If you have picked up the brush, here are 21 practical watercolor painting tips that you shouldn’t miss.
Watercolor painting is fun, but often it can be difficult due to the nature of watercolors.
The light and easy-to-use colors can be difficult to control and leave permanent mistakes in your artwork. This is the number one reason why most people quit watercolor early. And I don’t want it to happen to you.
With the scope of what you can do with this medium, I along with my watercolor expert friend —Ashley, have come up with 21 tips on watercolor painting for you.
Check ’em out! (And don’t quit yet!)
Basic Watercolor Painting Tips For Beginners: The Basics Of Basics
8 watercolor painting tips described below will let you start your painting journey on a good note. Those are the basics that you need to know before you even get started!
1) Synthetic Brush Or Natural Fibre Brush?
When choosing the type of brush for watercolors, you have two options to choose from: Synthetic brush, and Natural Fibre brush.
Synthetic brushes made from nylon, polyester, or other synthetic material are cheaper and good for beginners. But on the flip side, they are not as good as the Sable brushes.
Natural fiber brushes made from animal hair (eg. sable brush) are soft, elastic, and have a long tip, and are best due to their absorbing capabilities. But on the downside, they are expensive and hard to get.
You should choose to get watercolor sable brushes or other natural brushes as they are specifically designed to work with watercolors
You can opt for high-quality synthetic brushes, but my watercolor artist friend Ashely would agree otherwise.
In a nutshell, sable brushes are the best to work with, but you can start with high-quality synthetic brushes.
2) Shape Does Matter!
Once you’ve decided to get the type of brush, it’s time to choose the shape.
As a beginner, you don’t need to have an array of different brushes, but a few types will help you a lot.
Different shapes of brush will let you achieve different results. Angular, mop, spotter, round, liner, fan, and flat brushes are some of the types that you can get.
A pro watercolor painting tip for beginners: Get an assortment of the above brushes to start with your painting journey.
And don’t forget to choose high-quality brushes to get better results.
3) Watercolor Pan Or Watercolor Tube?
Watercolors are available in two forms: Cakes (not the pie!) and Tubes. Here are the Pros and Cons for both:
Watercolor Pans (or Cakes)
Watercolors in the form of solid “cakes” are fixed in pans (hence called watercolors pan). These cakes are dry but get activated and ready to use when you dap a wet brush.
1. Easy to Transport
2. Last For Decades
1. Takes time to get the required consistency and is difficult to use for watercolor washes.
2. Certain colors can be hard to work with and may not mix well.
Just like other mediums, watercolors do come in tubes.
1. Concentrated colors, so they are vibrant
2. Easy to mix and create a color pallet
1. If dried on the pallet, it may not revive with the same consistency as it does with watercolor pans.
2. If not capped tightly, the tube may dry out.
Which one should you choose?
Here is a pro watercolor painting tip: The painting you create with pans will be like the one you create with tubes! It boils down to a personal choice whether you want to get watercolor tubes or pans. But ya, you should get good quality watercolors
4) Never Use Canvas!
Ashley, when started with her watercolor journey, used canvas to paint watercolors and the end result was… you can guess… a tragedy!
Canvas is not absorbent enough to work with watercolors. Overlaying, blending, or using any of the watercolor techniques will not work because the paint will not stick to the canvas.
Watercolors need a special type of paper—which brings us to the next watercolor painting tips for beginners.
5) Choose The Right Paper
No canvas… okay… so can I use regular paper? As you can guess, the answer will be…
As you can make from the name itself that watercolor is a water-based paint which implies that it needs a surface that is water absorbent.
What it means is that the paper should be capable of accepting multiple washes of water. For that, you need to get “watercolor papers.”
Watercolor papers are specifically designed for watercolor painting, so you should go for them, that’s a no-brainer.
There are three types of watercolor papers you can go for:
1) Hot-pressed Watercolor Paper (HP)
This type of paper is pressed on a hot cylinder and is the smoothest of all and has no texture. Great for artists looking for fine detailing, and used by professional watercolor artists.
(Hot Pressed paper is referred to as HP paper which means that it is “hot-pressed”)
2) Cold-pressed Watercolor Paper (NOT)
The cold-pressed paper has some texture and is great for watercoloring. Can be used for wide applications.
(Cold Pressed paper is referred to as NOT paper which means that it is “not hot pressed”)
3) Rough Watercolor Paper
Rough is the most textured watercolor paper that can be used for making granulated watercolor designs. This type of paper is suited for those who follow the loose style of watercolor painting.
Watercolor painting tip for beginners: Go with cold-pressed watercolor paper!
6) Setting Up The Place
Watercolor brushes: checked!
Watercolor paint: checked!
Watercolor paper: checked!
