A selection of other materials and equipment needed for watercolour/watercolor painting

There are a lot of so called 'useful' or 'must have' products on the market but all that is needed are the basics below. 

Pentel P203 and P205 Clutch Pencil and Berol 'Venus' Pencil
A sharp 2H or HB pencil is all that is required to draw in the lines of the subject you are going to paint. In the studio I use two Pentel Clutch Pencils, one containing 0.3mm and the other 0.5mm leads, usually 2H or HB if drawn lightly.

The Pentel Automatic Pencil 0.5mm and Clutch Pencil 0.3mm are suitable for drawing and designing. Each gives precise, clean and accurate lines. Many artists swear by clutch pencils. Timber-cased pencils change their size, weight and balance as they are sharpened, which can be a problem for artists who draw a great deal. Clutch pencils have a constant weight and size and though initially expensive, the refills are competitive (packs of 12 leads).

When I'm sketching outdoors I use normal pencils (less expensive if lost, easy to do in long grass or on the beach and less prone to damage). I sharpen pencils (Venus from Berol are the pencils I have used for many years) with a sharp knife (if you can use a knife for sharpening, you will save a lot of wastage compared to a sharpener).

How to sharpen a pencil using a sharp knife:
Hold the pencil with the tip towards the ground.

Hold the knife blade at a 45-degree angle from the tip of the pencil.

Begin at the lip (where exposed wood meets painted edge). Press firmly but lightly (going from the pencils painted edge towards the graphite), take one shaving from just the wood (not the graphite). Rotate pencil 90-degrees and do another shaving. Repeat rotations and take thin shavings until the required length of graphite is exposed.

Finish by sharpening the graphite itself. I like a longer point so when the pencil is held almost flat to the paper so a larger area is shaded but is more likely to break.

Winsor & Newton Colourless Art Masking Fluid for Watercolour
When required to mask areas of my paintings I use Winsor & Newton Colourless Masking Fluid. This is applied with an 'old' Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Brush No 6 dedicated to this purpose.

To keep the brush clean and workable the following process needs to done (see below) on every application of the masking fluid. This process has been used on the same brush for almost two years but please do not use 'new' sable brushes (many artists recommend using cheaper brushes and would never use a sable) for masking fluid, the one I'm using had done a number of years work before being used for masking fluid.

I cut the brush tuft (from an 'old' No 6 brush) in half, across the diameter (not the length) which provides a nice length of hair, to carry the masking fluid, but also comes to a nice point making it ideal for painting (masking) thin lines.

How to keep your watercolour brush usable when using it with masking fluid:
Note: Between applications of masking fluid the brush 'tuft' is covered with soap. This needs to be removed before using again. Also make sure that the paper is 100% dry before using the masking fluid.

First clean off all the soap (from last use) in the water pot used just for cleaning the masking fluid brush.
The dry any access water from the brush using a paper towel, so as not to dilute the first application of masking fluid.

Open the jar of masking fluid and working as quickly as possible apply the fluid to the required areas. If a large amount needs to be covered and/or more than about 10-20 minutes passes or the masking fluid is beginning to dry on the brush, stop and clean the brush (as detailed below) and start again.

When finished painting on the masking fluid, close the jar of masking fluid and quickly dip the brush 'tuft' into the pot of water. Some masking fluid may well have started to dry on the brush and this is removed by brushing the tuft of the brush on a bar of soap. A helping hand is usually needed by using your nails and fingers to remove all traces of the drying masking fluid. Apply more soap if needed but all traces must to be removed.

When clean, use the tuft of the brush to lather some soap and cover the brush tuft with the lather. Place the brush flat to dry and ready for next time.

Make sure the lid of the masking fluid it tight and then turn the jar upside down as I've found this helps slow down the air getting into the jar. Masking fluid does go off and if it goes more solid and unworkable it's time to replace.

Water and Water Pots
I recommend the use of at least two or more pots/containers/jars. Personally I use three pots for water.

Two of the pots are used when painting - one has clean water (clean washes and mixing paint) and the other one for dirty (washing brushes).
The third water pot is used only for cleaning the masking fluid brush, as detailed above.

Change the water in the pots often to avoid the water becoming too muddy.

Other useful items include: Ruler, Knife, Cutting Mat, and Rubber.

A metal 1m ruler or straight edge is preferred but a plastic version can be used (being careful when cutting along the edge so as not to damage it). Always cut on the waste side.

