Watercolor Glossary: Paints for Beginners Part 1 [Student or Artist Paints?]

Watercolor, Watercolor Glossary

Welcome back! If you’re new here, you can catch up on the Watercolor Glossary posts for beginners by reading all about watercolor paper here, and all about watercolor brushes here! Today, we’re going to have a little chat about paints. A quick note: there is enough material about paper, brushes, and paints to fill many, many books. The goal of these first three entries in the Glossary has been to create a non-intimidating reference for beginners. Make sure you let me know if you have anything specific you’d like me to cover! You can comment below or email me at hello (at) alexsgardenstudio (dot) com.

And now–on to the paints!

When I started painting, I used what was already around the house. It was a plastic palette with pans of Winsor & Newton Cotman paints and it served me very well indeed. After painting for a while, my dad (who shares my love of art supplies) offered to buy me some artist level paints. What a dad! I was TOTALLY overwhelmed by the options though, and relied on the Helpful Australian Lady who worked at the supply store to recommend something.

When she heard I had learned to paint with student-quality paints she said it was like I’d learned to climb Mount Everest with one arm, and I was about to be given another whole arm.

Which leads me to one of the biggest distinctions when you’re learning to paint: student-grade or artist-grade? Artist-grade paint is a lot more expensive, and I recommend starting with student quality until you master some of the basic techniques and essentials, but if you can afford the good stuff, go for it. Learn to climb Mount Everest with two arms from the get-go.

So, what’s the difference between student and artist paints?

At its most basic form, paint is primarily made out of pigment (which provides the color) and binder (which holds it all together). Oil paint is a mixture of pigment and oil; acrylic paint is a mixture of pigment and a plasticky binder, and watercolor paint is pigment and (usually) gum arabic. There can be a few other things lurking in your paint, too, especially as companies develop proprietary mixtures or binders to enhance the performance of their paints.

When you buy artist- or professional-grade paint, you are buying a lot more pigment. The colors are deeper, move better, and have a brighter and purer consistency because there is more pigment. Pigment is the thing that makes the price go up, though, and so student-grade paint has less pigment and more filler. Remember the cheap little Crayola palettes or art-class palettes way back in grade school? Those are almost all filler. Cheaper paints can leave a chalky residue. There are very poor student-quality paints and very high quality student paints.

Ready for some recommendations?

Here are some I’ve personally tried and can recommend. If you’ve enjoyed a different brand let us know in the comments!

These are Cotman colors and are also what I frequently use in the Essential Watercolor Kit that I create and sell. (Click here for more info!) I learned to paint with these, the quality is good and they are significantly less expensive than the professional paints. They can handle lots of essential techniques, don’t have too much filler, and have good wet-in-wet action.

Grumbacher makes good student paints as well, and Van Gogh is worth checking out.

If you click on “Watercolor Paints” on the Blick website, they have them all organized between tubes, pans, and if you scroll down you’ll see they have a whole section of paints labelled “Student” where you can check out all the different student-quality paints.

Tune in next week for more on watercolor paints! Tubes, pans, or liquids? What kind of palettes? Where do pigments come from?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s