I get this question all the time from my students as well as professional artists. If you delve into the world of art supplies you will find so many different brands. Just for paint there art tons of choices. You can go with Windsor Newton, Holbein, Sennelier, Old Holland, Weber, Gamblin, Grumbacher and on and on. Each artist has his favorite and will swear it is the only brand to use.
I have often read that an artist should use only the best brands of art supplies as they achieve the best results. This of course, means paying the absolute most for your supplies. In terms of watercolor paper, the best is generally considered Arches. For a block of 18″ X 24″ Arches 140 pound paper, it can cost you $70.00. This is a lot of money for paper! In addition, a 14 ml. tube of Windsor Newton watercolor paint can cost as much as $28.00 depending upon the color and it’s ingredients. Again, a lot of money!
I have found you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg for the most expensive brand names in order to have good quality art supplies. Personally, I like to order my supplies from Dick Blick. Blick is a catalog company that offers almost every type of art supply and brand that you can imagine and provides a fairly reasonable discount on them. They also sell a number of supplies under their brand name. I like Blick’s artists’ watercolors. They are a few dollars cheaper than than most designer brands, and I have found the colors to be rich, responsive, and color fast. In short, they are as good as anything else I have tried. I also use Blick’s watercolor brushes. You don’t have to buy a $60.00 red sable brush to paint great pictures! The brush I use most often is Blick’s Masterstroke short handled number 10 round. It sells for around $14.00. On occasion I also use the much less expensive student grade brushes that I buy for my high school students. They do a pretty good job as well.
As for paper, I certainly do not use Arches. Nor, do I use Dick Blick’s watercolor paper. The first is way to expensive, and the latter unfortunately doesn’t work that well. I have tried Blick’s paper, but find it too absorbent and prone to bleeding around the edges. My preference is Strathmore’s 400 series 140 lb. pads, which sell for around $18.00. Strathmore’s paper takes the paint well and can be corrected with reasonable success. For me, it is equal to Arches for a fraction of the price.
I am reminded of when my father was teaching me to play golf. He grew up poor and could not afford good clubs, a large bag, or any of the other golf amenities. He carried a small lightweight bag with only a handful of clubs. However, he would regularly beat those players who had all accouterments. He said that a good practiced stroke is worth far more than any club in your bag. The same could be said of art supplies.
The most important key to success as an artist is to have a unique vision and to practice. If you do that, you can make good artwork out of almost anything. The famous abstract artist, Cy Twombly shuns traditional painting methods and applies his paint with all different types of tools and mark making apparatus. Stay true to your vision and practice your craft daily. Then begin to experiment with different band names and find what works for you.