How to Paint with Watercolors Guide

Watercolor painting, an expressive and beautiful art form, has been enchanting artists for centuries. The delicate and translucent nature of painting with watercolor creates ethereal effects that breathe life into any subject. Whether you’re a watercolor beginner or an experienced artist seeking to broaden your abilities, this step-by-step guide will equip you with the knowledge and techniques required to master watercolor painting for beginners.

How to Paint with Watercolors; Start with Materials

Before immersing yourself in the realm of watercolor painting, it’s crucial to assemble the necessary watercolor supplies. The quality of your watercolor materials can significantly influence the results of your paintings, so investing in high-quality supplies is vital. Essential items you’ll need include;

Suggested Material Checklist

Materials can make or break the outcome of a watercolor study. Watch the video that covers the best watercolor materials if you need more specifics about color choices, brush sizes and such. Basically, it’s exactly what I use and recommend for all levels.

Watercolor Paints: Opt for artist-grade watercolor paints in a range of colors. Choose a basic palette that includes six primary colors (one cool and warm hue for each one including red, blue, and yellow) along with earth tones for a versatile collection.

If you aren’t aware of the six primary palette, then check out our in-depth article on how to mix watercolors for beginners. It has the exact hues I use for every painting. And, if I make changes, I always update the article so you know the exact hues that get the best results.

Brushes: Invest in a set of good-quality watercolor brushes with different shapes and sizes. Round brushes are excellent for detailed work, while flat brushes are great for larger washes. I’d recommend one medium and one large pointed round. Then get a large mop brush that will handle those initial washed that are applied in the very beginning.

You only need three brushes to do most of the heavy lifting! However, I do recommend having a dagger and possibly and Motler on hand as well. Check out the article I wrote on how to choose the best watercolor brushes if you have questions on the exact brands, sizes and such.

Paper: I highly recommend selecting watercolor paper specifically designed for this medium. Look for papers labeled “cold-pressed” or “hot-pressed” to suit your preferred texture. Experiment with different weights and brands to find the one that suits your style. Most beginners choose 140 lb. cold press to start their journey. Hot press tends to be a little slick and most used for highly detailed work and portraits.

Avoid cheap, wood pulp papers as they don’t react properly to washes and other techniques. These cheaper papers tend to break down quickly and don’t age well either, basically yellowing over time. Be sure to read the how to choose the best watercolor paper article when you have time.

If you aren’t aware of the six primary palette, then check out our in-depth article on how to mix watercolors for beginners. It has the exact hues I use for every painting. And, if I make changes, I always update the article so you know the exact hues that get the best results.

Palette: A palette is essential for mixing and diluting your watercolors. Choose a palette with wells to hold different colors and a large mixing area. Small palettes tend to get dirty too quick and I found it difficult to have enough free space to mix enough colors without having to stop everything to clean up. The Masterson Pro palette works great and available at Amazon and Blick Art.

Water Containers: Have at least two containers for water—one for rinsing your brushes and another for clean water. Make sure the containers aren’t too small, and I would recommend plastic over glass. I’ve had plenty of studio accidents and cleaning up shattered glass isn’t ideal when in a creative mode.

Masking Tape and Drawing Board: Masking tape helps secure your paper to a drawing board, keeping it flat and preventing it from warping. The tape is optional and depends if you prefer the clean edges. In the beginning you will most likely focus on sketches and studies, so maybe pass until you determine later on if you need it.

A smooth, firm board is a must! I recommend Gator foam board as it’s very sturdy, smooth and durable. Fairly inexpensive and light weight to boot. That covers materials, let’s move on to skills you need to start watercolor painting.

Understanding Watercolor Techniques
Understanding Watercolor Techniques – Source

Understanding Watercolor Techniques

Watercolor painting incorporates a range of basic watercolor techniques that can be employed to generate diverse effects and textures in your art. Grasping these watercolor techniques for beginners will empower you to better manipulate your paint and create more dynamic, intriguing paintings. Common techniques include;

  • wet-on-wet; the most challenging technique to learn
  • wet-on-dry; much more control than wet-in-wet
  • dry brushing; achieve texture
  • glazing; add transparent color effects

Each method provides a unique way to control the paint and achieve varying results. Experimentation with these techniques under proper watercolor instruction will help you cultivate your style and vivify your paintings.

Choosing the Right Paper for Watercolor Painting

The choice of paper for your watercolor paintings is pivotal. Watercolor paper is engineered to accommodate the unique attributes of watercolor paint, such as its transparency and blending capacity.

There are various types of watercolor paper available, including hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough, each offering its own texture and absorbency, impacting how the paint behaves on the surface.

It’s crucial to select a paper that complements your painting style and the desired effect under proper watercolor instruction. Additionally, the weight of the paper is also significant, with heavier weights being more resilient and less prone to buckling or warping when wet.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Paint with Watercolors
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Paint with Watercolors

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Paint with Watercolors

Now that you’ve assembled your materials, grasped the basic techniques, and understood the paper options, it’s time to delve into the step-by-step process of how to use watercolor paint. This guide will navigate you through each phase of the painting process, from planning and sketching to applying the paint and adding details. By adhering to these steps in this beginner watercolor tutorial, you’ll learn how to create a well-structured and beautifully executed watercolor painting.

