Watercolor Painting for Beginners – Everything You Need to Know

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If you’re new to watercolor, it can be a bit tricky to know where to begin. This simple guide will give you some tips on how to get started with watercolor for absolute beginners.

Watercolor paints are a type of paint that is made with pigment, water, plus other ingredients to preserve and stabilize the paint. They are usually sold in tubes or pans, and the pigments can be either natural (you can DIY your paint) or synthetic.

Watercolors can be transparent or opaque, and they can be applied to a variety of surfaces, such as watercolor paper and canvas.

Watercolor painting is a great art medium; however, I found it to be somewhat difficult as a beginner. This is because the process is unforgiving and unpredictable. However, if you’re ready for a fun challenge that yields beautiful results, you’re going to love watercolor painting.

Getting Your Watercolor Supplies

To get started with watercolor, you will need some supplies. First, of course, you will need watercolor paints. You will also need a set of synthetic brushes. Brushes come in a variety of sizes and shapes, so it is important to choose one that is comfortable for you to hold and that has the right tip for the type of painting you want to do.

Another supply you’ll need is watercolor paper. I’ll be sharing exactly why need watercolor paper and not just regular drawing later on in this guide.

Additionally, make sure you get your hands on a paint palette. This will help you mix your color and get the proper consistency before painting.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure you have a cup or two of clean water and some scrap paper.

Once you have your supplies, you are ready to start painting! But of course, it’s not that easy, right? Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of the supplies I’ve listed.

Choosing Your Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paint comes in two forms: tubes and pans. Watercolor tubes are just what they sound like – small tubes of concentrated paint that must be diluted with water before use. This type of paint is typically used by professional painters or those with a lot of experience.

Watercolor pans are small, solid blocks of color that come in pre-mixed sets. These are a great option for beginners, as they’re very easy to use. Simply add water to the pan and start painting.

When I was first starting out, I used the Cotman Watercolour Pocket Box. If this isn’t available, another good option is the Arteza Watercolor Paint Set.

cotman watercolor

Choosing Your Watercolor Paper

Not all watercolor papers are created equal. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting paper for your paintings.

Weight: Watercolor paper is available in a variety of weights, or thicknesses. A heavier-weight paper will hold more pigment and resist warping better than a lighter-weight paper. When you’re first starting out, a good middle-of-the-road option is 140 lb (300 gsm) paper. Strathmore watercolor paper is a wonderful choice for beginners.

strathmore paper

Texture: Watercolor paper can have either a smooth or rough surface, also known as “hot press” and “cold press” paper. Cold press watercolor paper is pretty easy to use and works well with most watercolor paintings.

Additionally, this paper absorbs more water than hot press watercolor paper, which means there’s typically less time to move your paint around before it begins to dry to the paper.

Hot press watercolor paper gets its name because heated rollers are used to give the paper its smooth surface. If you want to show brush details, this is the best paper to use. Additionally, hot press paper absorbs less water, which gives you more time to move your paint around before it begins to dry.

Color: Most watercolor papers are white, but there are also a limited number of colored papers available. These can be used to great effect in your paintings, especially if you want to experiment with negative painting techniques.

Choosing Your Watercolor Brushes

When it comes to watercolor painting, the type of brush you use is just as important as the type of paper. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your brushes.

Types of Brushes: There are three main types of brushes that are used for watercolor painting: round, flat, and filbert. Each type of brush has its own unique purpose and can be used to create different effects in your paintings.

Size: The size of the brush you use will also affect the type of strokes you can create. Smaller brushes are great for detail work, while larger brushes can be used for washes and broad strokes.

Quality: It’s important to invest in high-quality brushes if you want them to last. Natural bristles are usually the best option, as they hold a lot of color and water when compared to synthetic. Natural brushes are oftentimes a lot more expensive than synthetic brushes. For that reason, when you’re just getting started, synthetic will do just fine.

watercolor brushes

Caring for Your Brushes: Proper care is essential if you want your brushes to last. Be sure to clean them after each use and store them in a cool, dry place. Avoid leaving them in water for extended periods of time, as this can damage the brush. Also, be sure to reshape the bristles before storing them so they retain their shape.

Use a Paint Palette

A paint palette is a great way to keep your colors organized and to mix different colors together. You can use a disposable palette, or you can invest in a reusable one.

paint palette

Make Sure You Have Scrap Paper

It’s always a good idea to have some scrap paper on hand when painting. This way, you can test out the color and consistency of your paint before applying it to your painting.

Start with a Light Sketch

Before you start painting, it can be helpful to sketch out your design lightly with a pencil. This will help you plan out your composition and make sure everything is in the right place before you start painting.

Letting Your Paint Dry Between Layers

When watercolor painting, sometimes it’ll be best to “paint on wet” and other times, to “paint on dry.” Painting on wet means the layer does not have to dry before you apply more paint. Painting on dry means the paint must dry before applying another layer.

Waiting for your layers to dry can take some patience, but it will be worth it. I recommend using a hairdryer on the cool setting to help your paint dry faster.

Be Patient

Painting can be a relaxing activity, but it’s important to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your painting skills won’t be either. Take your time and enjoy the process.

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