Beginner Watercolor Supplies on a $30 Budget
The most common question I get is something along the lines of:
“What materials are best for beginners?”
I also get messages like this a lot:
“I want to be good, but I can’t afford the expensive stuff.”
If this is something you’ve thought to yourself, you’re not alone. When I first started doing watercolor, I nearly jumped out of my skin after I saw how much professional-grade supplies cost. Those prices are not for the faint of heart, especially if your only experience with watercolor is casually passing by the $5 palettes at your local craft store.
While I stand by “the good stuff” when it comes to art supplies, especially if you’re having a go at selling your art and/or making it a business, beginning your watercolor journey doesn’t have to come with the kind of price tag that forces you to choose between art and health insurance. You can get decent supplies perfect for beginners at a killer price, and that’s what this post is about.
Here’s my Watercolor Starter List on a Tiny Budget -- everything you’ll need for under $30.
Note: The following list contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. There is no additional cost for you to use these links.
Paint: (3) Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Tubes - $9.81
With a world of paint colors at your fingertips, believe me when I say I feel you when it comes to the temptation to BUY ALL THE PAINT.
But did you know that you can get 100+ different colors just by mixing different amounts of THREE base colors?
The Primary Colors are red, yellow, and blue, and they make up every hue in the watercolor rainbow.
Not only is limiting your initial purchase to the three Primary Colors great for your wallet, but it also gives you an excellent opportunity to start your journey off with a solid foundation in color theory and mixing. There are loads of YouTube tutorials and free courses on color theory out there, so it won’t cost you anything but some watercolor playtime to learn these essential basics.
Also, as far as paint quality goes, W&N Cotman is top-of-the line in the student-grade class. There are beginner palettes and pan sets from other brands that I love as well, but those sets are usually $20+. With this list, I wanted to keep the cost WAY down and the quality high, and W&N Cotman fits that bill.
My recommended starter hues in the W&N Cotman family are:
Alizarin Crimson Hue (8mL) - $3.27
Lemon Yellow Hue #1 (8mL) - $3.27
Prussian Blue (8mL) - $3.27
Mixing Palette - $1.03
In order to put those Primary Colors to use, you’re going to need a mixing palette. You don’t *have* to purchase anything to mix your colors if you have a plate or a dish to spare, but if you’d like a designated mixing tray, this is a good one to start with.
Plastic Tray Palette - $1.03
Brushes: (2) Princeton SNAP! Series - $10.83
When it comes to watercolor brushes, a couple high-quality ones can take you far.
The best watercolor brushes have excellent “snap-back” capabilities (meaning they keep their shape), so that you can use the belly of the brush for large washes and still create thin hairline strokes with the tip of the same brush. Not all brushes are created equal, and I’d typically recommend you just spend the money on the best brushes.
Luckily for you, the maker of my favorite brushes (Princeton) also makes quality budget-friendly brushes.
Enter the Princeton SNAP! Series -- markedly superior to other brushes in its price class, and perfect for a beginner to get the hang of painting.
Because of the snap-back effect, two sizes are really all you need to get started. A size 6 can give you coverage for average pieces as well as small detailing when you lightly use the tip, and a size 12 ups your game to larger illustrations and washes.
My recommended brushes in the Princeton SNAP! Series are:
Round, Size 6 - $4.74
Round, Size 12 - $6.09
Paper: Canson XL + Legion Mini Pad - $7.04
When I first started painting, the kind of paper to buy almost seemed like an afterthought.
Paint and brushes certainly matter a lot more, right?
Of all the problems different people come to me with regarding their watercolor practice, I would say that 90% of them could be solved with higher-quality paper.
THAT SAID. This is a budget-friendly list, and the best watercolor paper (100% cotton, acid-free, at least 140 lb, cold press) can get pricey. I’d recommend starting out with student-grade paper for all of your practice, and then when you feel ready, making the plunge to better paper as your first investment purchase when your budget opens up.
My go-to student-grade watercolor paper is Canson XL. It’s heavy enough to take a few washes, and it has enough tooth to give you that nice watercolor paper texture.
But if you are desperate to try professional-grade paper, here's a cute little mini option to fulfill all of your sample-size dreams. Legion’s Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress Mini Pad is a small pad filled with tiny pieces of high-quality paper, and it’s the perfect way to try out the good stuff without having to break the bank.
Canson XL Watercolor Pad - $5.22
Grand Total: $28.71
I know what it’s like to resent your “cheap” supplies for “holding you back.” It’s easy to believe that all of your artist dreams could come true if only you had all the money in the world, right?
That’s a nice thought, but the reality is that as much as you rely on your tools, your tools also rely on you. The only “magic formula” I know of to make a successful artist is… practice! The more you practice, the better you’ll be. And if you get the basics down now with quality budget-friendly supplies like the ones on this list, the payoff will be so sweet when you finally make the jump to higher-quality stuff.
No matter what you’re painting with, you can create something beautiful. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”
P.S. If this post was helpful for you on your watercolor journey, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.