Watercolor Art: 8 Tips for Getting Started
Working with watercolors can be a magical experience. The flowing colors, the wide spectrum of saturation and the unpredictable pigment are what make this medium so appealing. But they’re also what makes watercolors so intimidating.
If you’re thinking about diving into this fun, sometimes unpredictable medium (and I highly recommend that you do), you may not know where to start. Here are some helpful tips.
1. Invest in Quality Brushes and Paint
You don’t have to spend a fortune on supplies. Quality should always trump quantity. Good quality paints and brushes will help ensure you have a positive experience with this medium. When I first started with watercolors, I bought the cheapest paint set I could find and a few mediocre brushes. I didn’t know how I would feel about the medium, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. The pigments wound up being dull and disappointing. I didn’t touch watercolors again until a friend gifted me a beautiful Pelikan watercolors set. The bright, beautiful hues reinvigorated my interest in watercolors, and I’ve been playing with them ever since. And as it turned out, Pelikan’s set wasn’t too much more expensive than the first set I purchased. Moral of the story: don’t go crazy buying a whole lot of paint and paint brushes. Focus on buying a few quality brushes and paints to get started. Higher quality tools are a pleasure to work with, and you’ll be happier with the end result.
2. Buy Real Watercolor Paper
To create a beautiful watercolor painting, you have to have the right paper. If you try to use watercolor paint on regular craft or printer paper, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The paper will warp and the colors won’t stick. The same rule will apply to watercolor on canvas. Even if the canvas has been gessoed, it’s still not absorbent enough to work well with watercolor paint. Invest in genuine watercolor paper, which will absorb the water and leave you with bright, beautiful pigment. You can also use mix media paper, which is what I started with. It’s not ideal because the paper will still warp a little, but the colors will be bright and vibrant.
3. Dabble with Other Watercolor Tools
If you’re interested in watercolors, you’re not limited to just a paint and paintbrush. There are so many interesting and fun watercolor tools out there, such as: Watercolor pencils Watercolor pens Watercolor markers The nice thing about these tools is that they’re travel-friendly. If you're traveling and want to capture a landscape, you can pull out your watercolor brush pens and start creating. You don’t have to carry around a big bucket of water, a plethora of brushes and a watercolor palette. Many watercolor pen sets also come with a water brush pen, which makes the entire process completely portable.
4. Find Beginner Tutorials to Follow
You may have ambitions to create intricate, advanced paintings with your watercolor set, but if you’ve never worked with this medium, it’s best to start with simple tutorials. Look for tutorials that will help you create easy watercolor paintings. Beginner-focused tutorials will teach you fundamental watercolor techniques that you’ll use time and time again. If you’re working with different watercolor tools, look for helpful videos that focus on your specific tool. If you're using pencils, look for tutorials on how to use watercolor pencils. Learn from seasoned painters and use their techniques as inspiration. I’ve gotten so many watercolor ideas just by watching other painters on YouTube.
5. Establish a Creative Space
Establishing a creative space will help you get into the right mindset and ensure that you have everything you need within an arm’s reach. Your work space should include: Work surface Paint Palette Brushes Clean water for mixing Paper towel to dry brushes Scrap paper to test pigments Set up your space so that nothing is in the way of your dominant hand. The last thing you want is to tip over your cup of your mixing water.
6. Start with a Sketch
You can certainly just dive right in and start painting on a clean canvas, but as a general rule of thumb, you should at least create a rough sketch for your piece. You can create your sketch on a separate piece of paper if you wish, or you can sketch lightly on your watercolor paper. Some artists incorporate those sketch lines into their work, highlighting the crisp, clear lines. (Mary's work is below)
7. Let Them Bleed
It’s one of the most beautiful aspects of watercolor painting: bleeding. When colors bleed into one another, it can create a beautiful gradient effect. But it can also create fear. If you’re worried about colors bleeding into each other, let each one dry before applying the next. But do give yourself permission to play around with how the colors bleed and blend. You can do this on pieces of scrap paper until you feel more comfortable with the process and learn how to manipulate the effect.
8. Masking Fluid is Your New Best Friend
Let's be honest: watercolors are hard to control. Sometimes, pigment can find its way into the wrong parts of a painting. Is there any way to regain some control? Yes. It’s called masking fluid. Masking fluid does exactly what it says: it blocks out any areas you don’t want painted. The masking fluid is applied first. After it dries, you can start painting. Once the painting is dry, simply rub off the masking fluid to reveal clean paper. I have one more tip for you: have fun! Play around with color bleeding. Be adventurous. Get to know the medium. That’s the only real way to improve your watercolor technique.