We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
Why would you want to learn to paint in watercolors?
- Perhaps you are busy with a full-time job and a family to raise, and yet you are still struggling with the wish for “something more”, “something mine”, maybe a little creativity to brighten life’s spaces.
- Or maybe you are refiguring your life, have time that is now yours, and “always wanted” to learn to paint… maybe watercolors.
- But no matter the why, the self-doubt creeps in and you wonder whether you can actually learn to paint….maybe that teacher was right, you really don’t have any “talent”…
Let’s try instead
- a clear set of instructions
- access to materials that you fit to your personal budget
- and make something useable while you learn.
Feel free to click here if you want to just get started.
Here are EIGHT REASONS why WATERCOLORS rock
- can be fairly inexpensive
- won’t make a mess
- are very transportable
- You can use your watercolor sketches and experiments to embellish a bullet journal,
- create a small personalized gift or card,
- or add memories to your travels.
- Teach you to Really See:
- As you play with gorgeous colors, watercolor painting will make you experience the world with new eyes.
- Painting with water is relaxing.
- You free your mind from thinking when you are painting and loose track of time.
- Try it. Go watch a drop of water mix with watercolor.
- Watercolor painting will allow you time to sit with feelings and ideas.
- Plus, it will take you away from screens.
- Eye Candy:
- The transparent, ethereal look of watercolor paintings are mesmerizing.
- Too Much Fun:
- You experience complete enjoyment when you watch beautiful colors flow and become the essence of flowers or rabbits or….
- Even drips, puddles, and splashes make a painting.
Learning to Paint will enrich all ages: Try it with kids of any age
Since studies show that painting will
- Promote Creative Growth:
- Because putting shapes and colors onto a surface is a new challenge.
- Boost Focus:
- Painters become more engaged observers of things around them. To solve painting problems, concentration increases.
- Enhance Problem-Solving:
- You have to figure out with a non abstract painting, how to make a three-dimension illusion on a two-dimensional surface. Furthermore, as you add more colors to your evolving painting, all the existing colors you have painted are affected and changed visually. Therefore, you have to rethink what you have already done. In other words, the painting itself is an ever-changing set of problems and solutions.
- Improve Motor Skills:
- The act of holding and using a brush or a painting knife is a new motor skill.
- Add Social Connection and Add to Emotional Growth:
- A class that is well-run promotes the interaction of class members. Emotions can be encouraged and poured into paintings.
- Stimulate a Positive Attitude and Increase Patience:
- In a supportive class, sharing successes will add to a sense of self-fulfillment and pleasure.
- Increase Mobility:
- If one learns to paint standing and to walk back and forth to assess one’s progress, this can add to physical activity.
add it to time with children: after school, baby-sitting…
BASIC MATERIALS to learn to paint watercolors
(If you want to start with a watercolor sketchbook as your paper choice, check here for a review and suggestions.
Good quality paper that can handle a lot of water is a must.
- Watercolor paper has three different surfaces- Hot Pressed (HP), Cold Pressed (CP) and Rough.
- HP pressed is very smooth to touch and tends (with just washes) to be less absorbent. Therefore, the water “skates” over the surface and makes beautiful blossoms and bleed backs. This surface can be made more absorbent and accessible to thin veils of color when painted as described by Susan Harrison-Tustain with her priming method and application.
- Rough is highly textured. Think of it having large hills and valleys. Therefore with rough paper, the effects of granulating pigments are shown to a great effect on this surface. It is a great paper for landscapes (rocks, tree trunks)
- CP is between HP and rough papers. It has medium-texture and absorbency. In my opinion, CP allows for more corrections.
Watercolor paper also comes in different weights.
- The 300 lb paper has less chance to “buckle” (bend, roll up) after a large application of water. Because it is heavier, it costs more.
- 140 lb (300gsm) CP middle weight paper is my “go to” paper and will be our choice for these exercises.
- While considering paper. if you can interested, here is post discussing watercolor sketchbook paper choices (link)
BRUSH CHOICES to start to learn to paint watercolors
- To be cost-sensitive, limit yourself to begin with three brushes.
- Over time, you will find your favorites and add to your brush collection.
- To effectively use water in a painting, you need brushes that can hold a large amount of water.
Below are my favorite brushes after my personal experimentation.
Favorite Watercolor Brushes:
Seen from right to left:
- two sizes of Creative Mark Hake brushes
- my favorite water workhorse brush the size 2 Isabey Series 6234 squirrel full mop brush.
