Some of you might know that after finishing art school I worked at a local art supply store for several years. While there I learned A LOT about all of the various supplies out there. I still love talking about art supplies and will take every opportunity to do so. So in my attempt at a holiday gift guide of sorts I’ve compiled this list of supplies that I love and use most often. It's certainly not a comprehensive list (although I did get a bit carried away with the descriptions!) but hope you enjoy reading through and maybe you'll find something fun for your wishlist! Keep in mind that these are the tools that I’ve found work best for me. There are countless other tools out there that are just as wonderful and if you have anything you’d like to add to this list please share in the comments!
I’m linking to my favourite local art store where possible and I would encourage you to shop small and look for these products at your own favourite locally owned business.
Gouache is basically an opaque watercolour paint. I love working with it because it has a beautiful silky matte finish and it’s much more forgiving and easier to control than regular watercolour. Traditional gouache is water-soluble and you can re-wet it after it dries. So if you’re used to using watercolour and want to give gouache a try, a traditional water soluble gouache like Winsor & Newton would be a great way to dip your toe (or brush!) in. You can also use traditional gouache in combination with your existing watercolour paints which is handy, especially if you just want to start by incorporating a few colours here and there.
When I first started using gouache I was more comfortable with acrylic paint which remains solid once dry, allowing for layering without affecting the paint underneath, so I opted for acrylic gouache which has those same features. If you go this route, I’d recommend getting a Stay-Wet Palette as well. They’ll help prevent your paint from drying out in-between uses. I'll talk more about them below. Whichever your preference, I definitely recommending giving gouache a try. It may take a bit but once you get the hang of it I know you will love it!
For those who've been wondering how to pronounce this funny looking word, I've heard it said a few different ways, but the way I learned and have always known it to be is "Gwash", as in the word "wash" with a G sound in front.
Liquitex Acrylic Gouache
Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache (Water soluble)
I don’t use a ton of watercolour but I do have a few go-to favourites which I’ll share here. As with most paint, watercolour is available in both student and artist quality. The difference being the amount of extra “filler” to pigment ratio. The pigment being the expensive part . Student quality paint has a much higher amount of filler which makes it less expensive. It also means that the colours are less vibrant both on their own and even more so when mixed, so the end result is often not great. Many beginners give up after their first few attempts, mistakenly thinking that they just aren’t good at painting, when in fact it’s the low quality paint that is making things difficult. So, If you can, I would always recommend investing in artist quality paint when possible.
If you want to save some money with student quality paints there are a few things you can do. Winsor & Newton’s Cotman watercolours are a higher end student quality paint that is a great option. You can also mix things up by purchasing your whites, browns and other neutrals in student quality and splurge when you can on the more expensive bright colours which have a much higher pigment load and will go a lot further in use as well as more vibrant mixing.
Winsor & Newton Watercolour (Artist Quality)
Daniel Smith (Artist Quality) - Offers a huge variety of really interesting colours unique to this brand.
Holbein Watercolour (Artist Quality)
Cotman Watercolour (Student Quality)
While I’m pretty particular about paint, I’m not nearly as particular about brushes. Even old splayed brushes have their uses in creating beautiful texture. For Gouache I prefer using inexpensive mixed media brushes like Robert Simmons or synthetic watercolour brushes like W&N Cotman brushes because I find the gouache tends to be a bit harder on the brush and the sturdy synthetic fibre holds up better, I also don’t feel as bad about replacing them more often. For watercolour I’d recommend using a natural bristle brush because all of the little micro imperfections in the fibre allow the brush to hold much more water and release it slowly over time, meaning you’ll have better control without the constant re-dipping. The natural curve of the fibre also makes a point that’s perfect for fine details, even with a large brush.
Cotman Watercolour Brushes (Gouache or Watercolour)
Simply Simmons Mixed Media Brushes (Gouache)
H.J 170 Kolinsky Sable Brushes (Gouache or Watercolour) - Fine detailing
W&N Professional Watercolour Sable Brushes (Artist Quality, Watercolour)
Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolour Brushes (Artist Quality, Watercolour) - A major splurge but these brushes have been known to last a lifetime and beyond. They are the best of the best.
While the hot commodity in pencils these days is Blackwing, I’m not totally sold. They look great, but in my humble opinion they are basically just a regular 6B pencil in a nice outfit. I prefer my old Staedtler Pencils for sketching. That being said, I do like to throw a Blackwing into my photo’s every now and then for the pretty factor. I hope you have yourself a little laugh whenever you spot one in my photos from now on!
Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils
Staedtler Mars Micro Mechanical pencils
I also love using a dip pen for hand lettering. I have this set from Speedball
Speedball Sketching Project Set
Palettes and Accessories
Remember a bit ago when I said I love Acrylic gouache? The biggest complaint I hear from people against using it is that it dries too fast and therefore is a waste of paint. To that I say…Nonsense! You need a Stay-Wet Palette. I was first introduced to Say-Wet palettes when I used to take art lessons after school as a child. They would keep my precious acrylic paints dry all week long until my next lesson and I’ve been using them ever since. If you’re looking for something a little prettier, and dare I say Instagram worthy, then a beautiful ceramic plate is always great or if you want to splurge, Sugarhouse Ceramic Co. makes some very beautiful ceramic palettes and other studio supplies like painter’s pots and brush rests.
Masterson’s Sta-Wet Palette
Sugarhouse Ceramics Co
Paper and Sketchbooks
When choosing a paper for illustration I’m always thinking about what is going to scan well. I look for smooth bright white paper that is thick enough to hold up to wet media and isn’t too absorbent, which causes the paint to bleed into the fibres rather than sit nicely on top of the paper. Arches Hot press is beautiful to work with but I also really like using Strathmore Mixed media pads or Canson XL Watercolour Pads because they’re a bit more economical for the way that I work. For sketchbooks I love using Moleskin as well as Global Art Hand Book Artist Journals which are very similar but have thicker paper and are slightly less expensive than Moleskin.
Arches Hot Pressed Watercolour Paper
Strathmore 300 Series Mixed Media Pad
Canson XL watercolour pad
Global Art Hand Book Artist Journals
You made it to the end! Thank you for hanging in there. That is my list so far but it's just the tip of the Iceberg! In future posts I’ll be sharing more of my artsy favourites like all of my favourite digital supplies, books and online courses.
And be sure to comment below with you’re favourite supplies!