Swan Morton, available in most art/craft/graphic shops is ideal. They have different shaped handles (No. 3 and No.7 handles are the ones I use) and a selection of blade shapes are available. I've found the No. 10A Swan Morton Blade (straight cutting edge) to be the most useful but also use No. 10 (which has a curved cutting edge) while No. 11 is a more tapered version of 10A. Other blade shapes are available.

Not used very often as drawing another line is the best anyway. If you need to use a rubber its best to wait until the painting is finished and then remove the marks so as not to damage the surface of the paper. As a side note some people like to see the pencil marks or drawings on watercolour paintings. I would recommend putty rubbers which are better than harder rubbers.

Cutting Mat:
Save the table etc by using a cutting mat. The self healing versions of Cutting Mats, though more expensive, do last longer and over time are better for cutting on, as the non self healing ones with repeated cutting small sections of the surface break away. Price varies with size.

Watercolour painting which brushes do I use...

Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolour Brush:
In 1886 Queen Victoria gave orders that Winsor and Newton, holders of the Royal Warrant, to be commanded to produce brushes of the highest possible quality in her favourite size, No. 7. The brushes were to be made of the finest Kolinsky Sable hair, the handles were to be made of ivory and the ferrules to be made of sterling silver.

'Some' details have change since 1886, no longer the ivory handle or sterling silver for us. Apart from that, the attention to both quality and detail prevails in the factory, taking up to seven years to master the skills required. All the Series 7 brushes are handmade from the finest pure Kolinsky Sable (a member of the Asiatic mink family) and placed in rust-proof, nickel plated ferrules, which are seamless and then fitted to a black polished wood handle and finally finished with gold text printed on the handle.

These brushes can or will provide years of enjoyment and durability, all of my Series 7 brushes have lasted much longer, than 'any other' brush (some now over twenty years - the fine point has gone but still good for mixing and for general washes, while others are used only for masking fluid application).

Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes come in a usual range of brush sizes 000 to 10.

Winsor & Newton Fan Brush:
These brushes are wonderful for blending areas that are wet. Ideal for removing 'granulation', should you not like the effect. So brushing over the sky area with these soft hair fans distributes the particles of paint, creating a smooth sky (but only do this when still wet).

I also use the Fan Brush for foliage and grass. When the brush is wet the hairs clump together (in effect becoming a number of brushes in one) then add your chosen colour and paint. Experiment with rotating and or moving the handle of the brush to the left/right as you stroke produces grass going in different directions or grass of different length's respectively.

There are a large number of fan brushes on the market produced by the brush manufacturers. Come in a range of materials, from pure Kolinsky Sable, sable/synthetic mix or full synthetic to hog or squirrel hair.

Winsor & Newton Mop Brushes:
The brush that is used the least, but does save time when it is. Ideal for wetting the paper before I apply the sky wash, then applying the sky wash in most cases or painting large colour areas at the beginning of the painting.

Like the brushes above most manufacturers make a Mop or Flat Wash (sometimes called One Stroke) Brush. Again the cost will be reflected in the hair used for the brush from pure Kolinsky Sable, sable/synthetic mix or full synthetic to hog/squirrel hair.

Cleaning and Storing Watercolour Brushes
Begin with rinsing the brush thoroughly in gentle stream of tepid (not hot!) running water against the tuft that is pointing downward.

Once most of the pigment residue has been cleared from the brush, rotate the brush horizontal and direct water up by the ferrule again avoid getting water above the ferrule.

With the brush thoroughly rinsed, stroke the tuft in vegetable soap (not detergent), baby shampoo, or a commercial artists' brush cleaner. Work the lather into the hairs by kneading the tuft with your fingertips or rubbing against the wet palm of your hand with particular attention to the area around the edge of the ferrule in order to remove any paint that has migrated up the tuft.
Do this until all discoloration or staining is removed from the visible hairs. Rinse thoroughly, again with the tuft first pointing down, then horizontally.

Once cleaned, shake or better still, a quick flick, removes remaining water from the brush. If necessary, shape the tuft gently against the side of your finger so that it comes to a balanced point. Don't dry brushes near any source of heat.

Storing Brushes:
Commercial brush boxes are a convenient and safe way to store brushes for a long period. An alternative is the brush case. Today they come in rolls or folding flat variants. If possible store the washed and dried brushes vertically - better in a case.

