10 Tips for Using Cheap Watercolor Supplies PLUS 5 Reason Cheap Watercolors are Great!

Hi friends! Today I will share some tips and tricks to get the most of inexpensive student grade supplies. You can have fun while using up your student grade stash and learn a lot about watercolor technique too!

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See my top 10 tips in action in the video and refer to the list below for a written tip sheet!

My top tips! (This article includes affiliate links)
1. Use student grade color straight from the tube instead of squeezing a bunch out to dry out in a palette. You will get the vibrant result you want without the struggle of rewetting less pigmented paints. Also, often when you let student watercolor dry in a palette the paint cracks and falls out therefore wasting it. Just put a drop of each color you need on a plate when you are ready to paint, you don’t need much and the leftovers can easily be rewet so there is no waste. *The watercolors I am using in today’s demonstration are JoiArt watercolors that are $14.99 for 25 tubes.

2. Practise your brush control. You can use any grade watercolor and paper to practise making thick and thin strokes and learn good brush control. Build your muscle memory with the cheap stuff.

3. Buy a brush once. If taken care of your watercolor brushes can last a lifetime as watercolor is such a gentle paint. It is better to learn with a decent brush because you will always have it. I think a soft and pointy #8 round is an ideal brush to start with. Here are my recommendations:

4. Don’t overmix. Many student paints don’t list the pigments used and many are already mixed colors, that’s why you often make mud when you try mixing these colors. You will probably need to use more colors than you would with professional quality paints.

5. Let the colors mix on the paper rather than mixing on the palette. This will keep you from over mixing and getting a chalky or muddy mess.

Paper tips! Cheap paper is less durable than artist grade paper. It is usually made of wood pulp and often it does not have enough sizing (the material that keeps the paint from feathering.) My favorite cheaper paper to use for practise is actually 100% cotton paper made by Aquabee, it comes in 6″x9″ sheets in #90 and #140 weights and you can get 50 sheet packs for $12-$18

6. Avoid excessive scrubbing or erasing on your watercolor paper to prevent pilling.

7. Work wet on dry. You can keep vibrant colors and crisp edges.

8. When doing a background wash on cheap cellulose paper wet a section at a time then add in your colors one at a time and let them mix on the paper. This prevents part of your paper drying out on you as you complete the wash and it keeps your paint from becoming muddy.

9. Use a dry “thirsty” brush to sop up puddles in a background wash. This allows you to soak up extra water and avoid ruffle edge blooms from appearing.

10. Don’t be afraid to mix your media! If you watercolor painting is lacking the “glow” you desire, add details and shading with wax or oil based colored pencils. This will give you the luminosity can can be hard to achieve sometimes with student grade supplies. You can use ANY brand pencils you have but Prismacolors have been pretty cheap lately and that is what I prefer.

Great things about student quality watercolors:
1. They lift well.
2. They are less likely to feather on cheap paper.
3. You get many colors in a set so you can see what you really use and then only purchase those colors in artist quality as you run out. It will save you money as you only rebuy what suits you.
4. You can paint without fear of wasting precious paint!
5. They are a great way to see if watercolor is for you without a big investment.

I hope this post helps you realize that you don’t have to be rich to get a lot of enjoyment from watercolor! Hmmm, maybe the term “starving artist” came because artists were broke after buying their supplies LOL! It dosn’t have to be that way, use what you have and put paint to paper. After all it’s using the supplies and not owning them that makes you an artist. Let me know what you think in the comments below and til next time happy crafting!

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7 Responses

  1. Such great information! Using the supplies is the statement that resonated with me. I have some artist loft watercolors from Michael’s that have been sitting. You’ve made me realize I’d better get going on playing with them. Thank you for your clear and reasonable tips.

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  2. Thank you so much. Now I will not hesitate to use watercolors.

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  3. Wish I had that information years ago when I first started learning! This was excellent, now I want to go play with my old student grade watercolors and some cheapo paper I have lying around and see what I can create. Love your philosophy, you always inspire, thank you.

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  4. I am curious about the color of the paper you recommended. Is it white enough to use with standard white cardstock, or closer to ivory cardstock. I hate to waste watercolor paper for the whole card base just so there isn’t a color “gap.” I do enjoy playing with my JoiArt paints–asked for them as a Christmas gift after you reviewed them. Thanks for that!!!

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  5. Lots of great information! I think we all get caught up in having artist quality supplies, and skip the student grade. I know I do. It’s the practice that makes an artist, as you remind us! Thanks a whole bunch!

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  6. Thanks Lindsay, great advise. “BEAUTIFUL CREATION”, you are the only artist that makes CHEAP look sooo good. Relaxing watching you create and give advice.

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  7. Wow…you are amazing! That flower bud is so real looking! Great tips for using student grade watercolors…I can’t wait to employ some of these tips. You are such an encourager and I am learning little by little, thanks to you!

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