Painting in watercolor is one of the most rewarding forms of creating art that any artist can learn: It has been the favorite of many fine artists and amateur painters through centuries – and yet it’s a technique that even seasoned artists can struggle with when they transition from another medium such as oils, pens or pencils.
Surprisingly, painting in watercolor isn’t a hard skill to learn, but it’s one that might take an entire lifetime to get to know – and does anyone ever learn true mastery of any way of creating art?
Just like any other art medium, watercolor doesn’t describe one technique, but a combination of several different ones that fit together.
If you’re new to watercolor, welcome to a whole new world of possibility with paint.
This article covers the very basics of watercolor painting, including what supplies a beginner might need to start – and what techniques there are to get you started on your first creation.
Experimentation is important: Perhaps one of the most important things for any artist. With this article, you are encouraged to seek out the best quality paints, brushes and papers that you can find for your budget – and start painting. If it feels like you’re stumbling around in the dark at first, that’s fine, and that’s the beginning of any art that’s known to man so far. The techniques in this article serve as a guiding light to make your first forays into painting with watercolor a little easier.
Here’s what you should know about watercolor, starting with why it’s one of the greatest and most versatile art media to be found.
Why choose watercolor?
There’s nothing on earth that looks quite like it, that’s why.
Many artists start out with watercolor as a first-time choice, while other artists only find their way to watercolor painting later on in their life when they are already familiar with painting in other ways – and both find that watercolor provides an unforgettable and unique effect.
Painting with watercolor can be different to anything else you’ve ever worked with: Water-based paints run and spread differently to oil-based ones – and it takes a few new painting techniques to make it work. Water-based paints also take better on certain forms of paper, and work differently when it comes to canvases.
While watercolor painting is different, don’t think that it’s hard or impossible: It’s neither.
If you’re ready to take on watercolor painting, start with supplies and work your way through to techniques: Of course, practice, practice and practice some more: Experiment with your subjects, experiment with your paint – find your way by trying it out yourself.
The first thing any artist needs in order to further their art – whether as a new skill, a hobby or a career – is always going to be art supplies. Brian May wouldn’t leave for the gig without his guitar, so don’t start here without first thinking about the supplies you’re going to need.
Supplies don’t have to be expensive (and in most cases, watercolor supplies are not!), but it has to be said that it’s important for any artist to buy the best their budget allows for. This includes high-quality brushes, paints and papers – and only because this results in high-quality, lasting work at the end.
- Other than standard artist supplies, good lighting is often underestimated. Invest in very good, bright lighting so that you can always see exactly what you’re doing with your brush – and it additionally stops you from straining your eyes.
Watercolor supplies aren’t as hard to clean and maintain as some other artists’ tools out there: It takes a simple rinse-and-dry to remove watercolor pigments from most types of brushes – and anything else can just be wiped down or rinsed, too.
A last note on supplies: Ensure that your brushes are always packed away dry – and entirely so – or you risk mold taking hold of your beloved brushes. Yes, it’s possible, and it can destroy an exceptionally good brush – or track traces of this mold to anything your brush has touched.
Watercolor takes best on high-quality artists’ paper, usually with a moderate thickness that’s more than regular office paper, but less than poster paper. These can be ordered from art suppliers in bulk, or cut-to-size if you want something that’s not available right off the shelf.
Paper with more grain (and thus grip) responds differently to water color than smooth paper, and beginners are encouraged to experiment with both until they find the ones they work best with.
When choosing your paper, pay attention to essential paper qualities like how it bends and simply, how it feels. This can tell you if you’re dealing with the right type of paper or not: The closer you get to regular printer ream paper, the further away you are from the type of paper that watercolor painting likes.
For many, it might take a few different paper grains and types to figure out what your preference is: As said earlier on in this article, experimentation turns out to be best most of the time. Find what works for you!
Also remember that artists need different types of paper for different things: Watercolor sketchbooks are also available, and artists will require larger canvases for turning these into physical artworks – but artists also need paper for practice, too.
– Global Art Fluid Watercolor Paper
– Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbooks
Next, let’s talk about watercolor paints.
Instead of pigments that are mixed with a carrier medium such as oil to create oil paint, watercolor works a little differently. Most watercolor paints available on the market are the dry pigments themselves – and the carrier, of course, is the water added to it when the artist creates their individual mix.
Some paints are available in powdered pigment form, others are instead available in blocks that are used as you need them.
There’s no “good versus bad” when it comes to what type of pigment you are using: Any form is fine and that is up to every individual artist.
