Art materials for classes and workshops - what to buy and what to avoid...
May 12, 2018
I have written this as a very general guideline for people just getting started and trying to figure out what to buy. If you are interested in some more details around watercolour materials, I have put some more detailed information on materials here.
If you need to purchase art materials for a class or workshop, I recommend either visiting an art materials shop, or buying materials online. Stationary / General shops are unlikely to stock good quality art materials, and it's sad to see students arriving with a range of products that are likely to lead to disappointing results.
This is what I recommend, for getting started:
You will need a selection of paints, preferably including a warm and cool version of each of the 3 primary colours, such as:
2 blues (ie ultramarine or cobalt, and cerulean or manganese blue)
2 yellows such as lemon yellow / hansa yellow light, cadmium or winsor yellow, (or one yellow, plus raw sienna for an earthy yellow)
2 reds such as permanent alizarin crimson, cadmium red, or scarlet lake. If you buy alizarin crimson ensure it is called Permanent Alizarin Crimson, as the original pigment is fugitive, meaning it will fade after time.
If you have 1 each of the primary colours (yellow, blue, red) a wide variety of colours can be mixed. If you have a warm and cool version of each primary colour, there are many more possibilities.
I painted this demonstration piece using only 3 colours, the red, yellow and blue on the colour swatch, and all other colours were mixed from just those 3 primary colours.
Other useful additions are a couple of pink hues, especially if you are interested in floral work. (There is a huge amount of information available on pigments - and here is a fascinating glimpse into the range of Pinks available - 'Masterclass - the History of Pinks')
For landscape works I find both raw and burnt sienna very useful.
I strongly recommend buying artist quality paints, and tube rather than pan paints (unless you like working on a small scale or want to paint en plein air). I have used Winsor and Newton for many years, as well as Daniel Smith and Maimeri Blue, but all artist quality paints will give excellent results, such as Schminke, Daler Rowney and Senellier.
I recommend not purchasing cheap sets of pans or tubes with a big colour selection. You are much better off with a smaller range of good quality tube paint.
We will not be aiming for everyone to mix the same colours, so if you have a different selection of paints you wish to bring along, then please do.
Paper quality is important and makes a huge difference to the finished piece.
I recommend Arches, Saunders Waterford, or Fabriano. The cheaper brand that performs reasonably well is Bockingford. Other cheaper brands can give a very disappointing result.
I recommend 300gsm (which is the weight / thickness) ‘rough’ or ‘not’ (which refers to the surface of the paper). Some students like to work on Hot Pressed, or smooth paper, which gives a different end result. This is most suitable for fine / botanical works. It can be used for landscape work as well, but gives a different finish, brighter, and relatively unforgiving in terms of edges and texture.
If you have some old paper you think you can use, please test it before class. I’ve had a few participants turn up with old paper that is no longer useable and it ruins their results.The gelatine size (surface) breaks down, and the paper behaves like blotting paper, not at all what you want when painting watercolour. It will look strange and blotchy, and the pigment will absorb quickly into the paper, not allowing you to create a flowing wash.
You will also need a board to tape the paper onto to keep it flat. The board needs to be a bit bigger than than the paper. Art shops sell both wooden boards, and 'gator' board, which is light weight and doesn't buckle when wet. A piece of corflute (the material real estate signs are made of) also works very well for small to medium sized works.
I often work on half an imperial sheet (15 x 22 inches), but something around an A3 size is fine for most of my workshops.
(1) A medium sized ‘round’ brush is often the most useful brush to begin with. It needs to be a watercolour brush, as other brushes such as those used for oil painting have different properties and are of no use. The numbering of the size of brushes is inconsistent across brands, but a good sized round is often a number 12 in many brands. If you are getting started and want to buy one brush, this would be the one. It could be natural hair or a good synthetic alternative, or a mixture of both.
(2) A larger ‘Mop’ brush would be my second brush recommendation. They hold plenty of water and pigment, and enable big, luminous, fluid washes. They are beautiful to use. Most are natural hair (i.e. squirrel) but there are some decent, cheaper synthetic brushes available.
(3) A Hake (wide brush) is also useful. They are usually made of goat hair, are much cheaper than other brushes, and are great for wetting the paper and covering large areas.
I recommend you avoid purchasing a cheap set of brushes. You are much better off with one decent brush than several packets of small, poor quality brushes.
A pallet (a white dinner plate would be adequate)
A water container (ie a jar / plastic container)
Masking tape to tape paper to your board (ie the sort you can buy from a hardware shop)
Sea sponge / tissues / old tea towel for lifting out and mopping up
Lead pencil and eraser for sketching
Water spray bottle if you have one
(Image includes watercolour paper taped to board, 6 tubes of watercolour paint,
selection of brushes, a pastic pallet that folds so paint can be stored and not washed away,
a small plastic spray bottle (available at chemists), a sea sponge, a pencil and eraser)
What to avoid...
I sometimes have students arrive with a selection of new materials they have just purchased, which are poor quality and almost impossible to work with. The main culprits are:
Poor quality / student range Pan paint sets with a wide selection of colours that are unlikely ever to be needed, and which make it very hard to prepare a nice big puddle of luscious pigment to use. These are especially difficult to use for a medium to large scale painting. If you think you will usually work on a small scale, or are interested in painting en plein air, then a good quality set of pan paints would probably suit you.
Brush sets, containing nylon / bristle brushes that are of almost no use at all for watercolour painting. The main property of a watercolour brush is that it can hold a large amount of watery pigment. Nylon / bristle brushes designed for oils or acrylic are for moving relatively thick paint around, and are of no use for the main techniques in watercolour painting.
Poor quality paper.
The main central Auckland art supply shops are:
- Studio Art Supplies - Ponsonby
- The French Art Shop - Morningside.
- Gordon Harris, New Market
If you like to shop online, this is a good site for a UK company - Ken Bromley
There is more detailed information on materials here and a document you might like to print and take shopping with you here.
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Art materials for classes and workshops - what to buy and what to avoid...