  1. Planning and Sketching: Start by deciding on a subject for your painting and sketching it lightly on your watercolor paper. This will serve as a guideline for your painting.
  2. Wetting the Paper: Before applying any paint, wet the entire surface of your paper with clean water. This will help the paint flow more smoothly and create softer edges.
  3. Applying the Base Wash: Mix a large amount of water with your desired color and apply it to the paper using broad brushstrokes. This will create a base wash that will set the tone for your painting.
  4. Building Layers: Once the base wash is dry, start building up the layers of your painting by adding more colors and details. Start with lighter colors and gradually work towards the darker shades.
  5. Adding Details and Highlights: Use smaller brushes to add finer details and highlights to your painting. This is where you can really bring your subject to life and add depth and dimension.
  6. Letting it Dry: Allow your painting to dry completely before making any final touches or adjustments. This will prevent smudging or blending of the colors.
Watercolor painting techniques
Watercolor painting techniques; Source

Exploring Different Watercolor Techniques

Watercolor painting presents a broad array of techniques that can be utilized to create varying effects and textures in your artwork. Delving into these basic watercolor techniques will enable you to stretch the limits of your creativity and produce unique and mesmerizing paintings under proper watercolor instruction. Some popular watercolor techniques include:

  • Wet-on-Wet: This technique involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface, allowing the colors to blend and bleed together.
  • Wet-on-Dry: In this technique, wet paint is applied onto a dry surface, resulting in crisper and more defined brushstrokes.
  • Dry Brushing: Dry brushing involves using a dry brush with minimal water and paint to create texture and fine details.
  • Glazing: Glazing is the process of layering transparent washes of color to create depth and luminosity in your painting.
  • Lifting: Lifting is the technique of removing wet or dry paint from the paper using a clean brush or sponge, creating highlights or correcting mistakes.

By experimenting with these watercolor techniques and merging them in different ways under proper watercolor instruction, you can create stunning and unique watercolor paintings that reflect your artistic style.

Tips for Achieving Vibrant Colors in Watercolor Painting
Tips for Achieving Vibrant Colors in Watercolor Painting

Tips for Achieving Vibrant Colors in Watercolor Painting

Mastering the basic watercolor techniques is crucial to overcoming one of the challenges in watercolor painting – achieving vibrant and bold colors. Unlike other mediums, watercolor paint can often appear dull and transparent when applied to the paper. However, with the right watercolor instruction and techniques, you can create paintings that are bursting with vibrant hues. Here are some tips to help you achieve vibrant colors in your watercolor paintings:

  1. Use High-Quality Paints: Investing in good quality watercolor paints will ensure that the pigments are vibrant and intense.
  2. Layer the Paint: Build up layers of transparent washes to create depth and intensity in your colors.
  3. Use Less Water: Using less water in your paint mixtures will result in more concentrated and vibrant colors.
  4. Experiment with Color Mixing: Explore different color combinations and experiment with mixing complementary colors to create vibrant hues.
  5. Use White Space: Leave areas of white paper untouched to create contrast and make your colors appear more vibrant.

By incorporating these basic watercolor techniques into your painting practice, you will be able to create watercolor paintings that are vibrant and full of life. This watercolor instruction will guide you to achieve the desired results.

Here’s a great tutorial for mixing watercolors, check it out!

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Watercolor Painting

Like any other art form, watercolor painting involves a learning curve. It’s common to make mistakes along the way, but being aware of these common pitfalls can help you avoid them and improve your basic watercolor techniques. Here are some common mistakes to avoid in watercolor painting:

  1. Overworking the Paint: It is important to know when to stop and let the paint dry. Overworking the paint can result in muddy colors and loss of transparency.
  2. Using Too Much Water: Using too much water can cause the paint to become too diluted and lose its vibrancy. It can also cause the paper to warp or buckle.
  3. Not Planning Ahead: Taking the time to plan your composition and sketch before diving into the painting process can help you avoid mistakes and create a more cohesive artwork.
  4. Neglecting to Experiment: Watercolor painting is all about experimentation and exploration. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques and push the boundaries of your creativity.
  5. Forgetting to Step Back: Stepping back from your painting periodically allows you to see it from a fresh perspective and make necessary adjustments or corrections.

By being mindful of these common mistakes and actively working to avoid them using the right watercolor techniques, you will be able to create watercolor paintings that are more polished and visually appealing.

Watercolor Painting Inspiration and Ideas

Finding watercolor inspiration for your paintings can sometimes be challenging. When you’re feeling stuck or in need of 60 watercolor painting ideas, there are several sources you can turn to for inspiration. Here are some ways to find inspiration for your watercolor painting:

  1. Nature: The natural world provides endless inspiration for watercolor painting. Take a walk in the park, explore a garden, or simply observe the beauty of your surroundings.
  2. Still Life: Set up a simple still life arrangement using objects from your home or studio. This can be a great way to practice observation and capture the essence of everyday objects.
  3. Photographs: Look through your own photographs or search for images online to find subjects that inspire you. Remember to respect copyright laws when using other people’s photographs.
  4. Art Books and Magazines: Explore art books and magazines that feature watercolor paintings. Study the works of other artists and try to understand their techniques and style.
  5. Workshops and Classes: Joining a watercolor workshop or taking a class can provide you with new ideas, techniques, and a supportive community of fellow artists.

Remember, watercolor inspiration can come from anywhere. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to explore different subjects, styles, and techniques to keep your watercolor painting practice fresh and exciting with new watercolor ideas.

Learn to paint with watercolors
Paint with watercolors; Source Robert Joyner


Watercolor painting is a beautiful and rewarding art form that allows artists to create stunning and expressive works of art. By understanding the materials, techniques, and processes involved, you can master the art of watercolor painting and create paintings that are vibrant, dynamic, and full of life.

Remember to be patient with yourself, embrace experimentation, and allow your creativity to flow. With practice and dedication, you will continue to grow and evolve as a watercolor artist. So grab your brushes, paints, and paper, and embark on an artistic journey that will bring you joy and fulfillment. This is the perfect place for watercolor for beginners to learn to watercolor.