These days watercolour is available in so many different types and forms. I am yet to meet one that I don't like. I'm steadily working my way through them, but there is always another to go on the wishlist!
If you are looking at getting into watercolour, or considering expanding your collection, here is a round up for you. I have given a brief description of each of the types of watercolour, including how I use them and why I like them. I have also included links (any links to Amazon are affiliate links) to each of the products in my favourite brands.
This is the type that comes in hard dry little cakes. It can be in the cheap kids version, or the top of the range artist quality. Even the cheap variety can offer some surprising delights like Crayola, for instance. although you do need to watch out for the poor versions which will put you off watercolour completely. You know - the totally wishy washy low pigment versions. My favourites are my tiny Koi travel set from Sakura and my Schmincke pan set. I love that I can add to my Schminke collection by filling up another pan.
Pan watercolour is the one I use most often. I love that it is self contained and ready to go. I can mix bigger washes in the built in palettes. And when I am done, clean up is as simple as shutting the lid. Any dry paint in the palette can be used next time I paint if it suits.
This to me is grown up watercolour. The kind you see Proper Artists use. Of course I see my Schminke pan set in the same light. I was given a set of tube watercolours more years ago than I cared to admit and they rather intimidated me. It took me ten years to work out that you need to get them out of the tube and into a palette to feel less intimidated.
The beauty of watercolour is that, unlike acrylic and oil, when it is out of the tube and allowed to dry, a spritz of water will bring it back to life. So while some recommend using the paint fresh from the tube for best results, most of us will end up reviving the dry palette with water. It feels so much better to know you aren't wasting too much of that precious paint. And of course once my pans are empty it is the tube watercolour that I use to fill it back up. You can buy refill pans but somehow I don't. (I talk about this more in my free class on watercolour supplies).
If you are looking for a compact travel companion in watercolour this might just be the one. I love these. I especially love their history. These were the paints that were used to colour photographs in the old days, when all photographic images where monochromatic.
The pigment is on a piece of card and often arrives stapled together in a sort of watercolour book. When you put a wet brush to the card the colour leaps to life. The colour of these cards can be nothing like the colour of the paint when it is on paper. I find these colours so vibrant and fresh. a perfect partner to my waterbrush.
The instructions they come with suggest that you can cut up the sheet and pop a little piece in some water to create a liquid paint. I have never done that. Seems like a waste somehow. And the waterbrush makes it so easy. I have made little palettes to fit into my various journals. That in itself is an awful lot of fun but it can be rather time consuming!
Now these are still on my wishlist, Dr Ph Martin's liquid watercolour. I hear a lot about how vibrant the colours are. Some even talk of them being too bright, and needing to be knocked back with a bit of tube colour. Too bright? That I have to see...
There is also a slight variation on offer here in Dr PH Martin's Radiant Concentrate. This version is not light fast and is actually a dye rather than an ink, but they come in bottles like ink, usually with an eyedropper. There is a sort of chemistry lab feel to them. Is it odd that this alone holds enough appeal for me to want to try them?
Of all the forms of watercolour, these have the least appeal for me. They are chunky sticks or blocks of watercolour. On the plus side that means they are easy to transport. They also can be used directly on the paper like a crayon or a pastel. I haven't rried that but it sounds rather messy. Not sure why you wouldn't choose a watersoluble crayon or pastel if that is your thing. They do seem to be very versatile. I haven't tried them myself but I found this very comprehensive post from someone who made a full exploration.
I was a little reluctant about gouache at first. Watercolour is transparent, and you can build up lovely layers glazing one colour over another. Why would you use non-transparent watercolour? For that is the simple explanation of gouache - that it is opaque watercolour.
Well, sometimes you are just in the mood for something with a bit more of a punch. Still water activated and therefore easier to use than something like oil, but it is paint with a bit more body to it. Gouache gives you a bold dash of colour and it leaves a lovely matte, slightly chalky texture that practically begs you to put a bit of coloured pencil over the top of it.
