How to Paint with Watercolors (with Pictures)

Table of contents:

How to Paint with Watercolors (with Pictures)
How to Paint with Watercolors (with Pictures)

Are you looking to broaden your skills in the art of painting? Watercolor painting is a rewarding and very expressive art form. The colors are made with pigments contained in a water-soluble base. You have the ability to add and control water to create bright and striking paintings. Watercolors are often chosen to create landscapes or natural scenes. Whatever you want to paint, you'll need to purchase the supplies, get organized, and start practicing.


Part 1 of 5: Getting the Equipment

Paint With Watercolors Step 1
Paint With Watercolors Step 1

Step 1. Choose the type of watercolors to buy

Watercolors can be found on the market both in tubes and in tablets contained in palettes or trays. The tube version allows you to customize your color assortment a little more, while the pads are usually sold in a range of predefined colors.

  • Watercolors are divided according to their properties: some are transparent, others opaque. The former allow you to glimpse the white background of the paper, giving the shades a certain brightness. Dull ones are also very vivid, but they tend to look duller as they block the light hitting the paper.
  • Furthermore, they can be permanent or non-permanent. The non-permanent ones remain on the surface of the paper and due to this characteristic they are easy to remove or blend with other non-permanent colors. Permanent watercolors, on the other hand, penetrate the paper permanently and are more difficult to combine with non-permanent colors.
Paint With Watercolors Step 2
Paint With Watercolors Step 2

Step 2. Decide which shades you want to buy

You will probably want a range that encompasses the primary colors, including: gommagutta (deep golden yellow), medium hansa yellow, sandal red, shirt pink, ultramarine blue, phthalo blue and quinacridone burnt orange. Once you learn how to use these core colors, experiment with others.

Paint With Watercolors Step 3
Paint With Watercolors Step 3

Step 3. Choose your brushes

You should get them in various sizes, roughly from no. 5 to no. 10. To retain color easily, they also need to have a nice tip. You could also buy a flat brush - it has a long straight edge, which is useful for thinning or applying a layer of color as a base.

Some artists will tell you to buy great quality brushes right away, while others will advise you not to spend too much money at first until you are sure you want to continue painting with watercolors. Despite the confusion that these suggestions may create, choose them based on your possibilities and the consistency with which you plan to dedicate yourself to this painting technique

Paint With Watercolors Step 4
Paint With Watercolors Step 4

Step 4. Buy the watercolor paper

You cannot derogate on this point, if you do not want bubbles to form on the painting when you start working. Watercolor paper is heavy and has some texture. It is made to withstand the application of a considerable amount of water and color.

Watercolor paper has three different textures: hot pressed with a smooth surface, cold pressed with a rough and uneven surface, and rough with an uneven surface. You can also choose a thicker and heavier card when you are a beginner

Paint With Watercolors Step 5
Paint With Watercolors Step 5

Step 5. Make or buy other watercolor painting equipment

When starting out, find something around the house that you can use to start painting. Once you have decided to go watercolor painting, you can purchase higher quality products if you wish.

Paint With Watercolors Step 16
Paint With Watercolors Step 16

Step 6. Find a palette

If you have decided to equip yourself with household items, you should use a large plate. It will allow you to place various colors and mix them. If you intend to buy a palette, be sure to choose one with the large tubs, so you can mix the water inside. You can buy one with several trays or buy more than one for certain colors.

Paint With Watercolors Step 7
Paint With Watercolors Step 7

Step 7. Look for a board

At first, you can use a simple, fairly sturdy piece of cardboard, leaning against a wall or table. If you intend to buy it, choose it of wood, plexiglass or foam rubber: you can place the watercolor paper on top. Additionally, you will need to purchase an easel to hold the board upright while you paint. However, it is a matter of personal choice, as some prefer to paint on a flat surface, while others at a certain angle.

Paint With Watercolors Step 8
Paint With Watercolors Step 8

Step 8. Get the supplies to stay organized and clean

This type of equipment varies according to personal needs. Many artists prefer to have water containers, paper towels, pencils, and erasers on hand. Also, it is advisable to wear an old shirt or apron while painting.

Part 2 of 5: Getting started

Paint With Watercolors Step 9
Paint With Watercolors Step 9

Step 1. Set up your painting space

Find a comfortable environment where you enjoy spending some of your time. Choose an area with natural light. If you work in the evening or don't have good lighting, get a powerful table lamp.

Look for a full spectrum light bulb or lamp. That way the light won't be too hot or prevent you from painting accurately. Also, make sure that the lampshade is very white, so that the lighting in the room you work in appears more natural

Paint With Watercolors Step 10
Paint With Watercolors Step 10

Step 2. Organize the colors, brushes and water

Once you've started painting, you won't want to stop and look for equipment. Keep everything you need close to the picture, but also try to have enough space to move around comfortably.

