A beginner painter just told me her first art tutor advised her to buy a basic watercolour set because she was only starting out and it wasn’t worth her while spending the money on better quality yet. It makes me want to cry with frustration, because that’s how you too easily end up hating watercolour rather than loving it and giving up before you’ve ventured very far. I was once there.
Too many watercolour paintings are wishy-washy, pale, insipid, nothingness simply because there isn’t enough pigment in each brush stroke. Better quality paints have more pigment in them. More pigment equals more intense colours, brighter colours, better results when mixed. More pigment means a little bit goes a long way.
Cheap pan watercolours are hard and you have to scrub away to get decent colour. Decent watercolours ‘dissolve’ readily, leading instantly to stronger colour. It’ll go further than you believe, and you’ll enjoy using it more.
You need only a handful of colours to start, and these will get you off to a better start than a load of cheap. Stick with pencil and paper while you save up a little more. Ask your family and friends to each get you one colour for your birthday, and build your set that way. You’re worth it.
What do I consider essential colours? A single-pigment blue, yellow, and magenta (not red). Next step would be Payne’s grey, then another blue, then another yellow.
Brands I like? Daniel Smith, Golden (aka QoR), Sennelier, Schmincke. I love the Sennelier eight-colour set (*affiliate link) as a starter set, not least because it has Payne’s grey rather than a useless white. I struggled with watercolour until I got one of these little Sennelier sets, about five years ago now, and I’ve never looked back. Suddenly it was easy to get strong colour, to get bright results. From this I ventured into Sennelier tube watercolours, putting together my own set of colours with three blues, two yellows, two greens, two reds, magenta, and Payne’s grey.
I haven’t tried Golden’s half-pan set (yet) though I do have two tube watercolour colours (quinacridone gold and quinacridone magenta) and love them for their intensity. With 12 colours, two blues, reds, and yellows, plus Payne’s grey, it looks like a great starter set too (read about it here).
Why pans rather than tubes? Because it’s one less thing to faff about. You just put brush to water to pan to paper and you’re painting.