Do you Need Expensive Art Supplies for Great Watercolour Results?
Once upon a time I was a semi-professional wildlife photographer, taking pictures of nature for magazines and websites on a regular basis and I’d always hear the same thing when someone viewed a good quality picture………. ‘I must get myself a decent camera’ whilst being completely ignorant of the fact that to get great photos takes a lot more than a ‘good camera’, and pretty much the same thought applies to art and the materials used by great artists. I’d like to point out here that I don’t consider my photos or art to be ‘great’….. But you know what I mean.
Expensive Art Supplies Means Great Results?
I won’t hide the fact that I do tend to use expensive supplies for most of my work – in fact I’ll be the first to admit that I have far too much and continue to spend far too much on my supplies, BUT I do this because I enjoy trying out new things and experimenting with all manner of different paints, inks, brushes and papers, and for this reason I think I’m slightly better qualified to talk on the subject of expensive and inexpensive supplies as I’ve tried most over the years. I must have a collection of a least 1,000 (conservative estimate) of pens, pencils and brushes that I’ve collected over the years – but I do use them!
Expensive art materials on the whole are great! BUT they won’t make anyone using them a better artist by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, someone completely new to art may find expensive art supplies more challenging to master. For example, cheaper synthetic brush fibres do tend to be a little easier to use than the finest sable hair brush. Synthetic Nylon fibres tend to be slightly more ‘springy’ and easier to control the paint with. Natural hair brushes are soft, won’t keep their form and they will absorb the pigment back from the paper quickly (if using watercolours) so they take a little getting used to. You can pick up a high-quality synthetic brush for a few pounds or dollars. Some Sable brushes are very expensive, the sky is the limit. To give you an idea, the synthetic brushes that I currently use cost £5/6 ($7/8) each. My natural hair brushes cost about £25/40 ($33/$53) each. I still use my cheaper brushes on a regular basis though as they are better at certain tasks where their counterparts are not necessarily as good, and some of my expensive brushes are nothing short of a pain in the backside as sometimes they split a little easier than synthetics and cause unwanted smears.
Expensive Paints Vs Cheap Paints
One of the things you pay for with expensive paints is ‘Lightfastness’, so first let me explain what this strange word means!
Lightfastness is a term that applies to dyes or pigments used in paints and other materials designed to colour objects or cover paper. Lightfastness essentially gives you an idea of how well the colour will cope with exposure to UV light over a period of time…… i.e. will it fade?
Paints or coloured pencils that are ‘lightfast’ will cost more than those that are not – often many times more. You don’t really require your materials to be particularly lightfast unless you expect your work to be hung on the wall. I use lightfast materials when working on client commissions because they will mostly be on display, but if I’m working on illustrations that are simply going to be scanned and used as illustrations in a book or converted to a digital file then it really doesn’t matter if it offers a high resistance to fading over time because in all likelyhood the original is going to be filed away and only the digital copies will be used. It’s a waste of money to use expensive paints if there is not real need to do so. The same rules apply to coloured pencils, watercolour pencils and pens.
I have included a couple of paints that I use here. The Winsor and Newton Cotman range (the larger tube) is ideal student grade paint, and then the other two are professional grade and offer good resistance to fading. There are much cheaper non-branded alternatives on the market too which are worth trying – especially if you are learning or painting for fun.
Expensive Pencils mean Great Results, or do they?
For getting your idea onto paper most of us will use a pencil, and like other materials out there you can spend pennies or large chunks of change for a pencil. Pencils of any type tend to be OK for sketching out your ideas onto paper. Just choose a good all round hardness of pencil, such as HB or 2B for example. I own pencils that cost 50p (0.66 cents) to mechanical pencils, such as my Rotring 800 that cost about £80 ($106), but other than weight and balance, they won’t make any difference to your skills – I make as many mistakes with the expensive pencils as I do with the ‘free’ ones from Argos…. Shhhh!
It’s all about the Paper!
The only art material that I’d advise paying as much as you can for (if using watercolours) would be the paper. Cheap and nasty paper or paper that is not designed for watercolour will only serve to put you off painting. Poor paper will wrinkle like a prune when it’s wet and some is always a nasty off-white colour that will affect your results. Think of watercolour like fine translucent film and the white of the paper acting as your source of light. If that source of light is dull, then so will be your finished results. You don’t have to spent a small fortune on paper, but just get the best that you can reasonably afford. I use papers that cost from around £5/6 ($7/8) a pad of 25 sheets all the way to paper that can cost £20 ($28) per sheet!
Luckily for me I have a great supplier of the art materials that I use, so I’m able to obtain most of it in bulk for much lower than high-street prices, but I have to buy this way as I use up a lot of supplies. For most of us (including me until recently) we won’t need a huge volume of bits and bobs, and you don’t need to spend a huge sum on the ‘best’ or ‘most expensive’ range of supplies either – they won’t make you a better artist, only time, patience and plenty of practise will do this.