Watercolor Painting Tips for Beginners

The question as to which kind of paint is easiest to work with is one bound to yield different answers. True enough, the ease or difficulty of using a specific type of paint largely depends on the person using it, particularly on the person’s skill and desired effect.

Water color painting is its own discipline and there are techniques to be mastered as you develop some skill in this area. Even so, it is important to have high quality materials to get the best out of your efforts. The old saying is true in art as much as anywhere – you get what you pay for.

Watercolor, albeit a tricky medium to work with, comes with certain advantages. For one, it is cheap compared to acrylic and oil paint. It also gives off a muted and somewhat dreamy image that could be difficult to achieve with other types of paint, especially oil.

If this is your first time trying out watercolor painting, there are certain things you should bear in mind:

Buy good materials. Watercolor is already tricky as it is and using low-quality materials can make it more difficult to work with. Purchase small tubes of watercolors at first so you could get a feel of its quality. This way, you can easily buy another brand in case you don’t like the one you’ve first purchased. Watercolor paint is rather fragile and the last thing you’d want is brush hair ruining your painting. 

Start with getting the best quality brush you can afford. A no. 8 round red sable watercolor brush is the best for beginners.  Add a smaller tipped brush for detail work, and a few others. There are starter kits that will have enough brushes to get you started, but it is important to have as good of a quality of brush as you can afford.

You don’t have to get the top of the line paints necessarily, but don’t go for the cheapest one either. A mid to high end set of paints is best.   A 12-color set is what teachers recommend, and you can develop your own tastes in colors as you go. Or, if you’re on a really tight budget you can go with an art set that includes watercolors.

For paper you will need water color painting paper of at least grade #140.  Heavier paper is better because it will absorb the water better and you will avoid problems that could come with damp paper. If you are a beginner, here is one area that you can go with a lower grade of supplies until you develop some skills.

A palette is also an essential item, which is where you have your paints and mix water. The more water and less paint on the brush gives a lighter color, and the more paint and less water gives a darker color. Develop the shades you need on your palette as you go.  Plastic pallets are fine for beginners, but you may want a metal one as you develop your skill.

You will need two containers of water.  One of the containers will be used for rinsing out your brush, and the other one will hold clean water you will need for painting.

Once you have your equipment you can start learning some techniques.

Start with easy designs. Watercolor takes some getting used to, so take it easy.

First get some paper and make sections with a pencil. In one of those sections, apply plain water to the paper with a brush. Get the paper a little wet, but not to the point that it runs. Then experiment with putting color down on top of that. You can experiment with different amounts of paint to see how color forms on the sheet. At this point just work on applying the colors.

After you have a good feel for wet on wet, you will be ready to try wet on dry techniques. As the name implies, paint some on a dry piece of paper. Mix your paints with water at different levels to see how they look on the paper. You will notice this type painting is much more precise than wet on wet.

A third technique is to do what is called “dry brush” painting. In this technique use a minimal amount of water and a small amount of paint.  A related technique is to then use a brush with more water on top of your dry brush area.

There are also times when you want to cover a large area with paint. For these there are various “wash” techniques. In this type of painting, paint the paper with clear water first. Then add color to your brush and start at the top with a broad long stroke. Add more strokes as you go down the sheet. This will cover an entire area with color, which will be usefull once you start painting scenes.

Practice these beginner techniques to develop some skill. Watch what happens to the paint and the paper. This is a learning process, and let things happen on their own. Once you get some of these techniques down, you can start painting objects and making art. The cool thing about water color is that you don’t have absolute control over what happens with the paint. Allow things to develop and discover what happens with various combinations of water and color.

Gradually increase difficulty. Once you already know the consistency you are most comfortable working with, start adding more colors or doing more intricate designs. Bear in mind that watercolor is runny, dries fast, and remains soluble even after it has dried. Before coloring in a design, you might want to test the color combinations on a different sheet of paper first to find out how well the colors will go with each other. Work slowly and carefully, or else you might end up ruining what you have already finished.

Learn how to fix painting “mistakes”. The good thing about watercolor paint is that you do not have to redo the whole painting if you commit a minor slip. There are two fixes you could do. First, you can paint over the mistake while the paint is still wet, thereby mixing the colors and creating a new pattern. To do this successfully, make sure to swatch the colors first on a different paper. Second, you can wait for the paint to dry before painting it over. Make sure, however, that the second coat of paint is darker than the first one to make sure that the initial color doesn’t show through.

Mastering watercolor painting can take years of practice, so don’t be discouraged if you encounter difficulties at first. Just keep on practicing and enjoy the experience.

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