How to approach watercolor painting as a beginner

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How to approach watercolor painting as a beginner
How to approach watercolor painting as a beginner

A beginner will have to start in some way, and so far nothing to say; just remember to take it easy and calmly enjoy the pleasure of discovering new pictorial skills! Watercolor painting is fun, but it can sometimes be daunting. It all depends on how you take it. It is certainly one of the most versatile means to work with. You can paint in a detailed and controlled way, but also loose and impressionistic. Don't think that the first time you will come up with a masterpiece! Go slow and learn everything step by step.

You will need to practice a lot before you are completely comfortable with this technique. Don't give up if the first few attempts turn out to be less good than you expected. It takes time and repeated effort to get carried away with watercolors. But it's worth it!

Let's start using watercolors!


Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 1
Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 1

Step 1. Spread a sheet of construction paper on a table

Make a very simple drawing with LIGHT pencil strokes. A square or a circle will do just fine too.

Step 2. Put a pin of any color on the white palette

Step 3. Lightly wet the brush

If there is too much water in the brush, tap it on a rag or piece of paper to absorb the excess, or shake it lightly.

Step 4. Drop a couple of drops of water - from the brush - on the color you put on the palette

Don't use too much water - just as much water as it takes to make the color liquid.

Step 5. Dip the brush into the aqueous color on the palette, and it captures a small amount of color in the brush

Next, distribute the color inside the shape you drew on the card. If the color is not diluted enough, and therefore you are unable to distribute it, dip the brush again in the water and add it directly to the paper. Keep experimenting with different amounts of water and with mixed colors, to see what proportion of water to color you like best. If you want to give the painting a "dry brush" look, you will have to use less water in the brush, while if you want a more liquid and flowing style, you will have to use more water than color, etc… Fill the shape on the cardboard with color.

Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 6
Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 6

Step 6. Let it dry

Step 7. Take a sheet of watercolor paper, tap it tightly onto a drawing board with tape on the corners

With a large brush or sponge, wet the entire surface of the sheet. Then try to paint us with different colors. As the paper dries, observe how the color reacts to the amount of water you used.

Step 8. You can use a wet-on-wet to get a light and homogeneous color as a background

The colors on the paper mix easily with each other and some colors do it better than others. Try painting streaks of various blues, then a streak of yellow or gold next to it, then a streak of red after gold when very wet. You will see the chromatic mixing of colors in a homogeneous gradation.

Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 9
Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 9

Step 9. Try drying until you no longer see the shimmer of the water, but the paper is still damp

Now the brushstrokes will always be delicate but a little more defined. Once you have the color down, let it dry completely and then add the details with a wet-on-dry.

Step 10. Adopt a very simple subject at first that has large areas of color

Mix up some celestial. Sketch hills and trees in pencil. Color them roughly initially with a wet-on-wet. Then add some bigger details, with a wet on wet. Finally add all the smallest details with a wet-on-dry, when the painting has completely dried.

Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 11
Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 11

Step 11. You can understand that the paper is completely dry when it doesn't feel fresh anymore

Put the back of your hand over the painting, without touching it. It takes a little practice to feel the humidity well this way, but if you touch the painting, you could spoil it or leave behind traces of sebum. Do not remove the masking tape from the corners until the paper is completely dry and flat. The adhesive tape is used to flatten the paper, which tends to swell with water.

Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 12
Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 12

Step 12. You can use a block of gummed watercolor paper on all four sides instead of taping the paper to a drawing board

It is a bit more expensive but much more practical solution for a beginner.

Step 13. Try using lots of water - and therefore lots of light colors - in one area

Then put some salt in it before it dries. You will get some very nice effects, which you can use to make falling snowflakes or lichen on the rocks.

Step 14. Try drawing on the paper with a white colored pencil, wax crayon or candle

By passing over the color, the strokes of the drawing will appear.

Step 15. Try cutting out shapes on the masking tape, and using them as templates to get shapes on the painting

Any shape you cut out on the tape and apply onto the paper will leave a clean, white imprint on the painting.

