Watercolor is a soft, vibrant, beautiful and fluid medium. Learning how to control this wild beauty it’s essential to learn the basics of how the medium works. In this tutorial you’ll learn the bare minimum materials you will need, creating lines, water control, and techniques to make the paint work with you and not against you. The most important thing is that you enjoy your time painting. Work with the paint and not against it by taking any mistakes and making them purposeful.
Let’s Get Started – time to gather the materials
- Artist grade watercolor set. I’m using Winsor Newton Cotman Pocket Plus Travel Set
- Cup of water
- 140lb cold press watercolor paper. Strathmore is an inexpensive good brand
- A ruler
- Square watercolor brush size 12
- Round watercolor brush size 8
- Round watercolor brush size 6
- Script watercolor brush size
- Pencil or waterproof pen
The paper, paint, and brush quality are very important. If any of those materials are of lesser quality you will have a difficult time. Always invest in artist quality supplies. I recommend synthetic sable brushes like Princeton Neptune. All these supplies listed can be purchased at your local Michaels or Hobby Lobby.
To start out take your watercolor sheet and divide it into four quadrants. Label the upper left quadrant Lines and split that quadrant into four blocks. Label each black with what brush you will be using. The upper right quadrant label Water control and divide into thirds. Label each third Too Little, Just Right, Too Much. For the lower left divide into thirds and label each Wet on Wet, Wet on Dry, and Dry Brush. Lastly the lower right quadrant divide into thirds and label each Scrub, Soften, and Gradient. Feel free to cut up these quadrants or leave it as a whole sheet.
Now with the watercolor paper all planned out lets start with lines. Different brush shapes, widths, and lengths creates unique lines. In each labeled space use the brush you labeled to create each of these lines.
- Thin Line. Make a thin line with your brush. If it’s a round just gently touch the paper with the tip. For the square brush turn the brush horizontal to make a thin line.
- Tapered Line. Create a tapered line with the round brushes by starting off gently with the tip of your round and applying more pressure to make the line thicker. No tapered line for the script brush box. With the square brush hold vertical to create a thick line.
- Wavy Line. For the round brushes at the top of the wave use the tip gently while applying more pressure while moving to the bottom of the wave. With the square brush which ever way you hold your brush will create a different effect.
- Small Shapes. Using the script brush make straight short lines. These lines would be good to create animal hair. For the rounds just press the tip down while holding the brush at a 45 degree angle and it creates a petal shape. With the square make varies size rectangles and a perfect square.
- More Shapes. With the script brush make little wavy lines going upwards. You can use these wavy lines to create grass or long hair. For the rounds create a short tapered line by starting at the top of your line by pressing down and then flicking the brush downward while lifting up. You might want to practice on a scrap piece of paper. With the square brush start off with your brush horizontal and make a little wave keeping your brush in the same position the entire motion.
- Dots and more. Create dots with each brush. With the square brush hold your brush at a 45 degree angle and make an N shape.
The amount of water on your brush is a crucial part to controlling watercolors. -In the Too Little Box. Barely put any water on your brush before you dip in paint. When you go to paint your color will be spotty and won’t go far. This can be used to create textures like sand, rocks, and more. -For the Just Right box wet your brush but skim your brush on the edge of your cup to take off extra water before dipping in paint. When you go to paint on your paper the color should be smooth, glisten slightly on the paper and go far. -In the Too Much box dip your paintbrush in the water without skimming and grab paint. When you go to paint it will create a glossy puddle. The paint will stay wet for a long time and cause a blotchy soft not as vibrant color. This is not ideal to saturate your paper but just like the Too Little Box Can be used to your advantage. Using a lot of water will give helpful in making sky or soft out of focus backgrounds.
Now that you know how to control the amount of water the next important step is applying paint. There are 3 ways to apply paint to get achieve the look you want.
Wet on Wet – Here you will take 3 colors. I used the primaries red, yellow, and blue but feel free to use what colors you want keeping in mind the color wheel and what colors make brown and black. For this block put down a block of red. While the red is still wet clean your brush then grab pure clean yellow and paint a block going towards the red to meet up with it. You can add some more yellow or red where they meet to experiment with the effect that provides. Quickly while the red and yellow are still glistening clean your brush grab blue paint and meet up with both the red and yellow. See how the colors mix where they meet and it’s a soft mixing no hard lines.
Wet on Dry – With this method you will have to wait until each color is dry. Start with Yellow and make a circle. Wait until the yellow circle is completely dry, no shine, no glistening on the paper at all. Then overlap a blue circle a bit on the yellow. Wait again for the blue circle to be dry. Lastly take the red and overlap both the blue and yellow circle. See how there is a clear harsh line and the transparency. Make little lines of the other two missing colors over the circle to see the transparency of the colors. Red is more opaque while yellow is very transparent.
Dry Brush – Load your brush with lots of paint but not a lot of water. When you go to paint your lines will be very opaque and vibrant and the paint won’t go far. Layer some strokes to really build up the color.
These extra techniques will really push your watercolor skills to the next level.
- Scrubbing out paint works best on dark colors. Some colors stain the paper so it’s not always possible to scrub back to white. Paint a large patch of highly pigmented color of your choice. When the paint is still wet take a clean slightly damp brush and pick up a rectangle of color. Wait for your color to dry. Once your paint is all dry take a clean damp brush again and scrub scrub scrub. This technique can be used for leaf veins, tree branches, and water.
- Softening edges can be used to push back portions of your painting or get rid of smooth edges where you don’t want them. To soften you take a damp brush run it along one edge. You can do this on wet paint or dry paint they produce different effects.
- Gradients are great for backgrounds. Start by taking a clean brush with water and pre wet the area you want. Then Saturate your brush with lots of paint start at top and move your brush side to side while moving down. You should get a nice gradient. Add more paint to the top if it’s not dark enough. To lighten the bottom of the gradient you can take your paper towel and pick up a bit of color when your paint is still wet, then go back over with a clean damp brush to even out any edges.
Take a look at the quick little behind the scene video to get a glimpse of what each step would look like. Play around with these watercolor tips and techniques you’ll soon be mastering watercolor in no time!
Good Luck & Don’t Forget; Practice Makes Perfect !
About the Author
Priscilla George is a watercolor artist of creatures and natural treasures. Currently Priscilla resides in Sykesville, Maryland with her daughter, husband, and two shiba inu dogs. She is also a nature lover and tea/latte addict who adore all animals.