It is in many ways, more forgiving than watercolour, so if you are currently feeling a little frustrated with watercolour, gouache might offer a bit of respite. Being opaque you no longer need to worry so much painting things in the right order and preserving your lighter areas. White gouache or any other light colours can be applied over dark colours without a problem, as long as it is dry. Gouache is also easier to lift out if you change your mind. As with watercolours, you can lift damp colour off the paper with a dry brush or bit of kitchen paper. However some colours in a watercolour paint are staining colours, which means that you cannot ever be completely rid of them. Gouache will lift out much more cleanly. You can use the gouache very thinly, adding a lot of water to it and then you can increase its transparency slightly and more easily blend one colour into another. With more water it does feel very much like watercolour paint. Definitely worth playing with if you get the chance.
Watercolour markers... mmm... how I love thee....
These are very friendly watercolours. In fact you don't even need to think of them as watercolours, you can just use them as some of the nicest markers you may ever find. My favourite are the Tombows. They come in an enormous range of colours and have a brush tip on one end and a bullet tip on the other. If you apply the colour on decent watercolour paper and then take a wet brush to the colour you can move the pigment and watch it flow just like watercolour paint from a tube or pan.
These are coloured pencils which can be activated with water much like the markers. Mine are Faber Castell student versions, and fairly inexpensive, and I am happy with them, but you can certainly get professional artist quality versions too.
Using a pencil means you end up with a lot more control in your painting because you are essentially drawing. They are also very handy if you don't like the graphite sketch lines of your under drawing to show through. Instead of graphite you can do your initial sketch with a watercolour pencil and then it will disappear into the watercolour paint once you begin painting over your sketch.
It also makes them a very portable form of watercolour with very little mess. If you were to pop a few watercolour pencils and a waterbrush into your pencil case you have equipped yourself do do a fair bit of painting without needing any further supplies. I like to touch the tip of the waterbrush to the end of the pencil and apply little bits of colour that way, painting directly from the tip of the pencil. Of course, 'little' is the operative word here as it is a great method for little details but no way to go about larger washes.
Inktense pencils are a rather special kind of watercolour pencil. They are so named because they contain ink rather than watercolour pigment. It is still activated by water and behaves like any other watercolour pencil initially. For me they hold two nice surprises.
Firstly, the colours which seem rather dull and drab when you apply them to the paper dry, transform into the richest, most vibrant paint you will see. They are the ugly ducklings of the pencil case. The second stand out feature is that once dry, they are permanent. This means that unlike watercolour pencils and paints which will reactivate if you apply water or more paint over the top of them, these will stay put. If you are into mixed media that makes them enormously appealing. You can also get inktense blocks if you prefer that to the pencils.
Now these hold the timeless appeal of childhood. Holding one of these feels just like holding a wax crayon at kindergarten. But make no mistake, they contain very high quality pigment and are very definitely professional supplies. Like the pencils, they are nice and portable and you can use them directly on the paper or touch the wet brush to the tip to apply the colour as for the pencils or the watercolour blocks. They are called Neocolour II by Caran D'Ache, and you need to be quite careful about that if you are out buying them. There are also Neocolour I available, but these are not watersoluble at all, so that can be very disappointing if it you purchase one by mistake.
Watersoluble oil pastels
I have to say I am not a fan of pastels usually. Way too messy, too much dust and smudgey transfer or smelly fixative required for my liking. However, I discovered these watersoluble oil pastels which are a different matter all together. Messes with my head a bit... water soluble oil?
Anyway, these are stubby fat crayons that smell slightly waxy. The colours are glorious and they feel rather like the neo colour II, only fatter and more... squidgy. With the slight waxy smell you apply the water with significant doubt as to its likely effect. But tah-dah! Totally watersoluble. Because of their stout nature finer details can be tricky, but of course you can overcome that with the brush to tip approach as described earlier.
Little pots of heaven.
Twinkling H2Os come in individual little pots in an array of gorgeous colours. Although if you swish your damp paint brush straight into the freshly opened pot you are not likely to agree with me. These paints seem to take a while to reactivate compared to pan watercolour. The trick is to give the pot a healthy spritz of water and leave it for a minute or two. Then when you dip your brush into the pot you will find that you have gorgeous glossy twinkling colour to work with. For this is obviously their charm - the twinkle. The paint is irridescent so it will shimmer in the light even when it is dry on the paper.
If it seems like this is a luxury too far you can always get some irridescent medium to add to the watercolour paint you already have. You can do this on the palette as you go which means you have both the twinkling and the non twinkling version of all the colours you already own. But if you are up to adding these to your arty arsenal you won't be disappointed.
If you are looking for a bit more help and information on watercolour supplies for beginners, this just might be for you…