  • If you are right-handed, place the palettes, brushes, and water containers on the right side of the desk, while the paper towels and other equipment on the left side. Reverse the order if you are left handed.
  • Lay the brushes flat on a paper towel when you're not using them. Never leave them upside down in the water container. They will not stay clean and could be damaged at the tip.

Step 3. Place the sheet of watercolor paper

Secure it to the board with duct tape and place it in the center of the countertop. If you can, tilt your desk up or raise the board by placing a block underneath until you get an optimal slope.

With a light pencil, try to outline the subject or landscape on the sheet of paper. Many artists like to paint without guidance, but it can be helpful at first. Have an eraser handy to erase mistakes

Paint With Watercolors Step 12
Paint With Watercolors Step 12

Step 4. Choose the colors to use for your painting

Red, yellow and blue will serve you as your primary colors. These three, mixed and blended together, will create other shades that you are going to use to paint and maintain some consistency in the design. You can choose other colors to make your work more original. However, many artists use only the three primary colors in all their works.

Step 5. Learn to use warm and cool colors

Warm colors, such as red, orange and yellow, stand out on the paper, as if they are leaking. Cold colors, such as blue, purple and green, are more elusive.

Complementary colors, which are arranged in opposite positions on the color wheel, such as yellow and purple, stand out equally when they are next to each other. In other words, they seem to "compete" with each other to get the viewer's attention

Part 3 of 5: Learn the Basics of Painting with Watercolors

Step 1. Learn to prepare the watercolor in the palette

Choose a color and pour a drop or two into a bowl of the palette. Dip the brush in the water and turn it into the pan to mix the paint. If you want to use other colors, put them in different trays. Make sure you rinse the brush when you alternate between one color and another.

  • Don't use too much water. Start with a little water and add more as needed. It is more difficult to enrich a color by loading it, rather than diluting it.
  • Fill the palette with the colors you are using. Press the tubes by pouring a small amount of color into the individual trays of the palette.

Step 2. Learn to mix colors

This way, you will understand the effect they give when they come together. It is the ability to mix and overlap colors that makes the watercolor technique so unique. The first few times you do this, you will probably be surprised by the results.

  • Watercolors, once dry, are much lighter than they look when wet. Remember this when trying to figure out how you can lighten or darken some details.
  • Try not to overdo it. The colors don't have to blend perfectly with each other. A brushstroke can contain multiple shades of color instead of giving a solid hue. This is the beauty of watercolor.

Step 3. Load the brush with color

To fully charge it, immerse it in the tray so that it is completely impregnated. Lift it up and slide it to the edge of the palette so that it drips. If not, slide it over the edge several times so it's not too loaded.

After loading the brush, you may want to dab it. To do this, simply tap on a paper towel, so you can remove the excess color. You can dab it lightly or deeper

Step 4. Learn how to rinse brushes

You will need to do this when you switch from one color to another, using the same brush, or when you stop your work. Dip the brush in a container full of water and tap the bottom lightly to open the bristles and let the color come out. Keep going until it's clean.

If you have to clean more than one brush it is better to change the water, otherwise it will get dirty and you will not be able to remove the stains

Part 4 of 5: Mastering the Most Common Techniques

Step 1. Learn wet on dry

This technique is used to fill a large area with a uniform and consistent tint. To begin, draw a square or rectangle on your drawing pad and fully load the brush with the color you intend to use.

Step 2. Start from the top left edge

Without pressing, draw a corner with two small strokes of just over 1 cm. When you lift the brush, you should see a small pocket of color forming on the surface of the paper. Touch it a few more times with the brush to release more color and increase the size of the pouch.

Step 3. Run the brush along the top of the square, using only the tip and going down on the right side for just over 1 cm

Raise the brush to release more color. Obtained a Paint Bag.

Step 4. Start filling the square with color

Draw another line from right to left, this time using all the bristles of the brush instead of just the tip. Stop roughly halfway, reload the brush completely and continue to the left edge of the square.

Step 5. Continue towards the bottom of the square

Continue to paint along the sides and then across the sheet with strokes just over 1cm long until you have filled the space inside the square. Remember to move right to left and left to right when you color it.

Step 6. Learn to charge two colors

Basically, it's about mixing two colors on the sheet, rather than on the palette tray. This technique allows you to create more subtle shades that range from one color to another.

Step 7. Use the first color you have chosen

It's best to use the wet-on-dry technique to load up the colors. For example, paint about half of the space or square with the first color.

At the end of the bag, draw irregular lines instead of straight ones. Rinse the brush

Step 8. Fully reload the brush in the second color

Touch the pouch of the color you made earlier with the tip. Lift it and release the color that will blend immediately, widening the bag.

