It needn’t be expensive to take up a new medium - Tony Slater looks at the basic materials and adds up the cost.

If you want to take up painting as a hobby or you wish to try watercolour in addition to your usual medium, you will be surprised by how little it costs. To start painting, you need only (as opposed to what you would like):

  • A brush
  • Paints
  • Paper








Brushes are produced for use with different media but watercolour artists mostly use sable, squirrel or synthetic brushes. Sable is the most expensive and synthetic is the least expensive.

Brushes come in many shapes and sizes, the most common known as Round, which means the ferrule is round.

Tony’s recommendation:

Begin with a No. 14 Round synthetic brush (average cost £5).


Watercolour paints are available in both pans and tubes and in Students’ and Artists’ quality. Colours are a personal choice but remember that all colours are produced from the three primary colours: red, blue and yellow.

Tony’s recommendation:

Three tubes of Students’ quality in primary colours: a red, blue and yellow.


Watercolour paper is produced in different weights, textures and sizes, and from different materials. It is available in pads or blocks of various sizes, and in sheets usually measuring 22x30in. (56x76cm), known as full imperial.

Tony's recommendation:

Begin with a quarter imperial sheet of Bockingford 140lb (cost 45p). This makes a total outlay of just under £10. I arrived at the above prices by checking art shops and mail-order firms. If you visit your local art shop explain that you are just beginning. You should find the staff very helpful – remember that they will be hoping you become a regular customer! I found one art shop that sells a single quarter imperial sheet of paper.

Other items (but at no additional cost):

A jam jar (for a water pot)
A palette (a white dinner plate).

DEMONSTRATION The Vale of Belvoir


8ml tubes of Students’ quality watercolour in the following colours:

  • Ultramarine
  • Burnt sienna
  • Lemon yellow hue

No. 14 Round synthetic

A quarter imperial sheet of Bockingford 140lb Rough

Try this demonstration painting and see if watercolour gives you as much pleasure as it gives me.

Enjoy the experience and remember it’s only a piece of paper. If it doesn’t work the first time, there is another piece on the back (the paper costs only 25p per painting now!).

Step 1

Step 1





1. Paint the sky wet in wet using ultramarine, diluting it as you work down the page.

2. Switch to a mix of ultramarine and lemon yellow to make the pale green base for the foreground.

3. When this wash is completely dry, use different strengths and tones of a burnt sienna and lemon yellow mix to paint the barn (above).

Step 2

Step 2






1. Mix the greens using varying proportions of ultramarine and lemon yellow – use more ultramarine for a darker green.

2. While the hedges are still damp, drop in burnt sienna to create variety.

3. Paint the shadow side of the barn with ultramarine and a touch of burnt sienna to darken it slightly.

4. While this is damp, paint the end opening of the barn with a strong mix of the same two colours (ultramarine and burnt sienna) to give a soft edge.

Step 3

Step 3

The Vale of Belvoir, 51/2x71/2in. (14x19cm)

1. To finish the painting lay a wash of lemon yellow in the foreground

2. While still damp, brush the ultramarine and lemon yellow mix across the foreground from the left, and add burnt sienna in the bottom right. The direction of these brushstrokes denotes the lie of the land.

3. Use a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna to paint the open doorways of the barn.

4. Finally, add the chickens using burnt sienna (right).


My intention here is to allow you to try watercolour painting with a minimum outlay for materials. Once you have the bug, you can extend and/or invest in higher quality items.


Watercolour artists mostly use sable, squirrel or synthetic brushes. Synthetic are hard wearing but are not the best for holding water. Many manufacturers produce a mix of synthetic and sable to give both qualities with a slightly higher price tag. Sable brushes are more expensive and are favoured by many professional artists. Squirrel hair is the best hair for holding water.


You will soon be extending your range of colours. If you decide to continue painting in watercolour, you should really be investing in Artists’ quality paints. They are made of the finest pigments and will give you strong intense colours.


There are many papers available from mould-made to handmade. Try painting on different surfaces such as Hotpressed (very smooth); Not (a slight texture); and Rough.

I hope that this has given you the confidence to try watercolour painting without worrying about cost.