How to Paint With Watercolors

Five Parts:Getting SuppliesGetting StartedLearning the Basics of Watercolor PaintingMastering Common TechniquesPracticing With a Simple Monochrome Mountain Landscape

Looking to expand on your paint-by-number skills? Watercolor painting is a rewarding and expressive skill. The paints are made with color pigments suspended in a water-soluble base. You control the addition of water to create a luminous or striking painting. Watercolor paints are often chosen to render landscapes or natural scenes. Whatever you choose to paint, you'll need to buy supplies, get set up, and start practicing.

Part 1
Getting Supplies

  1. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 1
    Select what kind of watercolors to buy. Watercolor paints are available in either tubes or shallow pans. Choosing tubes enables you to customize your collection a bit more, while pans usually come with an array of pre-selected colors.
    • Watercolor paints are delineated by property: some are transparent and others are opaque. Transparent colors allow you to see the white of the paper, giving the paint strokes a luminescent quality. Opaque colors can also be quite vivid, but they have a tendency to look dull since they block the light from coming through the paper.
    • Watercolor paints may also be either non-staining or staining. Non-staining paints stay on the surface of the watercolor paper, making them easy to lift or blend with other non-staining paints. Staining paints seep into the paper permanently and they're more difficult to blend with non-staining paints.[1]
  2. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 2
    Decide what colors of paint to buy. You'll probably want a basic set that includes the following primary colors: New Gamboge, Hansa Yellow Medium, Pyrrol Scarlet, Quinacridone Rose, French Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue (GS), and Quinacridone Burnt Orange.[2] Once you learn how to work with these fundamental colors, experiment with other paints.
  3. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 3
    Select your brushes. You'll want to pick up a handful of sizes, ranging from number 5 round to number 10 round. They should have a nice point in order to hold paint easily. You might also buy a flat brush. This has a long straight edge which is useful for doing washes or applying a base layer of paint.
    • Some artists will tell you to invest in good brushes right away while others recommend starting with inexpensive brushes until you decide if you want to stick with watercolors. With this confusing advice in mind, choose brushes according to your budget and your own desire to watercolor paint.
  4. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 4
    Buy watercolor paper. There's no going around this one if you want paintings that won't bubble when you start to work. Watercolor paper is heavy and slightly textured. It's made to withstand the application of a considerable amount of water and paint.
    • Watercolor paper comes in three different textures: hot-pressed, which has a slick surface, cold-pressed, which has a medium surface, and rough, which has a bumpy surface. You'll also want to choose a thicker, heavier paper when starting out.[3]
  5. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 5
    Make or buy other watercolor supplies. When you're starting out, you can typically find items around your house that you can use to start painting. Once you've decided to really stick with watercolor painting, you can invest in purchasing higher quality items, if you like.
  6. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 6
    Find a palette. If you're using household items, consider using a large plate. This will allow you to drop several colors of paint and mix puddles. If you're looking to purchase a palette, be sure to choose one with large wells so you can mix in water. You can buy one palette with a lot of wells, or buy several to use for designated colors.[4]
  7. Image titled Staple a Booklet Step 1
    Look for a board. When starting out, this can be as simple as a sturdy piece of cardboard propped up against a wall or board. If you're purchasing a board, choose a wood, plexiglass or foam board to which you can affix your watercolor paper. You may also want to buy an easel to hold the board upright while you paint. This is a matter of personal preference, as some people like to paint on a flat surface, while others like painting at an angle.
  8. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 8
    Get organization and cleaning supplies. These will vary, depending on what you personally need. Many artists keep water containers, paper towels, pencils and erasers handy. You may also want to change into an old t-shirt or smock while painting.

Part 2
Getting Started

  1. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 9
    Set up your painting workspace. This should be a comfortable space that you'd like to spend time in. Choose an area that gets a lot of natural light. If you'll be working in the evening or don't have access to very good light, you may want to set up a strong desk lamp.
    • Look for a bulb or lamp with full-spectrum lighting. This will keep your lighting from being being too warm, making it difficult to paint accurately. Also, make sure your lampshade is pure white. This will keep your lighting more natural.[5]
  2. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 10
    Arrange your paints, brushes, and water. Once you start painting, you won't want to stop and search for supplies. Keep them close to your painting, but give yourself enough room to maneuver comfortably.
    • If you're right handed, set up your palettes, brushes, and water containers on the right side of the desk, with the paper towels and other equipment on the left side. Reverse this if you are left handed.
    • Lay your brushes flat on a paper towel when you're not using them. Never leave brushes sitting in your water containers. They won't stay clean and you can ruin the tips of your brushes.[6]
  3. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 11
    Set up your paper. Tape your watercolor paper to your board using masking tape and set it in the middle of the table. Tilt your desk upward, if possible, or raise the back of the board by placing a block underneath it to give you a good angle.
    • You can lightly sketch your subject or landscape onto the paper with a light pencil. Many artists like to paint without a guide, but it can be useful when starting out. Keep erasers nearby to correct mistakes.
  4. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 12
    Choose colors to use in your painting. Pick a red, a yellow, and a blue to use as your primary colors. These colors will be mixed and blended to create some of other colors you'll use when painting, giving it a nice coherence. You can then choose other special colors to make each painting unique. Many artists use the same three primary colors in all of their work.
  5. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 13
    Understand how to use warm and cool colors. Warm colors, such as red, orange, and yellow, tend to look as though they are moving forward on the paper. Cool colors, such as blue, purple and green, appear to be receding.
    • Complementary colors that appear opposite each other on the color wheel, such as yellow and purple, appear to advance in equal measure when they are next to each other - in other words, they seem to fight for attention.

