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Tips to Choose the Right Watercolors

choosing watercolors

Whenever someone asks me which #watercolor set should I purchase, I give the following suggestions to them:

  • Choose an Artist grade quality color set.

  • Choose a local brand of watercolors.

  • Buy a set of at least 12 to 18 shades.

  • Choose the one which is easily available.

  • Check the reviews before buying.

  • Need not buy a costly foreign brand in the first go.

  • Can buy additional single color tubes as and when needed.

  • Tubes or pans is your personal choice.

  • Watercolor or Gouache?

  • See recommendations below.

How to decide?

Watercolors do sound costly initially, but since they last too long, it is definitely worth it.

[My first set lasted nearly 4 years and still some shades are left in it]. So here are some tips for choosing the right watercolors:

1) For the first purchase, any local brand which is easily available is fine. But definitely go for an “Artist Grade” colors, not the student grade colors. Foreign brands with good reviews are also a good choice, but you don't want to burn your pocket before you have started earning as an artist. So start with something available in your local market and fits your budget too.

[I bought Camel Artist Watercolors as my first set of colors and later tried Brustro which definitely has a very good quality and texture]

Painting created using Camlin Watercolors

2) I also recommend that you should go for at least 12, 18 or 24 shades set. Again as they last long, it is better to purchase a set with more color shades initially itself. Though the quantity of color in each tube is less (5ml or 8ml), it is still enough for you to make a plenty of paintings. As you learn advanced painting and mixing colors, eventually you can shift to the main colors with more quantity and start mixing on your own.

Camlin Watercolour set

3) We do have the option of buying single color tubes too. But since the size of these single color tubes is bigger (20ml), you need to be really sure which ones you want. So once you have started using your first set, you will get to know which colors you will be needing the most and accordingly purchase those single color tubes additionally. And yes these will last a really really long time. Another thing is that you may not get these single color tubes so easily in every shop or even online. You may have to purchase it from bigger stores having loads of art supply options. But since they are a local brand, you will get a lot of color choice and will be much cheaper than the foreign brands.

[I bought lemon yellow, sap green and white 20 ml tubes from Anupam Stores in Mumbai as most of them are not available online.]

Watercolor Pans

4) Whether to use tubes or pans is a personal choice. Pans sound easier to use as you don't need to run to take out more color in the midst of your painting. But they also tend to collect more dust on them. Also another major disadvantage of using pans is that you cannot get fresh, thick, vibrant color as you get from tubes. When we use pans, we can make paintings with translucent colors only. For thick and bold colors, you always need fresh color from tubes. So depending on the type of painting you like to do more, you can choose between tubes or pans.

[I prefer watercolor tubes as I can take out as much color I need and also because I like to paint with bold, vibrant colors more]

5) Watercolors or Gouache? Gouache is an opaque watercolor. It means that it uses the same pigments and gum arabic binder as watercolor but has white added to it because of which it loses the translucency of watercolors. It is water-soluble just like watercolors meaning a wet brush can soften edges or lift color even when the paint has dried. Also new layers reactivate previous layers of paint. It is opaque and viscous than watercolors and can be diluted with water or watercolors to get better ease of application.

If you like to paint with a transparent effect, use watercolors. If you wish to get a more bold and opaque effect, use Gouache colors. I generally use a combination of both. For areas where I specifically need a designated bright color and not a mix of shades, I use Gouache as I can paint the required area in one coat. Places where I need a mix of colors or a transparent effect like the sky, I prefer using watercolors.

[I have used Nevskaya Palitra Gouache colors set of 16 shown below and found it quite good. Brustro also has Gouache color set which I have heard is good enough]

Nevskaya Professional Gouache Colors 16x20 ml jars

Recommendations: I have collated all these suggestions based on my personal experiences which I thought would help beginners. Some are tips which I felt would have helped me a lot if I knew them when I was a beginner. Some are points that I realized when I take workshops and students do not get the desired effect because their art materials were not right. Hence I started writing these tips so that it might be helpful to someone like you who has just started painting or are facing problems in a specific area. [Please try to use these tips as much as you feel adequate]

For any queries, you can ask in the comments. I will be happy to help.

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