A post about a page

Bonjour mes Amis – (and that, rather embarrassingly pretty much exhausts my knowledge of the French language!). Hopefully, as you read this, I’ll be in the Dordogne region of France sheltering in the shade somewhere equidistant between my watercolours and sketchbook and a nice cold drink. More realistically of course I’ll be hot, sweaty and out of breath from haring around a campsite after my daughter!

As I expect it will take me a while to settle in and track down some wi-fi, I thought I’d post something that I’ve been working on for a short while. Over the year’s I’ve received quite a few enquiries about what paints, brushes or paper I use and I usually end up responding to such enquiries individually.

I thought it might be helpful to have a page on my site where I describe what materials I usually use so that’s what I’ve been tinkering away at. Here then is a link to my painting equipment which I will keep up to date with changes (I’m hoping, for instance, that there’ll be a major announcement coming in the autumn in relation to my palette of choice!)

And for anyone that can’t bear to click away from this post, below is what visitors to the new page will find. Should you wish to leave a comment about any of this information, it would be great if you could comment on the page, rather than on this post, so that visitors to the page will be able to follow everything more easily.

Sketching and Drawing

I always use a classic metal bodied Caran D’Ache 2mm clutch pencil for all of my sketching out and use a relatively soft 3b lead. I watched video a long time ago of an extra-ordinarily skilled artist that worked mainly in pencil. He advocated these pencils for their flexibility, ie you can use the lead long or short to suit your requirements and, the weight of the pencil remains consistent so you really get used to it. I don’t know why but this recommendation really stuck with me. I also like that the sharpener is inside the cap so I never have to worry about keeping a pencil sharpener with me! For the inevitable errors, I’m rarely far away from a kneadable putty rubber of some description.


A sheet of Saunders Waterford rough (top) and a sheet of Arches rough.

Over a number of years I’ve tried a number of different papers, each of which I’ve been happy with until I move on to the next paper! One constant however, is that I always paint on rough paper, which I find most sympathetic to my style of painting and the range of marks and textures that I try to employ in painting, from smooth graduated washes to broken dry brush marks. So far my paper journey has taken in Bockingford, Saunders Waterford and, currently Arches. For size, I mainly paint on half imperial (dimensions) or quarter imperial (dimensions) sheets of paper.


I know from my own experience that there are many different brands of watercolour to choose from, each offering such a bewildering array of enticing colours that it can be hard to know where to start. Some early advice that I received was to start with a relatively modest choice of colours and, years on, that’s pretty much where I still am today.

My earliest mentors, the likes of Edward Seago and Edward Wesson both used a similar range of colours so that to me seemed like as good a starting point as any. I understand that both also favoured Winsor and Newton paints, and who am I to argue with such wonderful exponents of the art of watercolour painting. Based on this foundation then, my current palette features the following colours from the Winsor and Newton Professional Range

  • Winsor Yellow
  • Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Light Red
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Burnt Umber
  • Cobalt Blue
  • French Ultramarine Blue
  • Winsor Blue

I’ve found this to be a great palette of colours – (and one that I think is especially suited to the more muted colours of the english landscape!). You can make just about everything that most people are ever likely to need from this palette. Another advantage is that because you have to do so much mixing – to get all your greens for instance – you get to know your palette and what it can do really well.

As I’ve developed, and moved on to some more urban scenes too, I’ve added the following colours to this basic palette:

  • Cerrulean Blue (don’t know why but, mixed with neutral tint, I find it great for tarmac!)
  • Neutral tint (for a while I played around a lot with Payne’s grey but now I much prefer Neutral tint)
  • Winsor Red (traffic lights etc!)
  • White gouache (only ever used sparingly for the odd sunlit highlight)

Oh, and lamp black. I hardly ever use this but carry it partly because of Rowland Hilder’s influence. It’s especially handy in a reduced sketching palette to get a dark tone in quickly and for some dry brush work. It also produces a great green when mixed with yellow!

I do try out the odd other colour – I recently bought a Winsor Violet to play with – but the ones listed above are my staples.

Even though I’ve been painting for a good many years now, I still feel like I’m getting to know my palette, what the colours can do, how they work together, their individual and combined characteristics. So, I don’t suggest that this selection is in any way a definitive. It’s just the selection of paints that I currently use, and which may be helpful to be aware of when looking at any of my paintings.

If I do have a top tip, once you’ve settled on your essential list, buy the large 37ml tubes of paint when the major retailers are having their sales. Compared to buying smaller tubes they just represent much better value for money.


Well, I certainly don’t have enough time to cover the full gamut of brushes that I’ve tried, but here’s a selection of my current favourites. I won’t list sizes as this is personal from one person to the next. My general rule of thumb however, which isn’t of my own making but one I’ve adopted along the way, is to try to paint with a slightly larger brush than seems appropriate for the job in hand!


