a choice until I try and experiment. I am wondering what brand paints to get because I tried some brands and i thought different paints suit different painting styles. So I don’t know if I should get a bunch of every brand?

    I have bought more than a few brushes where I started off…. but I have not set foot on all kolinsky hair brushes because that is expensive for a amateur. Instead i bought some good sable blends and mixed hair brushes. I also bought a few synthetic makes.


    I wonder how to set a palette up. I paint by sight and feel for colours. My maiden paintings are on my own page here on doodlewash. Please feel free to crit.






    Hi Kate!


    many thanks for useful links! I have the same Sennelier set shown in the link.  Sennelier has good layering properties and they are good for painting flora I would think. I also own a few cosmotop brushes so I know the quality. But I think ultimately I may need bigger brushes because I am thinking of doing bigger paintings.

    I have a problem with what colors to use permanently and I subconsciously bought too many colours to try, because I don’t know how the colours would suit me.


    Schmincke is good brand but the price is steep. Sennelier is Bette but the pigment content appears to be lower then Schmincke.


    I wonder how you find about other brands like Daniel Smith and white nights?

    I don’t find white nights a problem but I don’t find them many top 10 list on the internet. I wonder if there’s anything I miss about these wings apart from the fact their prices are very attractive. If I want to paint big as an amateur, I think white nights is a good choice. Tube paints is another.








    I started with White Nights and I think they are good for a beginning set – they have strong pigment, re-wet easily and though they are more opaque than some of the more expensive brands, many colors are transparent.  If you have these, you have a set good enough to begin with.  Buying more paint won’t help you learn what colors you like and need. In the long run, ‘brand’ isn’t the most important thing.

    What you need to do is decide what you want from your paints and then learn which colors will give it to you.

    I just did a review on Van Gogh paints that you might want to read – not so much to learn about the paints, but to see how I chose 24 colors out of 40 to be my ‘dream’ palette.  It might give you some ideas on ways to choose your own.

    Are you familiar with the concepts of Primaries, Split Primaries, Pigment Index numbers, and triads? If not, learning about these would help you in choosing colors to play with.   Nita Leland is the grand mistress of this kind of information.  However, some people just prefer to dig in – you have what you need with the White Nights set to do that.  Once, you have an idea of the colors you like – not just because the pigment is pretty, but because it has the properties you like, and it works well with the other colors you like.

    Somewhere along the line you will need to look up the properties of the paints you like – that’s how you’ll know that you prefer transparency or maybe you like granulation or pigments that are less intense or more intense. Then you can branch out to other brands, but your purchase will have more meaning because you can look for the properties you want and avoid those you don’t.

    By the way, just to provide the opposing view, I’ll say that even though tubes are cheaper, I much prefer pans myself. Tubes are so messy, and harder to store, and many tube colors dry too hard or too wet to be good pan paints. And a good pan paint will last a long while.  I do have tubes as well.  If I find that I really use a ton of a color, I refill my pan from a tube because I go through so much. Generally though, if I can buy a color as a pan, I will.

    Just reread my replies here. The autocorrect feature just auto wronged my spellings…

    apologies for the typos!!!

    Hi Sandra,


    thanks for the invaluable advice!  I will keep at heart of the points you’ve made!


    I also think pan paints are ideal to store rather than using tube paints. Some tube paints are too dry that they look like dehydrated rocks on the palette which I can’t stand. But they are genuinely money saving.


    So what I did was I decided to get a set of white nights tubes because their paints are wetter and hopefully they don’t dry too much in the tubes. But I doubt they will judging from the pan paints I have from white nights.


    frankly speaking I think white nights are under rated because they are a strong competitor. I can’t find much fault with the paints. And I realized I often use white nights for many colours rather than some other brands because the hues are brilliant.


    For transparency and brilliance, Daniel Smith comes in tops. They are genuinely Watercolours. But they only in tubes. Schmincke is great but too expensive to do on a large scale. I too think that Sennelier is great for florals. So expensive pans for small delicate pieces for now, economical ones for me to splash and try is my current strategy for now. Actually the most expensive is the papers.


    I don’t know how I can save on that one. But I try using cellulose papers for practice and save the cotton ones for the real thing. Then again, the irony is the draft usually is the better one!!!!


    I have a fundamental knowledge in colours but i don’t delve in it too much. Because colours by name and colours in practice can be different. Then again, when you communicate in words, these terms and theories need to be known.


    I have injured my right arm by accident so I dont think I can paint much for this month. But I am grateful to have my arm sprained instead of broken. Will have to be extra careful now.

    Hi Karen,

    I’ve not tried White Nights, probably because I see them more as a student grade — which might be wrong.  Sandra addressed them tho…

    I use a lot of Daniel Smith and have for years BUT I am finding some quality issues lately, and that sent me looking around.  I use their Primateks and LOVE them, but I am gradually replacing most of my daily paints with Da Vinci, and I love them — excellent company, and one thing if you are painting BIG, is that they come in extremely economical 37ml tubes.  I mean amazing!

    Hi Kate,


    am am surprised that Daniel smith colours have quality issues. I have only tried samples and also bought some half pan paints to try.  I have yet to buy tube paints of Daniel smith for now but I do want to try their half pans which are coming up soon.

    like Sandra, I buy a good set of tube paints for big paintings. Reason being even the large full pans may damage the fatter brushes. I also agree with her that pan paints are better for storage. But I am trying to figure out what manufacturers out into their pannpaints to keep them hard to fit in pans but soft to easily reset them. Maybe glycerin? I think Daniel smith tube paints are really very dry and harden in pans.


    schmincke is by far the best for pan paints but can be very expensive to do large paintings. And I’m only starting……..

    I use a few Daniel Smith colors and love them. But, am I the only one who has issues with their package i.e. their tubes.  The tops of the top (The little raised round on the very top)…seem to pull away and leave the paint exposed.  Today I was setting up a new travel palette and went to open a tube of Green Gold..the top was was not screwed on too tight,  the tube was in a plastic bag and that was in a plastic tub with a lid

    When I went to open the tube it came apart at the”shoulder” and I ended up with a piece in each hand and the paint inside was a dried up lump. ;-(   Was not a pretty sight.

    Mary, I’d definitely contact their customer service and ask for a replacement tube. That looks nasty! I’d send them the photo.

    I’ve never had that happen with any of my Daniel Smith colors, so hopefully it’s just a one off manufacturing error.

    Mary I’d like to think DS would help you out but doubt they will — they will say you did that (I believe you didn’t.)  You can try though — you never know.  I am finding that I have lots more separation in DS than I used to and one color came so runny — and it is a color only they have so I do buy it from them.  My favorite clear transparent yellow (sob).

    Karen I ONLY buy tubes — and have pans because I wanted the palette and so have the tubes.  I have no idea why DS is getting into the pan business, perhaps jumping on a trend?  For beginners?  It is totally new.

    Sandra I didn’t know you preferred pan paints!  Interesting perspective.  I might enjoy them a bit more if more came in larger pans.  I don’t mind if the tubes occasionally crack (tho I’ve not had that issue much) as long as the rewetting works.

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