Supplies (including pallet, water bowl): checked!
Peaceful Space: chec— umm…
This is one of the most common tips on watercolor painting. Before you start painting, you need to set up your place.
Gather your supplies and find a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. The last thing you’d want to do is get frustrated for not being able to focus.
You can also use an easel if you wish. Just the key rule here is to be comfortable and set up the environment!
7) You Can’t Forget Good Lighting. Never.
Without ample lighting, you won’t be able to understand the colors clearly—neither you’d be able to create a wonderful piece of artwork.
So choose a place with ample lighting. If possible, always go for natural sunlight.
Pro watercolor painting tip: Sit by the window during the day for natural light. Or you can use artificial light like a table lamp or a focus light while painting.
8) Stretch The Watercolor Paper
Stretching the watercolor paper is completely optional. If you want, you can do it; or else just start painting!
Surely there are benefits if you stretch the watercolor paper.
- It prevents the buckling of paper.
- It provides a smooth surface to work.
- If you’re going to use a lot of water for painting, stretching the paper will be beneficial.
You have to wet your paper and stretch it on a wooden board or custom frame.
Suggested Reading: 49 Painting Styles And Techniques
Watercolor Painting Tips To Make The Whole Painting Experience Easier
Now that you’re familiar with the basics, it’s time to grab the brush and start painting.
But go through these watercolor tips before you start. Following these tips will let you do a well-executed watercolor painting.
9) Light To Dark, Not Black To White
It’s not digital art, it’s traditional art—there’s no undo button here!
While working with watercolors, you have to work your way from light colors to dark colors.
If you start with dark colors first, it will be hard and in most cases, impossible to undo the changes.
Also due to the transparency of watercolors, light colors won’t be visible if they’re covered by dark colors.
So always go from light to dark, and not the other way around.
10) Keep A Check On Paint To Water Ratio
“One of the blunders newbies do is they don’t consider paint to water ratio, and end up with bad painting and say, ‘watercolor is hard. It’s not meant for me…’ Look here, man. Watercolor is not hard. you’re not doing it right,” says Ashley as she further explains to me.
“Ya, the proportion of water and paint will change when ya working on achieving different results. Too much water will cause light colors and paint will spread uncontrollably. Too little water means thick colors that don’t flow…
“You need to find a balance here and work your way as per the results you want to achieve. So keep this watercolor painting advice with you always. Never overlook the water to paint ratio.”
11) Know The Color Theory Well (Or At Least The Basics)
Color theory may sound boring, but it’s essential if you’re gonna paint anything. So don’t put it off!
Knowing at least the basics of color theory will let you mix colors from your pallet and give you an understanding of how new colors are formed when mixed.
As a beginner watercolor painter, you should know how Primary colors mix with each other to make Secondary colors, and later how these two categories can be mixed to get Tertiary colors.
Here is the color mixing formula:
yellow + red = orange
red + blue = purple
blue + yellow = green
yellow + orange = yellow-orange
red + orange = red-orange
red + purple = red-purple
blue + purple = blue-purple
blue + green = blue-green
yellow + green= yellow-green
But that’s not it. Changing the proportion or ratio of colors will create interesting results!
Pro watercolor painting tips and tricks: Use a color wheel or color theory chart to refer to, and make your own color wheel with your watercolor paints. This is one pro tip Ahsley wishes she should’ve learned earlier.
Speaking of Color theory, it brings us to our next important watercolor painting tip.
12) Keep A Constant Color Harmony
One of the best watercolor painting tips for beginners is to maintain color harmony throughout the painting.
Creating a palette of 25 different colors sounds amazing, but using them in your painting may result in a clashing and muddy painting.
The key rule for maintaining color harmony is to limit your pallet. As a beginner watercolor painter, you should stick to just 3 colors.
As you progress, increase your color range.
13) Watch Out For Dry Time
You should always look out for dry time especially when watercolors are involved.
Wait for long, you won’t be able to bleed colors; wait too little, congratulations, you have spoiled your artwork.
Although the dry time will vary from the type of effect you want to achieve, it’s important that you keep an eye on it.
If you want to blend colors together, you should layer it on top of wet paint. And if you wish to add details and not blend colors, let the paint dry first.
14) Don’t Overwork Your Painting: Know When To Stop.
I can understand once you’re in the flow, it’s hard to put the paintbrush aside and stop.
Getting in the zone is great, but when working with watercolors you should know when to stop. As water is the base of watercolor paints, the color will naturally flow on the paper and form attractive shapes.
So it’s best not to fight it, or else the painting will appear muddy and overdone.
An overdone watercolor painting is as great as a spoiled painting, so know when to stop.
