For watercolor beginners who want to know what supplies to start with, storyboard and watercolor artist Alex Hillkurtz shares the materials that he uses every day
The everyday toolkit of an artist is a very personal thing. Built through experimentation and trial and error, knowing what materials they use each day can help us learn more about their technique and give us ideas about how to experiment with or advance our own.
For over 20 years Alex Hillkurtz (@alexhillkurtzart) has worked as a storyboard artist and illustrator for feature films, television, and commercials. His urban sketches and watercolor paintings have been exhibited internationally.
In the video and guide below, he shares the materials he reaches for everyday, and explains how he uses each in his work. Whether you’re putting together a watercolor supply kit for the first time, or simply curious about what materials you can add to your practice, here are a few ideas.
1. Mechanical pencils and graphite
Compared to traditional pencils, mechanical ones offer a very consistent and fine line. Hillkurtz uses various types that use different leads, which create different lines and textures. Graphite offers a somewhat hazier and more textured effect.
2. A variety of pens
Depending on the effect you want to create with your line, you can experiment with all sorts of pens. Hillkurtz especially likes to use fine liners, gel pens, and fountain pens filled with waterproof ink.
A hard eraser will help you remove stubborn lines, while a soft malleable eraser will be gentler on the paper. Having one of each will help you better control the marks left on your working surface.
4. White china markers
Also known as grease pencils, these are a great way to add highlights to a final piece or create watercolor-resistant areas before painting.
Having something where you can create preparatory sketches will help you plan your painting and work out compositional kinks. This is helpful because it means you won’t have to overwork the drawing when it’s on the watercolor paper and can avoid making extra pencil or eraser marks that will show in the final piece.
It’s good to have a few different styles and sizes of brush so that you can easily create various textures and effects. Those with a sharp point are best for detail, while others like flat brushes are good for creating washes.
7. Paper towel, spray bottle, and water container
To help keep your brushes clean, consider supplementing your standard water container with these other two tools. A spray bottle will allow you to easily wet your palette and paper, while the paper towel can be used to clean brushes between paints or remove excess liquid.
8. Paint palette
It’s totally fine to use paints from different brands on the same palette, so don’t be afraid to mix. Hillkurtz especially likes the pigmentation of Daniel Smith colors and how well they mix together.
9. Watercolor paper
Though he uses a lot of different varieties of watercolor paper, two brands he especially loves are Canson and Arches. For those starting out, he recommends using paper that is 100% cotton and 300gsm.
10. Bone folder
If your watercolor paper comes in a block, you can use this tool or a letter opener to cleanly separate the sheets.
11. Masking tape
By marking off the borders of your paper with masking tape before you begin painting, you can create a crisp border around your final piece.
12. Passepartout materials
If you’re cutting your own passepartout to frame your finished work, you have two options:
1. A metal ruler and X-acto knife
2. A mat cutter and ruler with a rail
“There’s certainly many other options available,” says Hillkurtz, who also encourages you to test out different materials in your own work to see what you enjoy using and what new effects you can create.
Did you enjoy this guide? To learn more about watercolor and how to use it to create images filled with depth, check out Alex Hillkurtz's online course, Architectural Sketching with Watercolor and Ink.
You may also be interested in:
- Urban Landscapes in Watercolor, a course by Daniel "Pito" Campos.
- Modern Watercolor Techniques, a course by Ana Victoria Calderon.
- Experimental Watercolor Techniques for Beginners, a course by Ana Santos.