If you are a beginner and thinking of trying your hand at this versatile medium or getting hold of some fundamental watercolor techniques, check out this list of painting basics. Made of paints suspended in a water-based solution, watercolor is a fun and sometimes extremely unpredictable medium which makes it quite tricky to use them correctly. But, with the right techniques and little patience and efforts, you can create a truly magical work of art.
Here we have compiled the top 7 basic tips of watercolor painting to help you get started.
- Get Proper Supplies
Having the right tools and materials in your kit makes a world of difference which is clearly reflected in your art. Getting hold of quality materials is essential to give you results and effects that you wish to achieve in your painting. Let’s break it down by paper surface, paints, and brushes:
Not all paper is created equally with similar features and qualities. If you are working with watercolors, it is always better to use cold press watercolor paper of about 140lb weight. It is a great, economical painting surface that will let you practice, experiment and create beautiful art without any hassles.
Let’s compare watercolor wash on a regular copy paper, and another on watercolor paper. As the copy paper sheet is not made in the same way as watercolor paper, it usually results in a buckled and wavy paint wash after drying. Also, after getting wet, the fibers of the copy paper start to expand and tear, ball up on the sheet. On the other hand, the watercolor paper has a heavier weight and good texture which adds subtleness to the art. Also, made from wood pulp using additives, it easily absorbs the moisture of the paint properly without disintegrating or damaging its effect. On the application of the watercolor wash, it remains flat, has an even color tone with a smooth finish, and does not disintegrate or tear.
This versatile painting medium comes in both tubes and pans. Depending on your preferences, either of them will work well for you but make sure to buy quality paints. Cheap watercolor paints become crackly and chalky on drying while good paints will last longer and have a smooth, even color finish. Also, it is better to start small: you can mix a variety of hues and shades using a limited palette.
While starting out with watercolors, you don't need to kit yourself with a huge assortment of paintbrushes, but getting a few key types will help as you try to achieve different effects and results in your work.
Though your choices will depend on how large or small your artwork is, still having a small (000 to 6), medium and large round brush, a flat brush, and a mop brush is a good way to start. Remember that each brush is created for an intended purpose, so experiment with different sizes and find out your favorites.
- Know The Water To Paint Ratio
The water to paint ratio does not remain the same, it changes as to which effect you are trying to achieve in your watercolor painting.
Adding too much water can result in colors that are too light. It can also make the paint spread more than you would like, flooding to everywhere out of control and might cause colors to mix and become muddy. While too little water can result in thick colors that don't flow or lay down properly on the paper surface, often causing visible streaky brush strokes.
Be mindful of what effect you are trying to achieve beforehand. Generally, large paint washes require lots of water, while the paint mix for working on the finer and detailed areas require less water. To do it correctly, always keep a lot of water, and a spare paper sheet handy along with a clean palette for mixing paints. Mix the paints in the palette adding some amount of water. But before applying the color on your piece, make sure to check the color saturation on a rough piece of paper to determine if more color or water needs to be added.
Always ensure to clean your brush properly while switching to a new one so you don’t get muddy mixes.
- Work From Light To Dark
While working with watercolors, it is important to paint with the light colors first and gradually work towards the darker shades — remember to have patience, there's no need to rush.
Unlike with other painting mediums, it is advised to start with the light colors as due to the transparency of watercolor, the light colors won't pop if they are painted over the darker ones.
Also, as the white areas of the watercolor painting come from the paper, and not from the paints so plan tactfully and keep in mind which areas you want to keep white. You can also use masking fluid to block areas of white on your painting.
- Understand Wet-on-dry And Wet-on-wet
Though there a number of different techniques that you can use while working with watercolors, here are two basic ones that will give you different result depending on what you are going for:
Wet-on-dry: It involves the application of wet paint onto the dry paper surface, or wet paint onto an area of dry paint. As the paint will only go where your brush takes it, this technique allows for more controlled and crisp, defined edges in the art.
Wet-on-wet: In this technique, wet paint is applied to either on a wet paper or added to a wash of freshly laid paint creating a fluid, fun, and unpredictable, often interesting effect. As there is less control with this technique, be very careful while implementing it and better practice it quite a few times before actually putting it into action. Lay down clean water on the paper, then add watercolor paint to the wet areas on the surface and you will see the paint flowing to the wet areas.
- Know The Dry-time
The drying time of the paint varies, depending primarily on what effect you are trying to add in your painting. If you want the colors to mix or blend and bleed into each other without defined edges and shapes, you can apply more layers of watercolors on top of freshly laid wet paint. However, be careful not to add too many layers of wet paints else they would become muddy.
If you want to add new color layers and details over the top of a base you have freshly laid down, be patient, and make sure the layer underneath is dry first, or the colors will run into one another. It takes time, patience, and practice to get the best results.
You can even use a hairdryer to speed up the drying time.
- Learn Mixing Paints
A lot of planning and preparation is required while painting with watercolors. A good rule of thumb that always works here is to prepare more paint than you think you will need on your palette. If you run out of a particular color, it can be really difficult to mix the exact same shade again, so preparing a little extra is always better, you can also save it for later for your other work.
- Other Essential Materials And Accessories
If you get all the essentials required for your work beforehand and also do every necessary workspace preparation before getting started, the process of painting will be a lot easier and faster.
Paper towels are going to be used every now and then, to clean your brush, dab your brush, and also to dab the paper surface as you work. As these would be one of your best friends on your watercolor painting journey, ensure to keep plenty of them handy.
A painting palette is essential for watercolor painting so you can mix colors, add water, and get the right mix before applying paint to the paper.
Scratch paper is very helpful to test your color shades and to check water-to-paint ratio before applying it to your final piece.
Masking or painter tape is another great tool. It helps to tape off your painting borders and make clean edges to frame the painting. But, ensure that the edges are sealed tightly and securely so that paint does not seep through.
Prepare your workspace before you start painting. Gather all your supplies and organize them out properly within easy reach to make the process smoother.
You know the basics now, take the paintbrush and create your first piece of watercolor painting. Don’t feel overwhelmed at any point of time, instead enjoy every step and process of your painting journey!