Care of Watercolour Brushes
The brush it is a delicate instrument (particularly the point) that can be easily damaged. Below are some tips to care for and extend the useful life of your brush. Remember a cheaper brush needs the same care and attention as the most expensive ones and buying cheap one's to throw away usually works out more expensive in the long term.

Never leave your brushes standing on their heads (tuft) in a jar or glass, wet or dry, even for a few minutes.

While in use lay your brushes flat.

Avoid submerging the tuft in paint or getting a lot of paint near the ferrule end. This encourages the capillary action that causes paint to migrate up the hairs into the ferrule, where it is difficult to get out and leads to the spreading of the hairs. Once you've got paint on the brush, begin painting with it as this pulls the paint away from the ferrule. Avoid holding a brush full of paint with the tip pointing upwards as the paint will seep into the ferrule and never let it dry in this state.

Use the brush for one medium only. No acrylic, oil or masking fluid with your watercolour brushes.

Dedicate an old brush for the application of Winsor & Newton Colourless Masking Fluid.

Keep expensive brushes out of reach of all pets and children. It only takes seconds to destroy a very expensive brush.

Dip your brush in water before you start painting (picking up pigment with a dry brush or dry paint is very abrasive). Have two pots of water (clean and dirty).

Rinse brushes thoroughly as you work in a large container of clear water (change the water frequently). Holding the brush upright, no deeper than the ferrule (the handle should not enter the water) and agitate the tip briskly. Remove surplus water from the tuft against the edge of the water container and if you spot any remaining colour in the runoff, repeat agitation again until the water runs clear. Once you have rinsed a brush, flick the brush to remove excess water, avoid rubbing or squeezing with a cloth or paper towel as this will break off or pull out the hairs.

When using pan watercolours, wet the cake first and then pick up fresh pigment with the same movement you use to brush the paint onto paper don't bend the tip of the brush, or splay the hairs by pushing directly into the cake.

Treat natural hair and synthetic brushes with the same care.

Step-by-step guide to stretching Watercolour Paper - my method anyway.

Materials required:

A number of strong wooden boards (the pull of the a full sheet of drying paper is immense) for each size of paper (quarter, half and full Imperial - for the most economical use of the paper). I have boards dedicated to each size.

Watercolour Paper:
Cut to the size (if needed).

Brown Gum Paper Tape:
50mm/2" wide.
Note: masking tape is not really strong enough for larger/thicker sheets.
An alternative is to use a staple gun and staple around the edges.

Tray or Bath:
Needs to be bigger than the sheet of paper

Enough to cover paper

Place a sheet of watercolour paper (fully submerged) in a bath (or tray) of cold water for a few minutes (10 to 25 at the most, give heavy paper near the upper end of this time). The paper needs time to expand.

While the paper is soaking cut the gum tape to a length longer than the paper.

Check the board is free from any protrusions/dirt that 'will' show when the paper is dry.

Remove the paper from the water and hold vertical while the majority of the water drains off.

Then place the paper centrally on the board.

To wet the gum tape, dip one of the four pieces into the water and then lift out of the water and holding one end, using your other hand run the full length of the tape between two fingers stopping at the other end (this removes most of the water). Note: most tapes will try to curl at this point but you'll have hold of both ends.

Next place the tape to cover the paper by 15 mm (1/2"). This is best done by positioning one end down on the board while holding the other end clear and then as you lower the second end, line it up with the first end.

Run your hand over the tape to push it down onto board and paper. Repeat for the other three sides.

Leave the board flat in a location that is away from being walked on/over, anything jumping on it (pets etc) or near a heat source (it needs to dry slowly for a number of hours - best overnight). This time factor is the main reason for having a number of boards with paper stretched and ready for painting. And yes, the odd error will happen, tape splitting etc, even after years of practice.

Paper and Gum Tape Removal:
With a sharp knife, run it around the very edge/lip of the paper (cutting through the gum tape only). Do one of the long edges first, then a short edge to release some of the tension. While cutting, the gum tape may, split or crack due to the release of the tension (it is normal).

When the watercolour paper has been removed a small lip is left on the gum tape that's remained stuck to the board allowing you to pull most of the tape off (pull from lip edge side across the width of the tape - inside to outside).

I leave the rest on until six or more painting have been done, but only if the previous layers of tape are solid. Not only does it provide a guide for the placing of the tape for the next painting (using one size of painting on each board) but is easier to remove when there's more layers.