Again, I’ve tried lots of different palettes and my current favourites are from the Holbein range of enamelled palettes, the Holbein 1000 and the smaller Holbein 500 – both of which are simply laid out with ample space for being generous with mixes and washes.

For small sketches and for travelling with, my favourite palette is my beloved Frazer Price Palette Box. This isn’t the best palette in the world by any means, but I love the history and heritage of these palettes – plus I’ve been able to customise it to better suit my style painting – and I do like a bit of personalisation!



In action…

I prefer to paint standing up so I use an easel for all of my painting (with the exception of just sketching). I use a basic camera tripod and have my painting boards fitted with camera tripod adaptors such as this one from Ken Bromley art supplies.

For quarter sheets, I have a homemade board and paper carrier and there’s a brief slideshow of this set up below.

For half sheets, I have a plain piece of 6mm MDF that’s been cut to size and then sealed with Danish Oil, and mounted onto another tripod bracket.

Sundry items

  • Bucket of water
  • Water spray
  • Kitchen towel
  • Sponge
  • Tool for scraping

I hope that this may be of some interest and maybe even of some assistance to others. Have I missed anything? What’s the one item of equipment, colour of paint or type of brush you simply couldn’t live without? Let me know in the comments section of my watercolour equipment page.

As I say, I expect this list to be constant ‘work in progress’ so I’m always on the lookout for anything that will contribute to me being a better – or even just a happier painter!


Thoughts on A post about a page

21 thoughts on “A post about a page”

  1. Thanks for listing that lot, John. Would you believe Burnt Sienna is the only colour we have in common?! But there wouldn’t be much point in following your blog if you were just like me, would there?

    1. What, out of all those colours we only have one in common!? How do you survive? I’m not sure what I’d do with French ultramarine and Raw Sienna! Would love to get a run-down on your ‘alternative’ palette!!

    1. Hi Carsten and thanks for this. The Dordogne was great, very beautiful and very hot too! fortunately we were in a forest so lots of shade but it was still hard to keep my paints wet in the heat!

      1. Oh, I know what you are talking about, John! I had plans for so many plein-air sessions this summer… but it was almost impossible this summer. Just to hot! Now I am hoping for a friendly fall. 🙂

        1. I feel bad as I spend most summers bemoaning how poor the weather is and now I’m complaining about how hot it’s been! I’ve enjoyed the sketching I’ve done outdoors, and this has been just about manageable because I’ve been working small (A5 /A4) and trying to paint quite quickly too – anything larger would I think be really difficult. I’ll also be keeping my fingers crossed for a milder fall!

          1. Actually I did enjoy the hot days – I just had to change my plans a little… and do less painting and more relaxing. But a long plein air season later this year would be great (and a great practice for me).

          2. Ah yes, it’s good to remember just how important relaxing is too! Hopefully we’ll both be able to get out and do a little more plein air towards the end of the summer and early autumn!

  2. For those not in the UK. Guerilla Painter’s has a tripod mount. I’ve seen it on amazon and I think Judson’s also carries it.

    Nice rundown, John. I especially like the color palette and brush rundown.

    Looking forward to seeing what you paint in France.

    1. Thanks for this Mary, and for the alternative source for the tripod mount, really helpful. I haven’t started it yet but now that I’m back and have some internet access again, I hope to show a little more of what I got up to on the painting front in this week’s post!

  3. Very interesting, John! I will have to come back and read this more thoroughly when I have un-jetlagged a bit! I really hear you about the reality of vacation as opposed to the ‘painters dream’ version we imagine before we set off! Hope you have had/are having a good time!! 🙂

    1. Thanks Hilda, really glad you liked the look of this post and hope that you’ve recovered from your jetlag! I’m just about coming to terms with my return from holiday and my re-entry to ‘normal’ life!

      1. Yes thanks! I always find jet-lag SO much easier coming back to the US. It is kind of hard, getting back to ‘normal’, isn’t it?! I always find myself resisting and fighting against any kind of structure and schedule, more than usual 😉

        1. haha, yes I quite understand! for me, after a summer holiday, it’s the weird feeling of putting a pair of shoes on again after two weeks of wearing nothing but sandals – always feels like I’m imprisoning my feet!

    1. So pleased you liked this post and yes, the texture (and brightness) of the Arches paper is great and, in my opinion, well worth the extra £££s!

  4. A great post John – I’m always interested to know what materials other watercolour painters use and it’s useful information for people just starting out too who might need a little help in deciding what to buy…

    1. Hi Evelyn and many thanks for this, much appreciated – do let me know if you think I’ve missed anything, or by all means suggest alternatives to anything that I’ve mentioned or that I use! Thanks Evelyn

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