Part 3
Learning the Basics of Watercolor Painting

  1. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 14
    Learn how to mix a puddle. Pick a color of paint and dab a drop or two in your mixing tray. Dip your brush in water and mix the brush into the paint in your tray. If you're using additional colors, create two more paint puddles in two separate mixing trays. Be sure to wash out your brush between puddles.
    • Don't use too much water. Start with just a little, then add more if necessary. It's more difficult to achieve a richer color by adding more paint than it is to dilute a color by adding a little water.
    • Fill your palette with the different colors you are using. Squeeze just a bit of each color into the individual palette wells.
  2. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 15
    Practice mixing colors. This way, you'll understand how they work together. Having the ability to mix and layer colors so precisely is part of what makes watercolor so unique. The first few times you mix colors, you may be surprised at the outcome.
    • Watercolor paint dries several shades lighter than it appears when it is still wet. Keep this in mind when you're figuring out how to make a color lighter or darker.
    • Try not to overmix your colors. They don't need to be totally blended. One brushstroke may contain distinct gradations of color, rather than a solid blend. That's part of the beauty of watercolor.
  3. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 16
    Load your brush with paint. To fully load it, slide your brush through your paint puddle so that it gets completely saturated. Lift the brush and slide it across the rim of your mixing tray to remove the paint drip. Otherwise, slide it across the rim several times so that the brush isn't so saturated with paint.[7]
    • You may want to blot after loading your brush. To do this, simply touch it to a paper towel to remove some of the excess paint. You can also blot lightly or blot well.
  4. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 17
    Learn how to rinse out your brushes.You'll want to do this if you're changing colors, but using the same brush, or if you are finished painting for the day. Dip your brush in a container of water and lightly thump it on the bottom of the container to open up the brush hairs and release the paint. Continue until the brush is rinsed clean.
    • If you're cleaning several brushes, you may want to change the water. You won't be able to clean brushes with dirty water.

Part 4
Mastering Common Techniques

  1. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 18
    Learn how to Paint a controlled wash. This is the technique used to fill in a large shape with even, consistent color.To begin, draw a square or rectangle on your watercolor paper and fully load your brush with the paint you want to use.
  2. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 19
    Paint the edges of the top left corner. Using a light touch, paint two small strokes about 12 inch (1.3 cm) to make a corner.When you lift your brush you should have a bead of watercolor standing on the surface of the paper. Touch your brush to the bead a few more times to release more color and increase the size of the color bead.
  3. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 20
    Run your brush along the top of the box, painting with just the tip, then paint 12 inch (1.3 cm) down the right side. Lift your brush, releasing more paint. You have now established what is called a watercolor bead.
  4. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 21
    Start filling in your box with paint. Paint a new line from right to left, this time using the body of the brush instead of just the tip. About halfway across, stop, fully load the brush again, and continue to the left edge of the box.[8]
  5. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 22
    Keep painting towards the bottom of your square. Continue painting down the sides and then across in half-inch increments until you've filled in your square. Remember to move from right to left and left to right when filling in the square.
  6. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 23
    Learn how to charge two colors. Charging colors refers to mixing two colors on the watercolor paper, rather than in the mixing tray, which can create a smooth transition from one color to the next.[9]
  7. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 24
    Paint with your first color. You may want to practice making a controlled wash that you can use to charge the colors. For example, paint about halfway down your controlled space or square with your first color.
    • Make the bottom of the bead an irregular line, rather than painting it straight across. Rinse out the brush.
  8. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 25
    Fully load the brush with the second color. Touch the tip of the brush to the edge of the watercolor bead you established. Lift the brush to release the paint. The paint will immediately blend with and enlarge the bead.
    • The paint on your brush will become tinged with your first color. You may want to rinse out your brush again and load it with the second color you chose. This will give you a clearer transition between the colors.
  9. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 26
    Learn how to soften hard edges. To create a blurred edge or transition color values, you'll need to carefully apply water.[10]
  10. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 27
    Paint a line in one color. Rinse out your brush and blot it until it's moist, but not dripping wet.
  11. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 28
    Drag your moist brush along the line. Make sure to work while the line is still wet. You can make one continuous swoop or several short strokes, which creates an even softer look. The color will charge into the wet area.
  12. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 29
    Continue softening the edge of your line. Rinse out the brush and repeat, again painting a wet line along the wet edge. Do this until the color stops charging into the wetted area.
  13. Image titled Paint a Watercolor Wash Step 11
    Learn how to lift watercolor from the paper.[11] This is a handy technique if you make a mistake or would like to make a unique effect. You can simply blot the area using a paper towel, or you can use the flat or tip of your brush for more precision.
  14. Image titled Paint With Watercolors Step 31
    Take a clean firm brush and moisten it. You don't want a whole lot of water or you'll have less control over the color you lift.
    • Use the flat of your brush for a slightly larger area. Use the tip of your brush if you only need to remove a small bit of color.
  15. Image titled Paint a Winter Tree at Sunset in Watercolor Step 6
    Drag the brush over the area of color you want to lift. Use precise strokes and avoid going back over the area.
  16. Image titled Clean Oil Paint off a Paint Brush With Dish Soap Step 5 preview
    Pat the brush onto a towel. This will remove some of the color you've lifted from the brush.
  17. Image titled Make Your Own Watercolor Mugs Step 3
    Rinse and repeat. Do this only if you want to lift more color.