For a total removal of all the gum tape from the board, soak in water, which can be done in between each painting.

The gum tape remaining around the painting border can be removed by cutting it off.

Watercolour papers which I use... Arches Aquarelle, Saunders Waterford and Bockingford

Although I do experiment with other papers (from the large range of Watercolour papers that's available today) when the opportunity arises, I return to the three detailed below, plus as I have little or no working knowledge of others I feel it's not right to pass comment on them.

As each brand of paper has its own character (response to the application of paint, spreading, texture, etc) this has a dramatic effect on the end result, so it’s worth doing some experiments to see how your style/technique of painting is affected by the paper being used.

Arches Aquarelle Paper
Arches Aquarelle is considered one of the finest watercolour papers made today. It is 100% cotton fibre (sometimes known as Rag Paper), acid free, and made for more than a hundred years on a cylinder mould machine by Arjomari of France.

The process, in which the pulp gradually settles and drains onto a slowly rotating screen-covered cylinder, results in a paper that has a uniquely hand-made look and feel. This thick, stable sheet is beautiful, durable and moderately resistant to scrubbing, lifting etc. The Rough and Cold Pressed sheet are gelatine sized, while the Hot Pressed sheets are internally and surface sized.

The sheets are then air dried. Have four deckled edges and before leaving the mill each is hand inspected for strict quality control. The Arches paper is watermarked and also stamped in the corner of each sheet. The paper costs (depending on source) about three times that of the Bockingford. Arches Aquarelle is available in three surface finishes.

Like the other papers suitability for technique etc is the same. HP (Hot Pressed) is better for highly detailed paintings. CP (NOT) is a good all round surface. The Rough is a fantastic surface for looser landscapes and seascapes where the surface really works with the painting.

Saunders Waterford Series Watercolour Paper
Saunders Waterford is the highest quality watercolour paper offered by St Cuthberts Mill. Mould made using 100% cotton and the only paper to be endorsed by the Royal Watercolour Society of England; this is a paper of pure luxury.

Although I have only used this paper for watercolour painting and drawing, other artists use it for Intaglio, Silkscreen and Hand Lithography. The paper (depending on source) is about twice the price of the Bockingford. The paper is a warm white and both internally and surface sized with gelatine and is buffered against atmospheric contamination giving very good archival permanence (neutral pH).

This size strengthens the paper allowing lifting, scrubbing and corrections to be made without damage to the surface. Full size sheets have four natural deckled edges and come with a watermark, plus an embossed mark in the left corner to prove authenticity.

Saunders Waterford is available in three surface finishes. HP (Hot Pressed) which is great for high detail paintings. CP (NOT) is a good intermediate surface, which is great for most types of paintings. The Rough is a fantastic surface for landscapes and seascapes where the surface really works with the painting.

Bockingford Watercolour Paper
Bockingford is one of the world’s most loved watercolour papers, which is only made at St Cuthberts Mill, near Wells, Somerset. It is cylinder mould made using the purest wood pulp to give an archival paper (internally sized with a neutral pH). Used by both professionals and amateur artists, for the papers excellent paint removal properties and for having quite a hard surface which resists scrubbing, scrapping and also takes masking fluid well.

The imperial sheets have straight edges. Within the Bockingford range the 535gm² (250lb) White or 425gm² (200lb) White are the papers that I use on a regular basis. I do prefer the extra weight of the 535gm² (250lb) paper even when compared to the 425gm² (200lb) but both are wonderful to paint on, both having the same slightly textured surface.

I stretch both these papers having cut it to the size required from full sheets.
Depending on your output of paintings art shops (or via the internet) now offer paper in large packs (10 to 100 sheets) at good discount. Don't forget to store the sheets flat and away from damp or temperature change.

The Bockingford Extra Rough surface has been developed in response to artists' demand for an alternative to the CP/Not surface in the Bockingford range. Like all the Bockingford range the Extra Rough is mould made from the purest cellulose fibre. It has an extremely forgiving paint surface allowing frequent changes to work e.g. lifting, scrubbing and masking fluid. It is acid-free and buffered to protect from atmospheric contamination, internally sized, highly light fast and colour stable. Bockingford Watercolour paper is available in 5 weights ranging from 150gm² (72lb) to 535gm² (250lb). In the most popular weight 300gm² (140lb), Bockingford is available in 5 tints (cream, grey, eggshell, blue and oatmeal).