- my favorite rounds are Holbein Gold 001 Series (shown here sizes 10 and 6)
- then for adding lines and lifting paint: I love a stick from my garden, a reed pen and the size 6 flat da Vinci nova synthetic brush
Your three: try an inexpensive hake to move a lot of water, a round (synthetic rather than expensive natural hair is a better beginning choice: try a size 8-10) and a small flat scrubbing or lifting brush.
If you would rather start smaller, save some money and just test drive watercolors using a portable pan palettes, click here for my reviews and suggestions.
WHAT A BEGINNER NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE BASICS OF WATERCOLOR PAINT
There are some characteristics of the watercolor paints that cannot be changed.
- A granulating pigment will always granulate (even in a color mix)
- An opaque color cannot become transparent (but it can be applied very thinly).
- Some colors have a large “drying shift”. While all watercolors dry lighter than they appear when they are wet, some colors dry even lighter than you think they will. You can figure this out with practice, or you can read about this property for a particular pigment here
Why these are my favorite watercolor pigments
Just so you know, over the years, I have tried hundreds of watercolor tubes. If I saw a beautiful painting featured in an article and I would track down the artists’s preferred colors and add it/them to my collection. Sometimes to my chagrin, I would find I already owned the same color by a different name from a different company. Sometimes the same pigment (after I learned to look them up) would paint more intensely by a particular manufacturer.
Therefore, as you can see, I favor a variety of manufacturers. I suggest the colors that are for me, the most intense and have the widest color range (plus my “sinature” color: cobalt turquoise of all flavors). I include transparent colors, opaque colors and neutrals that I use daily. Transparent colors make clean mixes, almost no matter what you do. They will also give a glow to your paintings if applied thinly or in subtle layers. The opaque colors add density and some texture for fur, bark or texture and add interest.
You won’t need all of the colors listed here to start. However, as you grow in your confidence, I want you to have a ready reference so that you can decide if and when to add to your collection.
Don’t go for the deal
No matter how helpful the art store sales person is, do not go for the lower cost and buy student grade paints. Student grade colors contain less pigment and perhaps because there is more filler, the student grade colors tend to be more greyed and less vibrant (saturated).
If you love color, then you want the most saturation possible. Artist grade paints are worth the expense. Just collect them gradually, over time.
What might be the most economical tube colors to learn to paint watercolors?
It was tough to pick this list for you. Maybe because I am a “color-junkie”. You can see the asterisk on the wheels below. My stripped-down choice for you includes a warm and cool of each primary (yellow, red and blue) and then some pigments that I think make painting easier. My condensed list is: Schmincke Aureolin, Holbein Cadmium Yellow-Orange, Holbein Cadmium Red Light, DaVinci Permanent Rose, Holbein Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Daniel Smith Indanthrone, Blockx Blue, Winsor Newton Pereylene Green, Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold. Then I would add Winsor Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light (because it will make your paintings smile), Schmincke Naples Yellow Red, Daniel Smith Buff Titanium (these two make mixing more interesting), Daniel Smith Indigo and Daniel Smith Sepia (favorites to make great darks).
What My color wheels show You
The color wheels shown below have the colors painted with full intensity from the tube on the outside of the color wheel. Then increasing amount of water is added to finally make the lightest tints of each color in the center of the wheels.
Each of these full color wheels contain
- two yellows: one with more or and another will less orange cast:
- two reds: one that leans toward orange and a more “purple-red”
- and two blues one that seems more green (turquoise) and one that is more purple.
Tip: For rich color transitions it helps to use the neighboring colors in sequence (analogous colors) to give objects form while maintaining their intensity.
When you learn to paint watercolors, it is harder to “mess up” with Transparent Colors
The first color wheel group of colors are transparent or mostly transparent. These paints are also good choices as a first underpainting layer or a glazing layer of color.
The colors in color wheel 1 are: *Schmincke Aureolin, Schmincke Indian Yellow, Schmincke Translucent Orange, Daniel Smith Organic Vermillion, Blockx Red, *DaVinci Permanent Rose, Winsor Newton Opera Rose, *Holbein Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Holbein Quinacridone Magenta, Winsor Newton Carbazole Violet, *Daniel Smith Indanthrone, Daniel Smith French Ultramarine Blue, *Blockx Blue, *Winsor Newton Pereylene Green, Holbein Sap Green, and *Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold.
learn to paint watercolors: Don’t do this
Tip: Opaque pigments are best used in color mixes by not over mixing them on the palette. It is best to place small pools of the individual colors you want to mix close together on your palette. Next, lift them together with one brush stroke and allow them to mix themselves on the paper. This takes some practice but achieves a beautiful clean results.
