So, this first part series will be on Materials.
The first is Paper. I know I've talked about paper a couple of times but this post is dedicated solely to it. You can get away with getting inexpensive brushes or even paint sometimes, but Paper is the most important thing you can have with a good watercolor piece. It is important not to cut corners on this. Fork out the money for the good stuff and it will save you a lot of headache, frustration, and heartache in the end. Also be sure you get the right type. There are 4 types of watercolor. The 3 main are Hot Press, Cold Press (most often used) and Rough Press. There is also a 4th, Soft Press.
Photo credit to dickblick.com
The difference between these are the hills and valleys. Hot press is smooth, and I liken it to being on ice skates. Your paint will glide around the paper and not really stay put if you are putting down a lot of washes. Rough Press is exactly like it sounds, Rough. There are high hills and deep valleys that will trap your paint and keep it snug in place if you do several washes. Each paper type gives a different look to a finished piece and some techniques are easier to do on one type of paper or not.
Now you can get your paper in various weights, 90lb, 140lb (standard), and 300lb. 90lb is very thin and 300lb is thick!
If you are using a lot of water, your paper will buckle (make giant 'bubbles' on your paper) unless you use a paper with a high weight. If you are using a lower weight paper you can wet your paper and stretch it. I never stretch my paper, but that is because I'm impatient. I want to paint the moment I have an idea/feel inspired. So, I deal with the buckling paper or I plan on using a higher weight paper if I know that I'm going to be doing a lot of washes.
There are a lot of brands out there and everyone has their own preference but I prefer Arches and Fabriano. Fabriano is the company that has soft press watercolor paper (it's kinda a combo between hot and cold and is really fun to work with). I like the way my paint flows on the paper from both of these brands...I just feel like I have more control of the paint when I use Arches or Fabriano. There are others out there that are pretty good too. There are SO many other brands out there. I like Cold Press better from Arches but prefer Rough Press from Fabriano and I like their soft press option. I hardly ever use Hot Press in my work. If someone gives me hot press I'll find a use for it, but I never choose to buy it. I love CP, RP, and SP.
If you want to experiment with different papers to see what you like better but don't want to spend $5+ a sheet I suggest finding sample packs. You can get them from Cheap Joes, Blick and other art supply companies.