Pro watercolor painting tip: Although there’s no easy answer to when you should stop; if you see yourself asking “what more can I do to the painting?” it simply means that your painting is done!
15) Plan For White Spaces In Advance
When you work with watercolors, you work from light to dark (as you learned in tip #9).
When working, you can leave white spaces of paper for creating an effect. For this, you need to plan your white spaces before starting and paint around those spaces.
You can try to avoid coloring those spaces by carefully painting around— better said than done!
Use masking fluid to cover up the spaces! It is a latex-based liquid fluid that can be used to mask white spaces.
It protects the space against watercolor paint and once dry, it can be removed by rubbing your finger or with a kneaded eraser.
16) Embrace The Mistakes
Just because you made mistakes, doesn’t mean you should quit!
If you made mistakes while working with watercolors, you can always fix them with a tissue or sponge. You can change the area by applying a wash, but the beauty of watercolors lies in embracing the mistakes.
Any mistake you do will add uniqueness to your painting.
So make mistakes!
Do you know which is the most expensive painting in the world? You can find out in our blog: 19 Most Expensive Paintings.
Watercolor Painting Tips To Execute Your First Masterpiece
Once you’ve got the hand with the watercolors, it’s time to create brilliant paintings. Below you’ll find tips for watercolor that’ll let you create your first masterpiece ever!
17) Get The “Super Supplies”
Apart from paint, paintbrushes, watercolor paper, pallets, masking fluid; there are a few other supplies that’ll help you level up your painting.
Here are a few of them:
1. Masking tape: to mask the elements or the border of your painting.
2. Paper towels: Working with watercolors can get messy. For that, paper towels will be there for your rescue! You can also use them to dap excess paint from the painting.
3. Scratch paper or scraper: To give a wonderful effect to your painting, use a scraper. You can also go with any sharp object such as a pocket knife.
4. Stationery supplies like a ruler, pencils (you’ll learn about this down below), and the eraser will help you a lot.
5. Spray varnish: Once you’re done painting, a spray varnish will protect your painting against UV rays.
18) Use A Light Pencil For Underdrawing
One of the awesome watercolor painting tips for anyone is to use a light pencil to create an outline.
Although it’s not a necessity, underdrawing will help you set the composition of the painting and help you create the masterpiece you’re aiming for.
Use hard pencils (H to 6H) as opposed to Soft pencils (2B, 4B, etc) as hard pencils create lighter shades and are easy to get covered by water paint.
You can always rely on a kneaded eraser to remove the pencil marks.
19) A Hairdryer To Save Your Time
Use a hairdryer, not for drying your hair, but for speeding up your process of painting.
When you apply paint or are giving a watercolor wash, waiting for paint to dry can be annoying and make you lose flow.
Solution: Use a hairdryer to dry the colorfast! It will save you a ton of time! A hairdryer will make sure that the paint is completely dry before you move on to the next step.
20) Use Splatter Technique
One of the easiest and effective watercolor painting tips and tricks is to splatter the brush. Yes, you’re gonna create a lot of mess while doing it, but isn’t it fun?
You have to load your brush with paint and with your finger, you have to flick it on the paper.
Boom! you have a masterpiece that is as awesome as the artwork made by pros. (Btw, this is Ashely’s favorite watercolor painting technique!)
21) Use Alcohol, And Salt To Create Amazing Effects
If you want to create some amazing effects in your watercolor painting, you can try using alcohol and salt. Here’s how you can do it:
Once you paint a wash, take a cotton swab and damp it with rubbing alcohol, and dab it across the surface to create an alluring effect.
When sprinkled, salt soaks up a part of the color and creates a sandy-looking effect on the page. After painting the color, sprinkle some salt to create an effect.
Let the paint dry and now scrape off the salt.
Ashley always recommends experimenting with the techniques you use while painting. That way it’s fun to do and you can learn a lot and end up with amazing results.
Watercolor painting is a fun medium to work with—only if you are willing to practice this medium!
One of the biggest reasons why I came up with this blog is to let a beginner know that watercolor painting is easy.
Many people love watercolor paintings but when it comes to practicing the medium, they find it difficult because of two reasons:
First, they don’t understand the basics well. Second, they don’t try hard enough!
Watercolor painting is a skill, and just like any other skill, you need to practice it often to get better at it.
So start practicing and…
*A big shoutout to Ashlee for helping me with this blog!*
Thank you for going through our list of 21 practical watercolor painting tips for beginners.
I and Ashlee (My pro watercolor artist friend) hope that you find useful watercolor tips in the blog.
If you have any suggestions or want to share about your art journey, you can comment down below!
Also, check out our website: PortraitFlip, where we make handmade paintings from photos. You can visit our gallery down below.
I can promise you won’t be disappointed 😉
Frequently Asked Questions