The second color loaded on the brush will blend with the first. At this point it is preferable to rinse the brush again and load it with the second color you have chosen. By doing so, you will get a sharper transition between the two shades

Step 9. Learn to soften hard edges

To create a sheer edge or various types of shades, you need to apply water carefully.

Step 10. Draw a colored line

Rinse the brush and pat it dry until it is moist but not dripping.

Step 11. Drag it along the line

Take care to continue while the line is still wet. You can do a single continuous stroke or several shorter strokes, giving an even lighter look. The color will recharge in the moist part.

Step 12. Continue to lighten the bag

Rinse the brush and repeat, tracing another line along the paint pouch, until the paint runs out on the moist part.

Step 13. Learn to remove the watercolor from the paper

This is a useful technique if you make a mistake or if you want to get an original effect. You can simply blot the area with a paper towel or use the flat part or the tip of the brush if you want to be more precise.

Step 14. Wet a hard, clean brush

It is preferable that it is not soaked in water, otherwise you will have less control over the color to be removed.

Use the flat part of the brush if the surface is slightly larger. Use the tip if you only need to remove a little color

Step 15. Drag the brush to the area you want to remove the color from

Make precise touches, avoiding going back to the same spot.

Step 16. Tap the brush on a napkin

This will remove some of the color you brushed off.

Step 17. Rinse and repeat the operation, only if you want to remove another color

Part 5 of 5: Practicing a Simple Mountain Landscape

Step 1. Draw the horizon line on the paper

Use a pencil and ruler to draw a straight line roughly 1/4 the height of the paper, starting at the bottom edge. The landscape you are going to paint will develop above and below this line.

Step 2. Run the water-soaked brush across the top of the paper

Use clean water and apply it from top to bottom until it is 2-3 cm away from the horizon line.

Prepare several trays of a single color on the palette. Varies the amount of water to incorporate inside, in order to have different shades of color

Step 3. Paint the sky

Load a medium-sized brush with a vivid hue and paint from top to bottom, stopping about 2-3 cm from the horizon line.

  • The color should gradually fade as you go down towards the horizon. You can leave some space between these variations.
  • Also try to leave a colorless area in the sky to give the idea of the sun rising above the mountain peaks. Make sure you blend the edges between the colored and unpainted areas.

Step 4. Load the brush with another color and go over the top half of the sky

This will make the sky stand out from the horizon.

Use a paper towel or cloth to remove the color in some places and create clouds and other shades in the sky

Paint With Watercolors Step 39
Paint With Watercolors Step 39

Step 5. Let the sky dry

You can stop working or blow on the sheet until it is dry to the touch. This will speed up the process, but take care to use watercolor paper, otherwise bubbles will form.

Step 6. Paint a mountain range

Start about 5cm above the horizon line and use a dark, concentrated shade to draw a zigzag across the paper. Make it stand a few inches above the horizon, without touching it.

Don't worry about smoothing the color of the mountains - on the contrary, irregularities will make them more realistic

Step 7. Make the mountains using the same shade

Paint down to the horizon line, but stop above it, just over 1cm from it.

Step 8. Paint the middle area

It is the one between the slopes of the mountains and the horizon. Dip a stiff brush into the same pan used to paint the mountains and hold it horizontally, like a chisel, tapping on various points on the horizon.

Step 9. Continue painting along the horizon line

Continue to hold the brush firmly, as if it were a chisel, overlapping the brush strokes and making darker and lighter strokes. The lower brushstroke should be darker, since it will be the edge of a lake.

  • Give body to the design with irregular horizontal brushstrokes.
  • Leave spots lighter or darker to give the design a more natural look.

Step 10. Paint a lake in the foreground

This is the part that will stand out the most in the painting. Load a large, stiff brush with color and lots of water to create a lighter shade. With a precise stroke, drag the brush from one side of the sheet to the other without stopping.

  • To give the idea of the glare of the sun on the water, make very light strokes starting from a point where the lake develops just below the horizon. In this way, the white of the paper will emerge between one brushstroke and the next.
  • Continue painting like this as you move towards the bottom of the paper, stopping about 2-3 cm from the bottom.
Paint With Watercolors Step 45
Paint With Watercolors Step 45

Step 11. Let the lake dry

Again, you can let it air dry or blow.

Step 12. Finish painting the lower part of the foreground

Load the brush with a dark shade and, going horizontally, paint a double, irregular and dark line on the bottom of the lake. Fill the foreground with this shade, lightening the hand where the lake and sky are lighter.

If you want to add some reeds, dry the stiff brush, load it with the darker color and draw vertical strokes down towards the lake shore. Avoid painting them all along the banks. Rather, choose a single zone in which to place them

Step 13. Admire your work

Your first painting is finished and you can sign it, put it on a base and frame it. Keep practicing to learn other more difficult techniques, such as sponging, spray painting, salt painting, dry painting, and more.