Beginners Watercolor Painting Guide

Watercolor paintings can look absolutely stunning but for anyone just starting out with watercolors, it can all seem rather overwhelming. With this beginners watercolor painting guide, we hope to simplify the process so you can start your new hobby with confidence!

Watercolor is a painting method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. It is thought that watercolor painting dates as far back as the cave paintings of paleolithic Europe as well as been used for manuscript illustration since at least Egyptian times but especially in the European Middle Ages. As an art medium watercolor painting begins with the Renaissance and its popularity really started to develop during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Beginners Watercolor Painting Guide

You Will Need

There are a few basics that you will need to get started on your watercolor painting journey. The main items being paint, paper, and brushes. We talk about these in more detail below. You will also need a pallet to mix the paints on.

watercolor paints
Watercolor paint set

First things first, you are going to need some watercolor paints. There are two different types of watercolor paints; dried cakes and tubes of paint. The type of paint you use is totally up to your preference. If you are buying a limited color range make sure that you include the primary colors, blue, red and yellow. With these three colors, it is possible to make a whole array of different colors. As everything else related to watercolor painting you get what you pay for. We adore the Sennelier L’Aquarelle French Watercolor Paint set above but this will be out of most beginners price range. Start with something more affordable and work your way up to a higher quality set once as your passion develops.

Round brushes

To begin with, you can start with just a few brushes. You are better to buy a few better quality brushes than bunches of low-quality ones. Round brushes are very versatile and great to start off with. Work up your brush collection to include, round brushes, flat brushes, and a good quality mop brush. There are many packs of brushes available to buy which is an easy way to increase your variety of brush styles.

Watercolor Paper
Watercolor paper

The watercolor paper quality will make a big difference to your overall finished artwork. Using cheap paper is good if you are wanting to experiment and have fun but a higher quality paper will always give you the best results.

Artists grade paper is more expensive but will stand up to the test of time. We love the Arches Watercolor Block, it comes as a block which eliminates the need to stretch and tape your work. The sides of the sheets are all glued together. You paint on the top sheet and remove after your painting is finished.

If you are starting out a more affordable watercolor paper or a watercolor pad can be the best idea as the last thing you want is to be trying to conserve paper and worrying about mistakes. After all, we learn from our mistakes! Most paper from 300lb won’t need to be stretched so if you can afford it then this would be the easiest way to go.

If you are wanting to learn more about watercolor paper Art Is Fun has put together a great article on the topic.

How To Stretch Watercolor Paper

Lighter-weight watercolor sheets under 300lb may need to be stretched. This is done to stop the paper from buckling. Paper that has buckled can be very hard to work with! To avoid this watercolor paper can be soaked and stretched. To stretch watercolor paper thoroughly wet the paper then tape to a board and leave until dry. Once dry the paper is left taped to the board and painted on. To find out more about this method head over to Strathmore Artist.

Watercolor Kit

If it is seeming too overwhelming (and expensive) to start out on your watercolor hobby then a DIY Kit might be a better option for you. Watercolor kits come with everything you need to get started with watercolors. The kit above comes with guides to help you get started as well as paints, brushes, paper, and a pallet as well as other bonus equipment so you won’t need to rush out to buy a thing.

How To Mix Watercolors

So you have your watercolor kit and are ready to go but how do you mix watercolors? It really is a lot less complicated than you may think. You will need your pallet, a bush, paint, water and scrap paper.

If you are wanting to use just one color simply mix the color with water and you are ready to go. Test on scrap paper to make sure you have the desired shade.

Dip your brush in water and load it up with one of the colors you’ll be mixing. Dab the paint onto your palette. Make sure that you add enough water for your painting as mixing up the same color again can be very challenging. Now repeat the same process with the second color, putting the color alongside the first color. Clean the brush and re-wet, then mix the colors together. You can leave the color on the pallet between uses, simply add some water and your color will be ready to go again. Test out your newly created color on a piece of scrap paper.



Now you are ready to get experimenting! This is the creative and fun part but don’t worry if it feels a bit scary to start with. Artsy has a great tutorial on 5 basic watercolor techniques for beginners. Start with these 5 tutorials and I almost guarantee that after you have completed them you will be feeling inspired and ready to start your first original piece of art.

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