Here is an example of an (right) over mixed puddle of opaque colors compared to (left) separate puddles of individual colors on the palette and then on the paper.
This second color wheel contains more opaque colors.
- Opaque colors tend to overpower color mixes.
- They also try to cover underlying layers completely.
- Opaque colors tend to give a “density” to an object painted with them.
The colors shown in color wheel 2 are: Holbein Permanent Yellow, Holbein Cadmium Yellow-Light, *Holbein Cadmium Yellow-Orange, *Holbein Cadmium Red Light, Holbein Vermillion, Schmincke Manganese Violet, Schmincke Ultramarine Violet, Daniel Smith Cerulean Blue Chromium, SIGNATURE: Holbein Cobalt Turquoise, M Graham Cobalt Teal, Daniel Smith Cobalt Teal Blue, *Winsor Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light, Old Holland Chromium Oxide Green, and Holbein Permanent Green No 1.
Details about the pigments and properties of these colors can be found here:
Neutral colors can be mixed by combining other pigments (often complements) together.
We will go over mixing greys and neutrals later on.
However, the convenience of some of these as tube colors is very helpful to my painting, so I am sharing them with you.
The colors shown in color wheel 3 are: *Schmincke Naples Yellow Red, Schmincke Naples Yellow, Winsor Newton Yellow Ochre, Holbein Naples Yellow, *Daniel Smith Buff Titanium, Schmincke Paynes grey Bluish, *Daniel Smith Indigo, Daniel Smith Ivory Black, *Daniel Smith Sepia, Holbein Burnt Umber, Winsor Newton VanDyke Brown, and Daniel Smith Permanent Brown.
Learn to Paint Watercolors: Tip
Tip: Painting with both transparent and opaque paints in a painting can result in physical or textural painting differences. For example, consider a painting of a flower in a clay garden pot. The pot painted with opaque granulating color mixes will give the “feel” of the rough density of the pot. The rough pot will be contrasted physically to washes of transparent colors. Transparent colors physically impart a sense of light and fragility to the thinner leaves or flowers in the pot.
Other Things You will Need :
A large water container. Make sure that when you rinse your brush, you can get it clean.
A spray bottle
Painters tape or masking tape that won’t damage your paper to attach your paper to a firm surface or to mask off your painting for a clean white frame when it is finished.
Perhaps a hairdryer
A mixing surface: Depending on how you paint, this might need to be large to have many areas to mix clean colors. However, the problem with a large mixing surface is that can you might be tempted to add more water into your color mixes. With more water, the painting colors on your palette will be less saturated and washed out. It could be that you may will do better with juicy rich pigments and small discrete mixing areas so that you will pick up less over-mixed colors.
A wonderful deep but portable palette is made by shysart
To LEarn to paint watercolors: begin with “How Much WATER?”
Definitely, some of watercolor’s beauty is the transparency of the medium.
Fabulous watercolor florals are light and pure in color.
This is all made possible by the use of water.
- the paper,
- in the brush, and
- on the palette all contribute to the depth of color and the edges of the shapes in the painting.
Some of the great fun of watercolor application is the unpredictability of the water and the beauty of and accidents of the back runs or blossoms as the water puddles dry in stages.
Before we start the first exercise, I want you to see water effects in master watercolors.
Carol Carmichael’s control of back runs adds form to her figures. In this butterfly example, the blossom edges add the textural component of the smaller butterfly cross lines in the wing segments.
Ali Cavanaugh paints her watercolors on wet kaolin boards. Her puddles of paint create texture and define the form of her figures. Two recent examples are shown here.
Joseph Zbukvic’s mastery of water creates his soft ethereal edges that create the atmospheric perspective of his landscapes.
Controlling the amount of wetness in his paper, in his brush and in the paint from his palette gives the feeling of distance, and the feeling of soft mist or fog.
That covers the basics.
Let’s get painting!!
If you are afraid to draw, you might want to use the templates for spring florals, or backyard birds and the step-be-step tutorials to get you warmed up.