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How to Start with Watercolour — Part 3

Ok. So we have a palette and some watercolour paint. What now?

Water:… LOTS of water, this is watercolour painting, after all. I have two containers of water, a large one for washing out my brushes and a smaller one for clean water to paint with.

Paper towel: I find that having lots of paper towel, and/or an absorbent towel is the bast way to soak up used paint from my brush before washing my brush out. It keeps me from having to get up all the time to get fresh water. I also have a sponge.. the kitchen kind but without ANY chemicals in it to wipe my brush on between colours. I can wash it out and save on using a forest full of paper towel.

Brushes: You need a nice soft brush (not a bristly, inflexible one – those are for oils) I find some softer acrylic brushes will work, but when you want to get serious a good watercolour brush is a must. There are plenty of good brushes… you don’t NEED a Sable. I find the squirrel mop is a lovely brush. A watercolour brush review is in the works, for now any decent soft brush… a size 8 or 12 is a good start.

Some Nice Brushes

some of the brushes I use…

Paper: And some paper. The paper is very important – you do need to have paper that can cope with the water. I recommend 140lb cold pressed watercolour paper. This article will tell you all you need to know about paper. Honestly.. I have found that the paper is the most crucial supply. Just recently I tried out some different papers, and since I almost exclusively use Arches, it was an eye-opener. It was incredibly frustrating to try to paint on some of the cheaper ‘watercolour’ paper. They are just awful. Not an enjoyable experience. Get the best you can afford.

Masking tape: A better quality one so it doesn’t damage your paper.. painters tape works well, I like the green stuff… Painters Mate. You can get it at the local hardware store. There is ‘artists tape’, but it’s scary expensive and I could only justify it if I had some serious paper.. like 300 lb and was working on a commission.

If you have never painted before then I suggest you have a go at just playing with the paint and getting used to how it behaves on the paper. If you are using a full sheet or any page larger than 9 x 12 inches tape it off into four rectangles. You are going to be more comfortable with smaller areas to start and you won’t feel like you are ‘wasting paper’ this way while you get used to your new supplies.

Let’s get started!

Your first Watercolour Technique: woohoo!

1. Wet on wet

This is what most people think of when they think of watercolour.. loose, flowey, soft. Start with dry paper, take a clean brush and dip it into your water. Paint a little puddle of clean water on your dry page. Now you can choose a colour to put your brush into. Touch the paint to the wet page and watch it spread – isn’t that wonderful?

Here is what I do: Load the brush with water and kind of scatter it on the page.. a few big drops here and there, some brushed areas.. a splatter. Look at your paper and if you see puddles, wait a minute.. if you see a nice wet sheen load your brush with a colour you like and just touch the brush to the wet paper, close to the edge where it meets the dry paper.. and watch the magic happen. (if it’s a dull sheen, add more water first) Wash out your brush and load it with another colour… close to your first colour (if you chose yellow, grab an orange, red or pink.. if a blue grab some purple or green) Touch it in close to the first colour, watch them mix and blend on the paper. Notice how the paint only goes where the water is. Lightly drag your cleaned, damp brush through the two colours, just gently urging them together in a few places.

Play and experiment with these wet on wet techniques:

  • Try a very wet clean puddle on the page and drop in a bit of colour
  • Make a clean puddle but wait a bit so that the water soaks into the page before you add the colour – compare your results with the first one and try different lengths of drying time
  • Try more than one colour on your wet (more like damp) puddle and watch them blend  
  • Paint a puddle of colour onto the page and then drop in another colour. This is still wet on wet, it’s just wet colour instead of wet clean paper
  • Try dropping clean water into a puddle of damp colour and wait to see the effects it makes. Don’t push the water about – just let the paint and water do its own thing to see what happens. And then do it again but do push the water about – compare the different effects.
  • place some drops of colour on the puddles and tip your paper so the paint runs… now tip it another way.

    Now for a secret… get some yellow and just drop in a few drop, here and there. Yellows, I find are pushy, they push the other paints around. Pay attention to how it does this and watch what your other colours do as well. Aim for a nice messy colourful page – so much fun! Do this for each of your four rectangles, take your time, listen to your intuition and try different things.

