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The Watercolors, Paper, and Brush Self-Taught Artist Ashley Longshore Swears By

The author getting lost in a watercolor session. Photo: Ashley Longshore

When I first started creating art, before I ever sold a painting, I found a lot of joy in watercoloring, a medium that can be as beautiful as it is simple. Watercolors are so fluid: Even if you’re not painting something figurative or pastoral, the ease of it all makes watercolor one of the most relaxing ways to paint. Did I mention that I’m a self-taught artist? Way before I was compared to to Andy Warhol and collaborating with Bergdorf Goodman, New York Fashion Week, and Miley Cyrus, I started doing watercolors of my moods, with different shades of pink flowing into red. Then I moved on to painting still lifes with boxes of tampons and phallic fruit from my refrigerator. The end results almost always felt like successes, and rarely ever failures, because the flow of the color and the movement of a brush on paper is extremely meditative.

Because of my hardcore crush on watercolors, I’ve tried a lot of different palettes, from minuscule $400 sets that bled together like Easter egg dye, to cheaper ones with colors that would crack when they dried, to too simple kits that wouldn’t appease a toddler on a sugar high. Not all are created equal, and this Kuretake Gansai Tambi palette is my favorite: It has one of the widest ranges of colors and the best pigmentation. There may be less expensive “beginner” sets, but those often have very light pigmentation, resulting in paintings that lack any real depth of color. The Kuretake palette can also take a beating (I travel with mine) and never results in a big mess, making it kid-friendly, too.

Editor’s note: The set is currently available for pre-order from Blick, which expects to have more in stock on April 17.

All watercolor paper is also not created equal, even though it may all kind of look the same. I often think of it like sushi — you can get it from the gas station, or you can get it from Nobu, and you will notice a difference. Choosing it can be as subjective as picking what kind of underwear to wear: There’s rough paper, smooth paper, loose-leaf paper, paper in ringed notebooks. I personally love using these Arteza pads — I find their paper to be the perfect medium between too smooth and too rough. The packaging also makes watercoloring feel kind of like journaling, since I’m doing it in what’s basically a notebook.

My favorite set of KingArt brushes for watercolor work all have a single, angled tip — I highly recommend them for beginners, because each is like three brushes in one: You can use the point of each brush for detail; the entire brush head to paint larger areas; and the length (or side) of the brush head to create fine lines. (If you don’t need or want the full set, you can get by with just using this KingArt 5/8-size brush.) Beyond paint, paper, and brush, the only supplies I use are a folded napkin (to dab any extra water from the brush head) and, of course, a cup of water. Painting is as simple as “priming” the paper — or taking a wet brush to it to make it damp, but not too damp — and then rewetting the brush and starting to paint. Once you have the tools, watercolor is really all about creativity. There are no rules. Make it your own. Get lost in the colors. It’s good for the soul.

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The Watercolors ‘Self-Taught’ Artist Ashley Longshore Loves