WATERCOLOR PAPER + BOARD | This is the most important part of the process and should only be the good stuff. Skimping will be sooooo frustrating and discouraging. I use 140lb or heavier, 100% cotton paper; my favorites are Arches or Saunders Waterford. You can find these types of paper in loose sheets, pads, or in blocks. Texture is a personal preference, for non-portraits I use a Rough or Cold Press. For portraits, I prefer Aquabord or a smooth, hot press in 300 - 400 lb.
PALETTE | Watercolor palettes should allow for mixing juicy puddles. My favorite is the Holbein 1000 that I bought on EBay. This type of enameled palette needs a quick prep: scrub the white mixing areas with a Mr. Clean sponge and toothpaste.
I also use:
Cheap Joe’s American Journey Cavalcade Porcelain Palette This porcelain palette is very heavy and it’s designed for use in the studio. I love the way the paint reacts to the ceramic surface [no beading!] and the cover keeps the paint wet for a long time.
Shy Artist Palette This little palette is super light weight and great for plein air adventures.
BRUSHES | I love the Escoda Perla series. These brushes are a great all-around.
Three to get started: small [size 2-4], medium [size 8-10], large [size 14-16].
I do have flats and a few “special” brushes, that I like for certain effects:
Size 0 Raphael Kolinsky round for details.
ProArte swords, small, medium, large. These are my fave for branches or rigging.
Cat tongue or oval size ¾” by Silver Brush Black Velvet. It does a good wash.
Flats by Silver Brush Black Velvet. Inches: 1, ¾, ½, and 1½ .
Rigger Round by Escoda Versatil size 10. It’s great for foliage.
Rosemary and Co. extended point size 16.
Blick Wonderwhite Scrubber size 4.
PAINT | I only use paint from tubes; never the dry cakes. My favorite brands are Daniel Smith, M. Graham [this contains honey, which keeps it gooey, but also attracts insects when outdoor painting], Winsor Newton, and Holbein. Avoid student-grade paints; they're going to be weakly pigmented [insert sad face here] and are not cost effective.
Primaries - Pyrrole Red / French Ultramarine Blue / Permanent Yellow Lemon
Basics - the essentials to get started
Blues: Cerulean, Cobalt, French Ultramarine
Reds: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Pyrrol Red, Quinacridone Rose Madder
Yellows: Hansa, Lemon, New Gamboge
Earth Tones: Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Permanent White Gouache (Gouache is opaque – it's NOT a transparent watercolor)
Extended Convenience Colors - Ochre / Aureolin Yellow / Undersea Green / Permanent Green / Phthalo Green Cobalt Turquoise / Cobalt Teal / Phthalo Blue / Indigo / Mineral Violet / Opera Pink / Quinacridone Red / Venetian Red / Pyrrol Scarlet / Permanent Orange / Van Dyke Brown
SKETCHBOOK | My current store-bought favorite is the Pentalic Aqua Journal. But, my preferred form sketchbook is the homemade kind, using all 100% cotton paper.
ART BOARD | Masonite, Gator Board, or even channeled-plastic sign blanks – all work well. My favorite is the Incredible Art board. It’s sturdy, light weight, and cuts with a blade.
TAPE | I typically use artist’s tape 1” size in white, because it's the least distracting for me. Good ol’ masking tape will also work.
WATER | Two good-sized containers. I also use a spray bottle.
PAPER TOWELS | Viva in plain white.