I get a lot of questions about the materials I use and how to find something comparable at a lower cost. The truth is, you really cannot get the same results by cutting costs. High quality tools will give you high quality results. Low quality tools will give you low quality results. Of course, when getting started, there are great materials to practice with at a lower cost, but I have always spoken about how important your materials are to get started in advancing your skills watercolor painting, and this is why:
I use Kolinsky Series 7 Red Sable brushes. These are made in England by Winsor & Newton and take the best craftsmen they have as each brush is fashioned by hand using the dexterity and skill born after 7 years of experience by each craftsman. Sable hair is by far the best type of hair for watercolor. Other types of hair can be camel, squirrel, mixed hair, synthetic, etc. and will produce poor results in comparison to sable. The result is the finest watercolor brushes you can purchase, undeniably expensive—uncompromisingly made in the Royal tradition.
Each Series 7 watercolor brush features only the finest Kolinsky Red Sable hair mounted within seamless cupro-nickel ferrules attached to balanced black Italian Albata, polished wood handles. All Series 7 brushes hold color with supreme precision. The sizes that I tend to use most are a round tip size 6 ($135) and a round tip size 14 ($1,300). Yes, you read those prices right. Once you get up to size 8 and above, the prices can jump tremendously! Round tip brushes are great 2-in-1 brushes. You can point them straight down and use just the thin tip, or flatten them on their side for a wider stroke. Their flexibility between stroke widths is what makes them so fun to use. It's like bouncing and floating in water. This is why having sable hair is crucial. These brushes need to hold their form, and go back and forth between a thin tip and a wide belly very easily. Cheaper hair brushes will not be able to do this.
Along with this, more inexpensive brushes won't hold pigment very well. When they are wet they can flop over like a wet mop - it's very frustrating. They completely loose their integrity almost immediately. Releasing pigment onto paper is more of struggle with these brushes than having a stronger and sturdier brush. It makes all the difference with the outcome of your painting.
I use Fabriano Artistico Extra White Watercolor Cold Pressed 100% Cotton 300gsm paper (phew! that was a lot!). The cost of 5 sheets of 16x20 paper is $26! That is $5.20 per piece of paper. This paper is the purest bright white available without the use of optical brighteners or bleaches. It is mould-made of 100% cotton and is acid-free/pH neutral and chlorine-free.
Because of the benefits listed, the color will last longer on the paper, it won't bleed and it will hold the pigment in place with it's toothy texture. With a smoother more inexpensive paper, the colors will fade faster over time and your watercolor will bleed because the paint will not stay in place. This can completely change your results!
I use Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor paint. This paint is known to be the purest of pigments and is known for it's brilliance, permanence and strength of color. Prices go up to $13.69 per 14ml tube, which is about the same size as your traditional nail polish bottle. Some pigments are more expensive and much harder to find. These paints also have the AP seal of the Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI) and are certified non-toxic.
Where you find lower quality, less expensive paint is when manufacturers substitute expensive pigments for synthetic ingredients. Not only are they more harmful to your health, they can also lack vibrancy and permanence. If you see the word 'hue' after the name of the pigment, you will know that it is a substitute for the real thing!
Although there are tons of supplies for every artist for student, professional, and in-between, this post may answer a few questions to why professional grade paints, brushes, and paper can seem pricey. The above 3 elements can make ALL the difference in the outcome of your paintings! Your results will always vary depending on brand, quality and performance. If you are serious about becoming an artist these standards apply to all types of artwork. Whether you prefer oil, acrylic or watercolor, going for the cheap stuff will give you cheap results!