I often get asked what paints a newcomer to watercolour painting should buy. The simple answer is buy few but buy good! Artists quality paints, even if you don’t feel like you can call yourself an artist, are worth every penny and will reward you with much better results than inferior products. Artist quality paints have a higher ratio of pigment to binder. That means you’ll achieve rich, juicy, intense colours on the page. My advice for a starter palette would be a cool and a warm yellow, a cool and a warm red and a cool and a warm blue.
With those six paints you can mix almost any colour you need. Here you can see my selection. I use a variety of brands and don’t worry about intermixing them to make a wide range of colours. As you can see, I like to buy tube colour as it’s easy to squeeze out plenty of paint when I want to create generous washes of colour over large areas. Of course you can also buy pans and half pans of watercolour and that’s probably what most beginners do. You won’t need white as most of the watercolours are fairly transparent allowing the white of the paper to show through, especially when the paint is diluted with lots of water. Black is usually considered a no no where watercolour is concerned as it deadens and dirties the colours it is mixed with although of course rules can be broken and if you do have black, try mixing it with lemon yellow to make some really deep and murky greens.
Here’s my well loved and well used paintbox. I’ve had this for many years and although you can see it came with a full set of half pan colours, all I do when they are used up is to fill the little containers with tube colour. you might be able to see some of the original half pans have never even seen a brush! I really do prefer to mix my own greens and browns and wouldn’t have bought these myself. The paintbox was a gift and, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers! Most art shops will have empty paintboxes which you can fill with your personal choice of half pan colours. There will probably be room for twelve half pans but there’s no need to buy them all at once.
Try the basic set of six until you discover their mixing limitations. For instance if you often paint flowers you may want to buy a violet paint as that is a very ‘clean’ colour and tricky to mix from blue and red. using the cool versions of your primary colours will give the best results.
If you prefer to paint landscape then you will probably want to add a couple of the earth colours like Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber. It’s all a matter of experimentation together with a certain amount of trial and error. My preferred palette may not be exactly the same as your’s. I’m a big fan of slightly deep and dark colours so I find that Indigo and Sepia regularly feature in my work. Having said that you can mix pretty much every colour you need from only six colours of paint you may wonder why I have so many tubes of colour in my art box!!
You’d be right to ask that question! Us obsessives never know when enough is enough but it’s a harmless obsession and better than most addictions don’t you think? Have fun painting – it’s a pleasure that can last a lifetime.