Basic supplies to get started with watercolor

To get started with watercolor, you will need some basic supplies. I recommend buying professional grade supplies than the entry level student grade supplies because the quality of your material will significantly influence your results and confidence.



There are many types of watercolor paper and it comes in different sizes, weights and different surface textures.

The weight is directly reflecting the thickness of the paper. It is measured in grams per square metre (gsm) or pound per ream (lb). The higher the number, the thicker the paper. Common weight are 190gsm (90lb), 300gsm (140lb), and 638gsm (300lb).

190 gsm paper is thin and it is more for students or beginners.

300 gsm paper is most commonly used among serious painter including professional artists.

636 gsm paper is much thicker like cardboard.

The surface of the watercolor paper has different textures including rough, medium rough (also known as cold press) and smooth (hot press). Different surface texture will give you very different result so you should try them out and determine which give you the desired effect. Rough watercolor paper will add texture to your washes. When you apply a lot of paint, the paint will settle in the little wells of the paper and if you apply dry brushes, it will give you the roughness of the surface which is very nice for rough wall. The hot press paper with its very smooth surface, tends to give you brighter, more vivid color.

Rough          Cold press     Hot press


You can also use the back side of your paper if the different surface is what you like.


Normally watercolor pigment comes in two forms: pan or tube. Pans are more convenient but it is more difficult to use for large wash as it is more difficult to gather enough paint. With tubes you can squeeze as much as little pigment as you like.

Pigment is one of the important factor that affecting your final painting. There are some student grade pigments which are much cheaper. However, the color of these watercolor pigment usually are less saturated you will need to apply a lot of pigment to achieve the result. Student grade watercolor paint also usually will fade over time. It is recommended to go for professional grade watercolor paint if you are serious about watercolor painting.


Watercolor brushes come in different shapes and sizes. They are made by different materials. Some use natural hair like sable and squirrel, some use synthetic. The best and most expensive ones are the sable brushes which have good spring and can absorb a lot of water.

You only need a few brushes to get started. A small round brush either number 4, 5 or 6 for general use, a medium fat brush (1/2 inch) for square shape, a large big fat (1-2 inch) or round brush (#8 or 10) for washes will be sufficient. If you like paint detailed work, a smaller round brush will be useful.

Sable or squirrel brushes are good and expensive. They hold a lot of water and give a very good sharp point. However, synthetic brushes are getting better nowadays and are much more affordable.


They come in many different sizes and shapes. To get started, you can buy some inexpensive 12 or more welled plastic palettes with a few large mixing areas like the one below.



Find anything from a glass, or jar, or small bucket to hold clean water (tap water is fine). You could also buy container designed specifically for watercolor that has more than one compartments and has holes to hold your brushes.

Photography Basics – Composition part II

Pay attention to the background

  • Avoid distractive background like lamp poles, tree branches, etc. that seems to be growing from your subjects’ head or sticking out from you main subjects
  • Avoid busy background and avoid subject merging with background and foreground
    • Look around and move around for a plain/simple background and compose your shot so that it does not create distraction from your main subject
  • For portraits shot, it is always desired to separate subject and background

Example on the left below, the bamboo happens to be right at the top of the Christmas tree. It is a bit distracting and will cause viewers’ attention. A very simple thing to do is just move yourself to either to the left or right slightly and you will capture a much nicer photo as shown in the right. A subtle thing like this can make a big difference in the end result.  p8

Another way to reduce the distraction is to make the distractive background out of focus and blur as shown in the right hand side photo below. How to achieve this? Well, you will have to adjust your aperture to use large aperture (more on this in the upcoming article). Normally it means use the largest possible aperture on your lens (smallest number i.e. F2.8/F3.5)



Another rule of thumb for good composition is simplicity, meaning less is more. Instead of including everything you see in the scene, zoom in closer and fill the frame. Think for a while which elements do not add to the photo and exclude those elements. . On the other hand, sometimes, it is better to include some of the environment to tell a more complete story.  Try to keep the background environment as uncluttered as possible and only include the elements that make your image stronger.

Here are some examples: See how simple these photos are!




Leading lines

Leading lines in photography composition is the technique that uses lines and shapes to draw the viewers’ attention and lead them to the main subject or focus point in the photograph. Leading lines catch the viewers’ attention immediately and help create easy path for your viewers’ eyes to follow through.

Leading lines are everywhere in urban area or in the nature. Road, railway, pathway, fence, bridge and building structure in the city can be used as leading line. River, shoreline, cliff, lines of trees and foot trace in the park or beach are all possible leading line. We just need to look for it and use it to draw attention to the main subject we would like to show and capture.

Here are some examples:



Leading lines in a photograph are the compositional element that carries our eye through the photograph and can be used effective to draw attention to and emphasize the main subject

Photography Basics – Composition


Rule of Thirds

One of the most important skills in photography is composition, and the most well-known and basic guide to compose photograph and painting is the Rule of Thirds.

In fact, the theory of rule of thirds has existed in ancient times. It was invented by the ancient Greeks, the geometric formula’s main purpose is to show harmony. Apply it to photography and the photo taken will more likely to look natural and more pleasing. Da Vinci paintings “Monroe Lisa’s smile,” the main character happens to place at the golden section of rule of thirds!

So what is Rule of Thirds?

Well, the “rule” basically suggests that instead of placing our main subject in the center of the photo frame, it will be more pleasing to place it at any of the intersection of the lines showed in the diagram below:


Below are some examples to illustration the principle and usage of this guide:


In the photograph above, the horizon sits at the horizontal line dividing the upper third of the photo from the lower two-thirds. The house on stilt is placed near the upper right intersection point.

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Here are another two photographs that make use of this useful fundamental composition guide. Again, the horizon is not placed at the center but close to one third of the frame and the main subject is placed near the intersection points.

Beyond rule of thirds

The newer trend in photography is to place the main subjects or focus point outside of the rule of third intersection and closer to the edge of the frame. As shown in the two photos below, the main subject, the boat and the lone tree are placed towards the edge that creates a more artistic feeling.


Break the rules?

Rule of thirds is applicable in most situation. However, for symmetrical scenes or subjects, it is okay and sometime better to place the main subjects in the middle, like the photo below.


Negative Space, Breathing Space and Direction

Another good practice for good composition is to leave some negative space or breathing space in the photo. As shown in the example below, there are plenty of “empty” space on the left side of the frame. By leaving the breathing space in front of the boat also provide a sense of direction.



Beginners should make good use of the Rule of Thirds to take photos. Although not every photo should also use this technique, the rule of thirds is indeed the basic knowledge photographer must master and exercise!