Art supply shopping is one of my favorite pastimes, but it can be quite daunting if you’re not sure what you’re looking for!
I’ve put together a personal guide to some of my favorite tools and supplies; things I use almost every single day. Although, every once in a while I like to pick up something I’ve never tried before. Often times, new materials will inspire new work. Try it sometime…
Let’s begin with paper. I’m a huge fan of Aquarelle Arches Grain Satiné Hot Pressed watercolor paper – I rarely buy anything else. Yes, it’s a bit pricey, but the quality makes it more than worth it. Many cheap papers will warp or flake away with too much brush and water action. My suggestion, buy a cheap paper to practice on, and use Arches for your final piece. It’s often on sale at Blick.
The reason I go with Grain Satiné Hot Pressed, is simply because I love the smooth white finish – much of my work ends up being scanned to use digitally, and the smooth finish eliminates the rough background texture you often get with watercolor paper (which is nice as well!). It’s a personal preference.
I prefer buying Arches paper in watercolor block form, but I occasionally buy the bound pads for quick access. When I’m using the watercolor block, I leave it attached until the painting is finished. That way the paper is held down to prevent warping. Once the painting is dry, I’ll remove it with a dull palette knife (like the one below) – it’s the easiest and safest (for the paper) tool to separate your block.
I fluctuate between watercolor and gouache paint, so my palettes can get a bit messy. I usually keep the two paints separate – using a well palette for watercolor (has a thumb hole to hold while painting), and using porcelain trays for gouache (round or rectangular). Occasionally, I’ll buy vintage plates at thrift shops to use as my palette! You can usually get them cheaper than most art palettes.
For gouache, I also like to use a wooden painter’s palette if it’s a larger piece. That way I have more space to mix, and can easily hold the palette in my hand while painting.
I also like to store my paints in wooden artists’ boxes.
Now, let’s talk paint. Like I said above, I mainly use watercolor and gouache paint. They are similar, but gouache has more of thickness to it- but can still be worked similarly to watercolor… think of it as being in-between watercolor and acrylic paint.
When it comes to gouache, I love Winsor & Newton Designer gouache and Holbein Acryla gouache. Both nice quality, but keep in mind that the acryla gouache can’t be reused once it dries since it’s acrylic based. The Winsor & Newton gouache can be rewetted because it’s water based.
As you know, I love using metallic paints! Below are some of my favorites. The interference colors are a sheer iridescent paint – which can create a beautiful effect on top of other colors, or on their own. The Golden brand is wonderful. I also LOVE this gold metallic gouache.
Now, watercolor! The below set is one of my favorites. Mission Mijello Gold watercolors have really incredible and vibrant pigmentation, although they are on the pricier side.
If you’re looking for something a little more budget friendly, Winsor & Newton are great quality. One step below (a student quality) are Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolors, which are great for learning watercolor. I used this travel set for many, many years – which I still love (Cotman version here).
Having the most expensive watercolors isn’t going to make painting any easier- it will just make the colors more pigmented and you will have a nicer consistency to work with…
Now for brushes. I’ve found brushes to be a very personal preference. Try different types out, and see what works best for you. I prefer short handle brushes, because I usually paint quite small- so I like to work with my hand close to the paper.
I also love angular brushes. They are a multi-purpose brush in a way, as they have a flat wide surface as well as an angled tip to create smaller lines. I usually use the 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2 sizes.
Natural hair brushes hold much more water with their natural ridges and scales, and often maintain their shape much longer than synthetics hairs. However, natural hair brushes are much more expensive. Many synthetic brushes will shed hairs as you use them, and could disrupt your painting process. For watercolor, I highly recommend natural hair brushes (typically from the tails of siberian weasels (kolinsky sable), foxes, squirrels, red sables, etc).
There’s a great article here if you’d like to get more info on choosing brushes.
Brush care. It’s important to care for your brushes, especially when you are investing in expensive natural hair brushes. Leaving natural hair brushes face down to soak in water for periods of time (I’ve been guilty of this), will ruin them. It bends the point and ruins the entire shape forever.
I don’t do an intense cleaning everyday (although I should), but every now and then I’ll use the brush cleaner below to keep them nice and fresh.
As for drawing pencils, I prefer to use woodless graphite (allows you to use the sides of the point as well) and Faber Castell pencils. I usually go for softer leads as they lend well to my style, allowing me to sketch softly and still get wonderful line weight differences. A softer lead allows a much more fluid line with ease. 9H is the hardest, whereas 9B is the softest. I typically stick with 6B and 8B.
More info on pencil grades here.
I use this Mobius and Ruppert brass double hole pencil sharpener.
I prefer this eraser.
Now, let’s talk about embellishments!
I’m sure you are aware that I’m an avid crystal and sequin user (and glitter every now and then). There are really no rules to this… it’s something I’ve been experimenting with for a while, and have developed my own personal method. Always be opening to exploring… never feel the need to do exactly as someone has told you it should be done!
I love Martha Stewart glitters. She has just about every color under the sun, and they also come in various textures.
SEQUIN & GLITTER ADHESIVE
To adhere the sequins and glitter to my artwork, I’ve found gold leaf adhesive size to work wonderfully. There are a million different types of glue that work for this, but I like that I can apply a thin layer of this and let it dry a bit so that it gets tacky, and it gives me a good amount of time to apply the sequins before it sets. Super glues work as well, but you need to be careful you aren’t drenching the sequin in glue – if the glue puddles over the sequin, it will be left with a dull finish. (this glue pen is wonderful for glitter)
To apply the sequins, I apply a tiny bit of the adhesive size to the tip of a needle or mechanical pencil, let it get tacky… and then use that to pick up and apply each sequin.
I strongly prefer Swarovski crystals flatbacks over any other option- they are the sparkliest, and come in a wonderful amount of colors, cuts, and sizes. I purchase them individually here. These are my favorites.
To apply the crystals, the Crystal Katana works wonders!
For crystal adhesive, I typically use GemTac, or super glue (I prefer this one, even though I have the thick version shown below). As with the sequins, be careful to only use a bit of glue so that it doesn’t come up over the top of the crystal and make it dull once it dries.
Read more on crystals and adhesives (a complete guide!) here.
So there you have it. A brief intro to some of my favorite tools and supplies!
For more info and video tutorials on illustrating, check out my online classes: