- True or false: New watercolor students should purchase the cheapest materials they can find since they don’t know how to paint yet.
False: Cheap watercolor materials are tempting, especially if you don’t know if you are willing to commit to painting yet. But really cheap materials are cheap for a reason. Nobody wants paintbrushes that shed hairs and new students are more likely to blame themselves if their painting looks bad, even if it’s the fault of their paper or paint.
- You should always buy the most expensive paint.
False: The really cheap kid’s chalky paint really is crap, but many professional brands make student grade brands of paint that will still behave well. Cotman, Van Gough and Academy are a few brands that are nearly as good as the professional brands and are easier on your wallet. Both Cotman and Van Gough produce good watercolor sets that contain a nice variety of colors. It’s worth trying the professional brands like Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, Daniel Smith and Old Holland, but it’s okay to use the cheaper brands too. Check out reviews of different brands online and decide which are worth the money.
- The quality of paper you use makes a huge difference in how your paintings look.
True: Based on my experience, paper matters even more than paint. I have a sample I’ve painted on Strathmore 400 cold press 140 lb paper, and a second sample on Arches cold press 140 lb paper. The paint on the Strathmore paper is pale, and the colors resist each other with you layer them. The colors are much more intense on the Arches paper, and they layer effortlessly. The paint is the exact same brand and concentration, but paper can make or break a painting. I use Arches whenever I can, even though it is more expensive, and I encourage my students to do the same.
- All paint is essentially the same formula.
False: Every paint contains a different pigment, and this pigment dramatically affects they way the paint behaves. More synthetic colors like phthalocynine blue and opera rose dissolve completely in water and stain your fingers and paintbrush. Other colors like burnt sienna and ultramarine blue are ground up pigments that like to settle downward when mixed with water. Pigments vary in transparency, toxicity, and lightfastness.
- Granulation is a sign of cheap paint.
Nope. Granulation, those little tiny dots you see in burnt sienna and ultramarine blue is the result of the tiny pigments that don’t dissolve in water. It doesn’t reflect the quality of paint. Ultramarine blue was originally made from the precious stone lapis lazuli, and burnt sienna was made from heated soil that contains iron oxide. Many watercolorists like the granulated enough that paint companies make products that can be added to paint to create a granulated effect.
- Watercolor paint never goes bad.
True! Never throw away paint unless you really don’t want it anymore. Wet paint from a tube can dry out an be rewet over an over again. If a tube of paint dries out and becomes hard, cut it open lengthwise with a razorblade, cut out a chunk and place it on your palette. If you live in a humid climate, let your palette dry in a sunny or warm spot to prevent it from growing mold.
- Acrylic paint can be used just like watercolor paint.
True, sort of. Acrylic can be diluted with water for watercolor effects, but additional liquid medium must be added or else the paint will flake off with time
- Watercolor and acrylic brushes are the same.
False, but some soft acrylic brushes can be used with watercolor. However the handles of acrylic brushes are much longer since they are designed to be used on a canvas, not on paper. Stiff bristle brushes are best used with oil and acrylic paint.
- The more colors in a set of paint, the better.
False. It can be cheaper to buy a 12 half pan set of watercolor paint than to buy each tube separately, but take the following into account: are these the colors you really want? It’s not worth it if you don’t like what you are getting. How good is the quality of the paint? Crappy paint is never a good deal. Read some reviews before you commit. I recommend choosing a warm and cool version of the three primary colors and use them to mix the secondary colors. This means you only need SIX colors, and your finished paintings will feel more cohesive because you used a limited palette.
- Watercolorists should never use white paint.
False. But many choose not to use it, or only use it sparingly. You can do anything you want when you paint. The watercolor police will not arrest you if you use a bristle brush or acrylic paint or cheap paper. It’s worth developing your own opinions, but it’s also good to know what the rules are and try to understand them before you break them.