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?



dirt on my face, family, friends, friendship, garden, photography, small town life, Uncategorized

Good morning!

This past week was a pretty good one. There were, of course, good moments and bad moments, but looking at it as a whole, it was a successful week. Now, if only I had better short-term memory, I could tell you exactly why it was a good week and what we did, but I’ll need to look at the archives (AKA pictures on my iPhone) to remember exactly what happened.

First of all, in Breaking Garden News, we have our first tomato!!!




Sister looks on in amazement at the tiny green tomato

I submitted a painting to a contest meant to benefit a local arts group. The jury planned to select twenty works of art and then in September there is an auction where the proceeds are split between the artist and the charity. They were meant to respond by Monday and since I didn’t hear anything, I figured they just notified the winners. It was a little disappointing, but it felt good just to submit something.

But THEN, late Thursday night they sent an email and said they had accepted my painting! It is a botanical watercolor of peonies, and I am so excited!!




These are a couple botanical prints I’ve been working on this week. I’m hoping that by the end of the summer I’ll have enough to do a small show or even open an online store to sell prints and original paintings. That is exciting, right?!

Sister got her first byline and was published in the local paper. Junior Ace Reporter!!

Both brothers had good news about their respective jobs, which is great.

On Thursday we went with our cousin to one of my favorite places ever…the Book Barn.


The resident cat, who I’m pretty sure runs the place, is named Dickens, which is a name that works on several levels.

It is a big, dilapidated barn in the absolute middle-of-nowhere filled to the brim with books about anything you can think of. It is a place full of inspiration and magic, and I love, love, love it there.

Uncle Gee and Aunt T invited us to Tanglewood to see a jazz band with them on Friday night, and we accepted because we love to do stuff! I’m SO GLAD WE ACCEPTED because it was one of the best concerts I’ve been to, SO FUN.

The band is called the Hot Sardines, and I would liken it to…the closest you can get to a roaring party in a 1920’s speakeasy. We also had FRONT ROW SEATS, bantered a bit with the band, met the lead singer afterwards and had the best time.


See the guy in the cream colored fedora? He is the band’s resident mobster/tap-dancer. At first, I thought, does he just sit there and tap his feet the whole time? BUT THEN HE DANCED and now I think every band should have a resident tap-dancer. Furthermore, their rendition of Summertime gave me goosebumps.


That was a great and spontaneous treat and a wonderful end to the week. Here’s a video from their YouTube page to give you an idea of the music:

Plus, they inspired me to work on a Secret Project which I’ve been thinking about all weekend. I have more than one Secret Project going on right now and I’ll have to fill you all in at some point…here’s a slo-mo video of one of my secret-works-in-progress…


Secret Project: dirt on my face and everywhere else, too. 

We also got to see the best of little cousins again this week. I love spending time with those two kids, they are the sweetest and most imaginative little buddies to have around. And they give great hugs!



I’ve also had some of my flowers bloom in the past week, and that fills me up. I love the vegetables, but flowers are food for the soul, I’m pretty sure.


I played tennis for the first time in over a year and I won, which felt great! Plus, Sister and I have kept up going to Pilates, which we started a few weeks ago. I LOVE PILATES. The class is Wednesday and Friday mornings and I think Sis and I are the youngest people there by about 30 years? Great. A class full of retired women is just my speed. Pilates is fun and it is also hard, but I like all of the breathing and stretching breaks, and if the soreness I’ve felt for the last couple days is any indication, it’s a WORKOUT.


Okay! That’s it from around these parts, tune in next time for a garden progress report!