In all my workshops I provide professional level, high-quality brushes, paints, etc., even to my beginner students because, the truth is, you really cannot get the same results by cutting costs. Because of this, on social media, at my classes, etc. I get a lot of questions about the materials I use and how to find something comparable at a lower cost. A lot of times, people respond in shock with, “Why is it so expensive?!” and do you want to know what my answer is?
High-quality tools will give you high-quality results. Low-quality tools will give you low-quality results.
When artists are first starting out and they’re practicing, I still will recommend these supplies because especially today with all the pretty content we absorb through social media, it can be SO discouraging when you’re practicing to not see the same vibrant colors or smooth blends on paper that you’re seeing other artists achieve. Of course, every artist is different and there are professional artists who achieve amazing results with cheaper supplies, but from my experience, working with higher quality materials makes you LOVE your practice and embrace the process more instead of being discouraged when you’re getting results that could’ve been made better just by having better supplies. 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 the Heritage 4050 series round brushes from Princeton. These brushes have been designed and made by their fourth generation Japanese brush manufacturer and rival, if not are better than any natural sable hair brush. Whoa. Big statement. If you’re wondering…natural kolinsky sable hair is the most coveted hair for brushes among traditional watercolorists. It is crafted from a weasel and is INSANELY EXPENSIVE (ehem, a size 16 round with this hair is $1,300 USD). Other types of hair can be camel, squirrel, mixed hair, synthetic, etc., but I’ve found that the synthetic sable hair that is used in these Heritage 4050 brushes is better than the crazy expensive natural hair brushes. The technology they use these days with some synthetic hair brushes is SO amazing and these brushes are a fraction of the cost! There’s also no harming of animals involved in the making of these brushes, which I’m all about.
Round tip brushes are the main style of brush I use. The reason for that is they make 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 a quality hair brush is so crucial. These brushes need to hold their form and go back and forth between a thin tip and a wide belly very easily. Cheaper and courser hair brushes will not be able to do this.
Along with this, more inexpensive brushes won’t hold pigment very well – it’s very frustrating. They completely lose 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 Stonehenge Aqua Cold Pressed 100% Cotton 300gsm paper by Legion Paper (phew! that was a lot!). The cost of 5 sheets of 16×20 paper is $26! That is $5.20 per piece of paper. This paper is a pure bright white and it doesn’t contain 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 its toothy texture…this is why I use cold pressed paper vs. hotpressed (smooth surface). With more inexpensive papers, the colors will fade faster over time and your watercolor will bleed and create more hardlines 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 its 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, but 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 the student, professional, and in-between, I hope this post answers 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!
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