Tape off another page and try some more… Play with the wet on wet technique and find out what the paint does, find out what colours mixing on the page make, look for neat shapes and effects. Don’t worry about making it look like anything yet. This is an abstract way to get comfortable with watercolour.

This concludes Part 3 of Starting with Watercolours. Stay tuned! In Part 4 we will explore Wet on Dry, and prepare for a full painting!

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Share your experience of what you learned, leave a comment, or ask a question below. I’ll do my best to answer any watercolour or general art questions you might have.

How to Start With Watercolour — Part 2

So you will need something to put your paint in, add water, mix colours and such. Which raises the next question….

What kind of palette do I need to paint with watercolour tubes and pans?

If you choose a pan set it will most likely come with some sort of palette built into the box. If you don’t see an obvious palette (ie plastic or metal tray with sections) then you can use the lid.

Travel pan set

The sections are helpful in keeping your paint colours separate. This is important because if you have something like a red and a green on your palette and they end up mixing together you will end up with a disappointing muddy brown grey.

If you don’t have sections, never fear! You can keep the puddles of colour distinct by spacing them far enough apart on your palette. If you ever run out of room you can always clear a space by spraying a section you aren’t using anymore with water and wiping it clean with a paper towel or old rag. This is a tremendous advantage of watercolour I think – easy instant clean up!

You can also use a separate palette. You can buy a plastic or ceramic palette in the art store.

Ceramic palettes are smooth and clean to work from but have no lid for easy storage at the end of your painting session.

Small ceramic palette. These are my favourite. I just put a paper towel over them to keep out dust when I’m not painting.

Large lidded palettes have lots of mixing area and are easy to close up when you are finished painting. The downside is storing the large flat surface area that this style of palette takes up.

I have one of these. It’s good when painting larger pieces, but I find that too many colours isn’t always a good thing.

If you choose watercolour tubes then of course all of the above suggestions for separate palettes apply. But I have another suggestion which I consider to be the best of both worlds when it comes to tubes and pans…

Best of both worlds – a custom watercolour palette 

The best of both worlds is to create a custom palette box. There are Schmincke pans in a metal palette box tin. It is one of those tins that contain metal rods that hold the little white plastic pans. The set can come with 24 colours, but you can get it with the 48 size tin. The you have the option of adding colours as you progress. 

Palette for pans

You can buy empty white pans and fill them with paint, or you can buy the little pans with the watercolor paint already inside. This means your paint selection can grow with you. You can also rearrange the order of the paints by shuffling the little pans around. So many options….

But what if you are starting out and are not ready to spend too much?

You can have the same sort of system without shelling out for the fancy metal tin with adjustable pans. There are many watercolour paint boxes available at your local art/craft store. They are usually plastic and come with a lid and or the extra palette tray/mixing space. I used them for the longest time before I got my current ones.

Or, you can get creative and use items you might have laying around. Ceramic plates are perfect and easy to find at your local second hand store. I’ve also used plastic egg cartons in a pinch and a butcher’s tray makes an excellent palette.

I refill my used pans in my travel kit with tube watercolours rather than buying the little filled pans again because it’s cheaper to buy the large tubes of watercolour. I can refill a pan many times from one tube of paint.

In the last article we talked about choosing paint. If you decided to go with tube colours and not a set of pans then you can squeeze some paint into the holding wells in a less expensive palette (you can fill them up or just squeeze out a little). The paint will dry into a cake format over a day or so, depending on the brand. You can spritz it with water anytime and within a few minutes it will spring back to life and you are ready to paint!

This concludes Part 2 of Starting with Watercolours. Stay tuned! In Part 3 we will discuss brushes, paper, and how to get used to your new supplies.

Leave a comment, or ask a question below. I’ll do my best to answer any watercolour or general art questions you might have.

If you enjoyed this intro to watercolour I’d appreciate if you could hit the like and if you know someone who would like it, share.

One Brush

For World Watercolour Month trying new things is on the list. I have this lovely little mop brush that is usually used for backgrounds. It holds a LOT of water (or paint).

It’s a challenge for me to put down the tiny detail brushes so I thought I’d see what I could do with just this one brush, only three colours and a few minutes.

I’m happy with it.