Beginner Guide to Watercolor Painting

Welcome to our guide to watercolor painting for beginners. For many years, watercolor has captivated me because it allows the freedom to express creativity through its uniques characteristics and transparent colors. Whether you’re an aspiring artist or simply looking to get reenergized, this beginner watercolor guide offers endless possibilities and ideas.

Let’s Get Started with Watercolor Painting for Beginners

In this article, we’ll guide beginners through the essential materials, important skills, and strategies for achieving success while maintaining consistency in their watercolor journey. Let’s begin with materials since it’s probably the most important aspect of the journey. If you don’t have the right tools, nothing else matters.

Materials video

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.

Workspace setup video

Staying Organized

Having a good workflow is critical! It will save a lot of time, aggravation and unnecessary mistakes. Like anything, or job, there’s order, a structure we need so that we become efficient over time. Watercolor painting is no different! Managing water, having the right palette setup, brushes where they need to be and so on. Having a proper workspace will keep you on track to doing what’s really most important, painting awesome watercolor art.

Introduction to watercolor techniques video

Mastering Important Watercolor Skills

While watercolor painting may seem intimidating at first, mastering a few fundamental skills and techniques will set you on the path to success. Here are some important skills to focus on:

Know the big three: That’s probably a head scratcher. I’m referring to the three common mixtures which are tea, milk and honey. Tea is mostly water and very little pigment. Milk is less water and more pigment. And lastly, honey is very little water and a lot of pigment. A well-rounded watercolor painting has all three mixtures. Most paintings start with tea mixtures and gradually move into more saturated hues.

6 Primary Color Wheel
6 Primary Color Wheel

Color Mixing: Learn how to mix colors to create a wide range of hues. To get started you should learn the 6 primary palette and avoid the traditional three primary palette. A 6 primary palette has one cool and one warm hue for each of the three primary colors. This makes mixing proper secondary colors possible. I wrote an article that explains how to mix watercolors for beginners, have a look.

Above and beyond that, experiment with different combinations and ratios to understand how colors interact with each other. Also, take note of inherent values for different colors. This will play a key role in making great art later on!

Exploring Wet-on-wet Layering with Multiple Hues
Exploring Wet-on-wet Layering with Multiple Hues

Wet-on-Wet Technique: This technique involves applying paint onto a wet surface, allowing the colors to blend and create soft edges and gradients. Without a doubt, this is the most challenging skill to learn as a beginner because there are several variable involved. Not only do you have to consider the wetness of the paper, but you also have to be aware of how much water your brush is holding.

AND, to make it more complex, you have to pay attention to how thick the paint is you are adding into a wet wash. It’s tricky! And there’s no better teacher than experience, so you just have to dive in and start experimenting with wet-in-wet washes. Eventually, you’ll become more familiar with how various situations work and act to expect depending on paper wetness, paint thickness, dry and damp brushes and so on.

Wet-in-wet technique is an invaluable watercolor skill that requires patience. Luckily for you, I’ve created an entire series around this topic. To learn more, explore with lesson one, how to apply wet-in-wet watercolor wash for beginners.

Exploring Wet-on-Dry Layering with Multiple Hues
Exploring Wet-on-Dry Layering with Multiple Hues

Wet-on-Dry Technique: With this technique, you apply paint onto a dry surface, allowing for more control and precise details. Because the paper is dry, it’s much easier than wet-in-wet washes. You have more control, however the brushstrokes have hard edges making this not the ideal technique to use for an entire painting.

Watercolors tend to look better when there’s some bleeding, blending, hard and soft edges going on. If you check out the recommended first wash lesson I linked in the previous paragraph, you’ll learn a lot about this skill, too.

Watercolor layering techniques

Layering: Watercolor is a transparent medium, allowing you to layer colors to create depth and richness in your paintings. Practice layering washes and glazes to achieve the desired effect. There are many drills and easy assignments that will get you on track with layering watercolors. I’ve even written an article how to master watercolor layers for beginners that covers many ideas and tips, have a look!

Watercolor paintings look more professional as the artist maximizes the power of layering. There are so many things you can do with it from layering to achieve specific hues, to achieving desired values that impact the illusion of three-dimensional subjects.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.

Brush Control: Develop brush control to create various strokes and textures. Experiment with different brush sizes, pressure, and angles to understand their effects. Again, experience is the grand teacher here.

Developing quality brushwork means knowing when to create that calligraphic, expressive quality to tightening up so you can create more detail within the painting. A well-rounded watercolor painting has both! Too loose and it all falls apart, too tight and the painting looks too rigid.

Watercolor painting takes patience and consistency
Experimenting with brushwork

Achieving Consistency and Success

As with anything, consistency is key! To achieve success one needs to be diligent with their practice. Having long periods of not practicing can easily set you back weeks, and even months. The great thing about watercolor is it can be done without a lot of setup, as opposed to oils, or acrylics, that need more preparation and space to practice.

Here are some extra ideas to stay consistent;

  1. Consistency is key to improving your watercolor painting skills and achieving success. Here are some strategies to help you stay consistent:
  2. Regular Practice: Dedicate regular time to practice your watercolor painting skills. Set aside a specific time each day or week to paint, even if it’s just for a short period. Consistency will help you develop your techniques and nurture your creativity.
  3. Start Small: Begin with smaller paintings or studies to build confidence and develop your skills. As you progress, gradually take on larger and more complex projects.
  4. Learn from Others: Seek inspiration from established watercolor artists through books, online tutorials, workshops, or local art communities. Observe their techniques, study their work, and apply their tips to your own creations.
  5. Embrace Mistakes: Mistakes are inevitable in any art form. Instead of getting discouraged, view them as learning opportunities. Analyze what went wrong and how you can improve, and don’t be afraid to experiment and take
  6. 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.
Watercolor for beginners - It's an amazing journey
Color-wheel mixing chart

Conclusion

Watercolor painting offers a beautiful and expressive way to bring your creativity to life. By equipping yourself with the right materials, mastering essential skills, and maintaining consistency in your practice, you can embark on a rewarding journey as a watercolor artist.

Embrace the unique qualities of watercolor and let its fluidity guide your artistic exploration. With each brushstroke, you’ll develop your own style and discover new possibilities.

Allow yourself to experiment, take risks, and push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Celebrate the joy and spontaneity of watercolor painting, as it often leads to unexpected and breathtaking results.

So, gather your brushes, mix your colors, and let your imagination flow onto the paper. With dedication and practice, you’ll witness your skills grow, and your paintings will become vibrant reflections of your artistic journey.

Remember, every stroke is an opportunity for growth. Enjoy the process, embrace the beauty of watercolor, and watch as your artistic expression blossoms in delightful and captivating ways. Happy painting!

Looking for some inspiration? Check out easy watercolor painting ideas for beginners. Plenty of subjects to explore that include very easy to intermediate ideas.