Part 5
Practicing With a Simple Monochrome Mountain Landscape

  1. Image titled Paint a Sunset With Watercolors Step 3
    Draw a horizon on your paper. Use a pencil and a ruler to draw a straight line about 1/4 of the way up from the bottom edge of the paper. The landscape you paint will flow above and below this single line.[12]
  2. Image titled Paint a Watercolor Wash Step 5
    Brush water across the top of the paper. Use clear water and apply it from top down till you get an inch away from your horizon line. [13]
    • Prepare several puddles of a single color on your palette. Vary the amount of water you mix into them, so you have several shades of your color.
  3. Image titled Paint a Winter Tree at Sunset in Watercolor Step 7
    Paint the sky. Load a medium brush with a vibrant shade of your color and paint from the top down, stopping about an inch away from the horizon line.[14]
    • The color should gradually lighten as you paint lower towards the horizon line. You can leave a little space between these variations in saturation.
    • You can leave an unpainted area in the sky to give the appearance of the sun rising above the mountains. Be sure to soften the edges of the paint surrounding the unpainted area.
  4. Image titled Paint a Watercolor Wash Step 9
    Load your brush with more paint and go over the top half of your sky again. This will further distinguish the sky from your horizon.[15]
    • Use a paper towel or tissue to lift paint from the paper in a few places, creating the appearance of clouds and shifts in color.
  5. Image titled TrySimpleScene Step 10
    Let your sky dry. You can either let it sit till dry to the touch or blow dry it. This speeds the process up, just make sure you're using watercolor paper or it will drastically bubble.[16]
  6. Image titled Draw with Watercolors Step 3
    Paint a mountain ridge. Start a few inches above your horizon line and use a dark concentrated shade of your color to paint a craggly line across your paper. Keep your line running a few inches above your horizon without touching it.
    • Don't worry about making the paint look even and consistent within the mountains; having uneven spots will be reminiscent of real mountains.
  7. Image titled Do a Watercolor Tip on Reflections in Water Step 3
    Fill in your mountains with the same shade. Paint down towards the horizon line, but stop 1/2 inch above it.[17]
  8. Image titled Do a Watercolor Tip on Reflections in Water Step 4
    Paint the middle ground. This is the area between the base of the mountains and the horizon. Dip a stiff brush in the same puddle you used to paint the mountains and hold it horizontally like a chisel, dabbing paint here and there across the horizon.[18]
  9. Image titled Do a Watercolor Tip on Reflections in Water Step 5
    Continue painting right along the horizon line. Keep holding the brush firmly like a chisel and vary your layers of paint, making some darker and lighter. Your lowest line should be darker, since it will be the edge of a lake.[19]
    • Create texture by making the horizontal strokes slightly uneven.
    • Leaving little gaps and bits of white space among the lines for a natural appearance.
  10. Image titled Do a Watercolor Tip on Reflections in Water Step 6
    Paint a lake in foreground. This is the part closest to you in the painting. Load a wide, stiff brush with paint and a lot of water to create a lighter shade. Using one precise stroke, drag your brush from one side of the paper to the other without stopping.[20]
    • To give the impression of sunlight on the water, use the brush very lightly on the part of the lake that falls just below the horizon line, so that bits of white paper show through the strokes.
    • Repeat this broad strokes as you move down your paper, stopping an inch from the bottom of the paper.
  11. Image titled Draw with Watercolors Step 4
    Let your lake dry. Again, you can air dry or blow dry.[21]
  12. Image titled Paint a Watercolor Wash Step 7
    Finish painting the very bottom of your foreground. Load your brush with a dark shade of your color and again dab horizontally to paint a dark, thick, uneven line across the bottom of the lake. Fill in the foreground in this dark color, leaving it a little lighter where the lake and sky are also light.[22]
    • To add reeds, dry the same stiff brush, load it with your darkest paint, and make downward vertical strokes along the shoreline. Avoid painting reeds across the whole line. Instead, just pick a portion of the lake to line with reeds.
  13. Image titled Do a Watercolor Tip on Reflections in Water Intro
    Regard your work. Your first painting is complete, and you can sign it, mat it and have it framed. Practice more and move on to more advanced techniques, like sponging, splattering, using salt, dry painting, and much more.

Sources and Citations


Show more... (20)

Article Info

Categories: Watercolors