ART MEDIUMS Watercolor artist 3 Comments 2 min read

Watercolor Painting FAQ: Brushes, Paints and More

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Get a Stellar Watercolor Painting Every Time With These Tips

There are certain aspects of painting that are true essentials: Basic elements such as perspective, value, shape, color and texture, for example. Add to this the principles of design, elements for specifically painting landscapes or portraits, and then top it off with the ins and outs of using one of the most popular mediums, and you have a recipe for watercolor painting.

Fruit and Artichoke Half by Laurin McCracken, watercolor painting.
Fruit and Artichoke Half by Laurin McCracken, watercolor painting.
Watercolor painting advice | Laurin McCracken,
Heritage (watercolor on paper, 20×27) by Laurin McCracken. Article contributions from Cherie Haas.

The best way to get started is to get the right information straight from the experts. Laurin McCracken, a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, is just such an expert. He recently shared the answers to the most common watercolor painting questions he gets from students and collectors alike regarding the materials he uses. Enjoy!


Don’t miss the opportunity to work and learn with Laurin McCracken himself! His Art Fest workshop—The Art of the Still Life: Painting Silver & Crystal in Watercolor Realism—is filling up fast!

Watercolor FAQs with Laurin McCracken

Paint brushes

When I first started painting, I assumed my biggest expense would be paint. In truth, my biggest expense has turned out to be brushes. Painting fine details the way I do quickly wears down the points of the brushes, and having fine points is the key to creating fine details. After a brush starts to wear, I move it to my plein air painting kit.

I use kolinsky and synthetic kolinsky sable round brushes. I have sizes 10 and 12 for background washes, but the brushes I use most often for painting my detailed silver still-life objects are sizes 0 to 6. Of those, the ones I turn to most frequently are Nos. 3 and 4. I also have some flat brushes that I use on large background areas and a range of synthetic brushes for lifting and creating special effects such as marble and wood grain.

Escoda Signature Series Artist Watercolor Brush Set, Laurin McCracken

This set of 3 fine artist paint brushes was selected by the artist, Laurin McCracken and include Versatil Round synthetic kolinsky watercolor brushes in size 4, 6, 10

Great for

Watercolor and acrylic painters.

Watercolor Paper

I’ve found Fabriano’s Artistico 300 lb. Soft Press, which is ideal for my still-life paintings. While it’s very much like a hot-pressed paper, it’s still soft enough to absorb the paint and therefore can react to the two-brush technique the way I want it to. From time to time, I use hot-pressed paper if I want really sharp hard edges, such as when I’m painting cut crystal. I use 300-lb. paper exclusively. I hate to waste time stretching paper, and I like the stability of the thicker paper.

Fabriano Artistico 300 lb. Soft Press 10-Pack 22×30

Fabriano Artistico Watercolor paper Extra White is a new soft press paper with deckle edges. It is 22 x 30 640 gsm and has a unique Italian texture. It is made of 100% cotton, acid free, chlorine free, and suitable for wet media and printing. It is a hybrid of hot-press and cold-press, based on artists’ feedback.


Honestly, I get more emails asking me about the rich blacks in my paintings than I do about any other subject. I don’t use lamp black or India ink; I mix my own blacks. Using Daniel Smith watercolors, I start with Prussian blue and then add alizarin crimson and the deepest violet or magenta I can find. I mix a lot of this black at a time and store it in baby food jars. When I go to use this black in a painting, I may mix in some yellows or earth tones such as burnt sienna, depending on how opaque I want the mixture or how warm or cool I want it.

DANIEL SMITH Prussian Blue

DANIEL SMITH Alizarin Crimson

DANIEL SMITH Cobalt Violet Deep

This article was originally posted in 2017. Updated in September, 2023

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Join the Conversation!

  1. Thank you for sharing all of these tips, perspectives and information here Master Laurin. This is exactly the kind of style in this medium I want to aspire to and in this kind of excellence. I look forward to seeing and studying under you soon and again next year.

  2. Courtney, Thank you for posting this “snippet” about my art. I hope it will be helpful to those who read it. Laurin

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