Step 16. With watercolors, always paint the darker areas first and skip the light ones

Cover all the parts of the painting that you want to leave white, or just don't brush over them. Get used to "negative painting", and later you will be better able to outline objects in this way than to draw them in an actual way. Try to draw just the shape of the space exactly around the cup and the shape inside the handle, instead of drawing the whole cup, with shadows and details. You will notice a big difference in accuracy!

Step 17. Try to "embellish" the painting

Once the watercolor part is completely dry, dilute a small amount of another color and swipe it over the painting quickly. You will notice that the color will change and if you do it carefully you will not ruin the details painted below. A little gold in sunlit areas in a landscape can make the sunlight brighter.

Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 18
Approach Watercolor Painting As a Beginner Step 18

Step 18. Read books and articles about watercolors and try to reproduce the ideas you find

Find ideas on watercolor techniques on YouTube or other sites. Then paint something you like. One type of painting that goes well with watercolors is Sumi-E, a Japanese painting style in which only black ink is used - the brushstroke and technique are very well suited to watercolors.


  • If you use a good type of cotton paper, like Arches, don't throw away any bad paintings. You can always paint over it with acrylics or gouache or use it as a background to make a pastel painting. Fabric paper is stronger than cheaper paper and if you paint something beautiful it will last longer without yellowing.
  • There are watercolor pencils, solid watercolors, 'godets' (little trays) or blocks, and watercolors in paste, sold in the form of tubes. In this article we have used TUBES watercolors.
  • Many masters teach starting from the "wet on wet" technique, but I prefer to have you start with the most common technique, that of "wet on dry", ie with a wet brush on dry paper.
  • Find the type of PAPER that suits YOUR painting style. The various types of paper reflect various "personalities". Arches paper is nearly indestructible. You can even wash the paintings off the paper, and once it's dry you can reuse it.
  • Do not throw away half-empty color pucks. You can fill them with tubes, spending much less. If you run out of a godet, even in this case you can fill it with a tube of the color you like best.
  • Don't buy paper, brushes etc. More expensive. You can certainly spend a lot of money to buy everything you need, but you don't have to! To get started right, all you need is good synthetic brushes, a small, good quality color palette and a block of watercolor paper. Start small, then increase the number of accessories as you need them.
  • The wet-on-wet technique is still a good technique and should be used before the wet-on-dry technique if you use both in the same painting.
  • Color block sets are great for painting outdoors and when traveling. It is not easy to mix many colors together, but they are perfect for the wet-on-dry technique. A good medium or large travel brush with a fine tip is best for these color sets, because what you find in the box is often only suitable for doing the details. This and a pocket-sized pad of paper the size of a postcard will allow you to practice painting even during your lunch break. The Winsor & Newton sets are more beautiful than others and have accessories such as a water bottle, side flaps to widen the palette and so on.
  • Winsor & Newton is one of the best watercolor manufacturers. The "Cotman" line is for beginners. It is cheaper and you will feel less guilty for using it in large quantities. Winsor & Newton's "Cotman" watercolors are great for students of watercolor painting.


  • NEVER leave the brush in the water container with the bristles touching the bottom. However, you can get some containers with a spring that allow you to keep the brushes suspended in the water without touching the bottom. If you take Chinese brushes, shape them with your fingers and hang them on a nail or hook from the end of the handle to maintain the shape of the bristles.
  • Do not use the same brushes when painting with water (watercolor, acrylic, gouache) and oil (oil paints, oil pastels, etc.). When a brush has been used for oil, an oil brush must remain. Put a label on the handle to distinguish them.
  • Wash your brushes with mild dish soap or a brush cleaner. This will prevent some spots of color from forming on the bristles, and most importantly will make the brushes last longer.
  • Do not suck on the brush to shape the tip or flatten its bristles. Use your fingers. Some pigments contained in colors are toxic and it is best not to get in the habit of putting them in your mouth.