Watercolor painting can be a beautiful and rewarding medium to work with, but it can also be intimidating for beginners. If you’re just starting out with watercolor, here are 10 tips to help you get started:
1. Invest in good quality paints and paper
Watercolor paints and paper can vary greatly in quality, so it’s important to invest in good materials. Look for high-quality, lightfast pigments, and choose a paper that is specifically designed for watercolor painting. It is important to note that the type of paper you choose can greatly affect the outcome of your painting. Hot press papers have a smooth surface, making them well-suited for detailed work, while cold press papers have a more textured surface that can be used to create interesting textures. On the other hand, rough papers have a heavy texture and are not ideal for detailed work. I prefer to work on cold-pressed paper as it is a good compromise between hot press and rough papers. It allows me to achieve the amount of detail I want while still having the ability to create interesting textures. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the most important factor when choosing paper is to make sure it is made of 100% cotton.
2. Practice mixing colors
Watercolor paints can be mixed to create a wide range of colors, so it’s important to practice mixing and experimenting with different color combinations. A great way to practice color mixing is to create a color wheel. You can use primary colors to create secondary and tertiary colors. It’s also important to experiment with mixing colors on your palette as well as on your painting surface to see the effect of different amounts of water and paint. Another way to improve your color mixing skills is to try to replicate a color or a scene from a photo or a reference, this will help you understand how different colors interact with each other and how to achieve certain hues. Additionally, it’s also important to learn the meaning of terms like “physical mixing”, “optical mixing”, color schemes like “complementary colors” and “analogous colors” and how to use them in your paintings.
3. Use a limited palette
By “limited palette” I don’t necessarily mean limiting the number of colors on your palette (though that’s recommended), but limiting the number of colors used in your painting. This can be a very effective way to create a cohesive and harmonious painting. When you limit the number of colors you use, you are forced to be more intentional with your color choices and to think more carefully about how the colors will interact with one another. This can help you to create a painting with a stronger sense of unity and cohesion. Additionally, by limiting the number of colors in your painting, you can also achieve a more consistent color scheme throughout your painting. It’s important to note that, limiting your palette doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment and play with color, it just means being mindful of how many colors you’re using in your painting and how they work together.
4. Start with simple subjects
As you begin to learn the basics of watercolor painting, it can be helpful to start with simple subjects, such as one petal, or one simple flower. This will give you a chance to practice the techniques you’re learning without feeling overwhelmed. By starting with something simple, you can focus on mastering the basic techniques of watercolor painting, such as mixing colors, layering, and creating different textures. As you become more comfortable with these techniques, you can gradually move on to more complex subjects. Another advantage of starting with simple subjects is that you will be able to complete your paintings in a shorter amount of time, and that will give you a sense of accomplishment, which in turn will boost your confidence.
5. Experiment with different brush sizes and shapes
Watercolor brushes come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and each one will create a different effect. Experiment with different brushes to find the ones that work best for you. A flat brush is great for washes, a round brush for details, and a rigger for fine lines. With time and experience, you will become more familiar with the different types of brushes and their specific uses, and you will know which brushes work best for your particular style of painting and the subjects you choose to paint. Moreover, as you gain experience, you will also learn how to care for your brushes properly, and how to maintain their shape and condition, this will not only extend the life of your brushes but also make them perform better. Additionally, it is important to have a variety of brushes to use, this way you can have more options to create different effects and textures in your paintings. Remember that brushes are your tools, and like any other tools, the right one can make a big difference in your artwork.
Here are the brushes I use:
6. Learn to control the amount of water in your brush
Water is an essential part of watercolor painting, but it’s important to learn how to control the amount of water in your brush. Too much water can cause the colors to bleed, resulting in unwanted “blooms” in your painting, while too little water can make the colors appear dull and may give your painting an overworked look. By controlling the amount of water in your brush, you’ll be able to create a wide range of effects, from loose and transparent to more controlled and opaque. Also, it’s important to note that the amount of water in your brush will affect the flow and spread of the pigments, so it’s essential to understand how it works to achieve the desired results.
7. Learn how to create washes
Washes are a fundamental technique in watercolor painting. They involve laying down a large area of color with minimal brushstrokes. You can create different types of washes, such as graded, variegated and flat washes, by varying the amount of water and paint you use. Washes can be used to create backgrounds, skies, and other large areas of color in your paintings. They are also a great way to create a sense of depth and movement in your painting, by using washes you can create a transition of colors and tones. It’s important to practice different types of washes to understand how they work, and to master the art of layering washes to create depth and dimension in your paintings.
8. Practice layering
Layering is a technique that can be used to add depth and dimension to your watercolor paintings. Layering involves applying one or more layers of paint on top of each other to create a sense of depth.
When layering, it’s important to keep in mind the principles of color theory, such as the use of cool and warm colors to create the illusion of depth. For example, placing a cool color, such as blue, in the background and warm colors, such as red or yellow, in the foreground can give the impression of depth.
Another important consideration when layering is the drying time of the paint. You’ll want to allow each layer to dry completely before adding the next one, otherwise, the colors will blend together and you’ll lose the effect of layering.
You can also use a technique called “glazing” which is a method of layering transparent colors on top of each other. This technique allows you to create a sense of depth by building up layers of color and creating a sense of luminosity.
Are you confused about a wash, a layer, and a glaze?
A wash is a technique to cover large unpainted areas with color.
A layer is a technique to add depth and dimension by building up surface with color.
A glaze is a technique to add depth and luminosity by layering transparent colors on top of each other.
A layer (layering) and a glaze (glazing) can be used interchangeably. In my perception, glazing is more subtle and ethereal than layering. A glaze for me is when I want to apply a very thin layer of paint over a painted area in order to change the temperature of that area or to change slightly a hue without overwhelming the previous layer. It’s a technique that allows you to create a more delicate and nuanced effect, adding depth and luminosity to your painting without altering the overall composition. While layering is more about building up the surface and creating a sense of depth. Both techniques can be used together to achieve the desired effect in your painting.
9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Watercolor painting can be unpredictable, and it’s important to remember that mistakes are a part of the learning process. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes, as they will ultimately help you to improve as an artist. Sometimes, the most beautiful and interesting effects can come from an accident or a mistake, so don’t be afraid to experiment and play with the medium.
10. Take classes or workshops
Taking classes or workshops can be a great way to learn new techniques and get feedback on your work. Look for classes or workshops that are specifically designed for watercolor painting and that are appropriate for your skill level. It can be helpful to learn from a more experienced artist and get feedback on your work.
Of course, I recommend my school, where I teach how to achieve realistic results in watercolor painting. My tutorials are a bit more challenging than most tutorials you can find on YouTube. There is a reason for that. I believe that when you know the basics, you have to challenge yourself in order to develop your skills. If you keep painting simple, single petals or flowers, you will be stuck. My tutorials give you an opportunity to grow, to try more demanding, longer projects that require a bit more patience, but at the same time allow you to mindfully master watercolor paints. So if you like my paintings and you want to learn how to paint like me, I invite you to join my school.
By following these tips, you’ll be on your way to becoming a successful watercolor painter. Remember that watercolor painting is a skill that takes time and practice to develop, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the process of creating beautiful art.