The most important choice when choosing your paint is to make sure that you’re choosing high-quality, lasting pigments. Cheaper ones aren’t as lasting, aren’t as easy to work with and add a “dull” quality to work that should have been far more vivid.
– Kuretake Gensai Tambi Watercolor
– Holbein Artists’ Watercolors
Brushes are one of the most important aspects of creating a great work of art – and eventually, the type of brush an artist prefers becomes as individual as their signature.
Always choose the best quality brushes that you can find: Ones that don’t stick out in all directions, and ones that are comfortable in your hands from start to finish. Good brushes are ones that don’t catch on the paper you’re using – and simply, the brushes sometimes choose the artist.
The best choice for a new watercolor artist is to invest in several types of brushes at once: Make sure that you have one for the finest possible work – and ones for large, elaborate pieces or large spaces, too.
Learning how to work with every individual brush is an art in itself:: This is why any artist should make sure that they choose the very best brushes they can find.
If the first brush that you choose isn’t the perfect one for you, that’s just fine: Experiment!
– Royal & Langnickel Zen Brushes
– Winsor & Newton Kolinsky Watercolor Brushes
Should artists buy brush kits? Sure, but only if they’re high-quality ones – and many are not. Do your research before making your final purchase of a new brush kit – and realize that you still might prefer brushes that weren’t part of the kit at times. as you evolve.
Still, kits make a great start.
Ensure that your kit contains at the very least a flat brush and #2 and #3 brush:
New to painting and don’t know what that means yet? That’s just fine. We’re still only at the very beginning of your painting journey.
Artists might also require a few more things when it’s time to paint: These are a few important watercolor-related painting accessories you should check out.
- Palette: The palette is what keeps your paint all in one place, especially for the mixing and matching process.
- Sponges: An artist can never have enough sponges – or usually, shirts to paint in. Sponges are useful when it comes to watercolor painting, both for painting and cleaning up. Make sure that you keep a collection around!
- Tissue Paper: Welcome to painting with watercolor; tissue paper is one of the most important things you’re going to need.
- Marking Tape: Marking tape obviously marks off boundaries when painting, but there are a thousand other uses – again, keep it around when you plan to paint.
Basic Watercolor Painting Techniques
Basic watercolor techniques aren’t any more difficult than traditional oil painting or sketching, but artists already used to other mediums will immediately realize that it’s a different type of game entirely.
Here are some techniques to carry you through:
The technique called “stretching paper” is valuable to any watercolor artist; it refers to tempering the paper with water by slightly painting over it and letting it dry – use marking tape to make sure that it stays in one place.
Large to Small
Watercolor painting is often easier when a larger-to-smaller pattern is followed: Lay the groundwork and scenery first, allow to dry, and then work on the smaller details – or you might end up layering things in the wrong order.
Light to Dark
Just like large-to-small, watercolor painting works best when working from light to dark. This way of layering makes things easier and far more practical when working with watercolor paint – and it’s one of the best ways to learn how to start.
Shading: It’s Different Too
Darker, vibrant colors make for good shading when working with watercolor. Again, experimentation is your best ally as an artist when it comes to shading.
It’s a Process
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and watercolor paintings don’t dry in a few seconds. Watercolor takes patience – often for one part of the work to dry before you can continue. If this seems like a frustrating process, don’t let it: It’s just how watercolor works.
More Painting Techniques
Ready to put your brush down? Here are a few more techniques that should help from here:
Painting on dry paper achieves a different effect than if the paper isn’t: Seems basic, but makes a huge difference to the final effect.
Painting on wet paper seems baffling to oil painters, but it’s something that can work well for spread when you’re working with watercolor.
Dry-Brush Watercolor Painting
Just the same way as your paper, what you do with your brush matters: A drier brush ensures entirely different strokes. (Experiment – now go try it out!)
Wet-Brush Watercolor Painting
When the brush is more saturated, broader strokes are possible – again, try it out to see what this can do to your work!
Watercolor painting certainly doesn’t limit you in terms of layering: Any amount of layers can be added on, providing that enough time is given for it to dry. Patience is key for watercolor.
One of the things great about watercolor painting is the ability for paint to run and blend: This can scare newcomers, but first realize that blending is one of the most powerful techniques at your disposal.
Paint can be scrubbed, too: This is a unique watercolor technique that can be used on drying watercolor paints to achieve a specific effect. Sponging, sometimes, can achieve similar ones.
Watercolor paint spreads and smudges well – and that’s a benefit, not a drawback! Learn how to smudge, blow and splatter paint, too: All of these are indvidual painting techniques that most people remember from childhood art classes that are useful in the here and now.