How to Start with Watercolour — Part 3

watercolour painting set up

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.

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