How to Learn Watercolor Painting

Interested in watercolor?

Watercolor is a fun, convenient medium. It’s easy to set up and clean up. If you are just getting started with watercolor you may be wondering…

What supplies do i need to paint in watercolor?

There are several things you need to paint in watercolor – some of which you have around your home! Here is what you’ll need:

  • Watercolor paint (see below for specifics)
  • Watercolor brushes (see below for specifics)
  • Watercolor paper (see below for specifics)
  • Cardboard larger than your paper
  • Painter’s tape to tape down your paper to the cardboard
  • Container of water
  • Paper towel
  • Scrap paper
  • Palette to mix paint with water or mix colors – try the top of a plastic egg carton

You are probably wonder – Ok, but what kind of paint, brushes and paper? I’ve created a FREE downloadable pdf – “Watercolor Basics” – that covers what kind of paint, brushes, and paper you should use.

sign up here to receive the “Watercolor Basics” free pdf:

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How should I set up my supplies?

Now that you’ve collected all of your watercolor supplies, you may be wondering how to setup your workspace.

As a right handed person, I set up most of my supplies to the right of my paper or sketchbook. This is so I’m not reaching across my paper to get water or paint – I don’t want to accidentally drip on my paper! I usually place a reference photo (on my ipad) directly in front of my workspace. My mixing palette (top of an egg carton) can be moved around as needed. It’s always best if my coffee isn’t near my water. I’ve dipped my paintbrush in my coffee too many times!

Painting in watercolor with Monet's color palette

how do you paint with watercolor?

A key element to painting in watercolor is water.

  • If you use a dry brush, the paint will go on rough and paper will show through in spots.
  • If your brush is wet the paint will glide onto the page.
  • If the paper is wet the paint will bleed into the water on the page when you touch it with your brush.
  • To lighten watercolor add water, NOT white.

These different ways of painting work in different circumstances. To paint one subject you will likely use all of the above ways of painting in different areas.

what should i paint?

When you are starting out it’s sometimes hard to come up with ideas. You’d like to practice but don’t know what to paint. Choosing a challenging subject can be discouraging.

printable painting tutorials

To help with this and to introduce you to the fundamentals of watercolor, I’ve created printable painting tutorials. Each tutorial walks you through fundamentals as you paint the steps for a specific final painting, like the “WATERCOLOR CONEFLOWER PAINTING LESSON” below.

WATERCOLOR CONEFLOWER PAINTING LESSON

The tutorials might look intimidating – but I promise – I explain each step and provide photos to bring you to a successful final painting!

*tip ~ prep your paper before painting

When paper gets wet it wrinkles and buckles. To avoid this tape your paper to a piece of cardboard using painter’s tape. The tape also creates a nice border to your painting.

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looking for a comprehensive introduction to watercolor? This guide is for you!

This Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide is the perfect introduction to watercolor. Each fundamental is explained and then you practice it with exercises and painting projects.

The 5 tutorials build upon one another as you progress through the guide. You go from beginner brushstrokes to a watercolor seascape!

  • Learn the fundamentals.
  • Practice with exercises & projects.
  • Discover a love of watercolor!

Start your watercolor journey today – visit https://eileenmckenna.com/guide/

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide
Available on Amazon or as a pdf download.

This posts contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

Beginner Watercolor Bird’s Nest Painting Video

A Watercolor Lesson for Beginners

I was really feeling the spring vibes the day I climbed up and peeked in the Robin’s nest and saw these three eggs. Of course I painted the nest in my “Finding Joy” journal later that day!

I realized the bird’s nest was the perfect subject to share my watercolor painting process. So, I painted it again and recorded it for you.

Here’s what you’ll need to paint your own nest:

  • Watercolor or multimedia paper
  • Watercolor paints. I used brown, black, turquoise, orange, hooker’s green, raw sienna (tan) 
  • Paintbrushes – round in medium to small (thin) sizes
  • Container of water, paper towel, scrap of paper

Click here if you’d like to see the brands I use.

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Watercolor Techniques you’ll learn:

  1. Painting layers
  2. Painting wet
  3. Painting dry
  4. Lightening colors with water
  5. Mixing complements to create the perfect shadow color.

I hope you’ll paint along to the video!

Please like the video and subscribe for more painting videos!

Here’s the reference photo I took:

Robin's Nest Photo

For more beginner watercolor tutorials click here.

I’ve designed several fun tutorials to help you learn watercolor – available in pdf and video form.

Ready to get started in watercolor?

Try my “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” where I walk you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

Appreciation Journal

Finding Joy Sketchbook Project by Eileen McKenna

I started a personal project that I’m calling “Finding Joy.” I wanted to look for and appreciate the little things in life and I wanted to get back to daily painting.

Since starting, I realized we have moments of joy during the day – “Wow that is pretty,” or “This is fun,” or “This tastes good.” But these moments can be fleeting. In painting them I’m extending the joy!

Finding Joy ~ Extending Joy

I started this project because I’m having skin cancer surgery on my cheek and I wanted to be in a place of positivity. It’s working!

Want to start your own Finding Joy project? It’s easy:

How to start your own “finding joy” Sketchbook project

  • Grab a sketchbook. I’m using a Strathmore Mixed Media Art Journal.
  • Look for and recognize a joyful moment each day.
  • Enter the joyful moment in your sketchbook every day. Use any medium you want. I’m using Watercolor!
  • Let me know if you decide to join in!

Interested in Watercolor?

Watercolor is such a great medium for your Finding Joy project. If you are new to watercolor sign up for my newsletter:

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Posts for Watercolor Beginners

I have a lot of helpful blog posts for beginners to help them get started including:

a comprehensive introduction to watercolor:

The “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” walks you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

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Watercolor Painting Tips

Watercolor Dog Portraits by Eileen McKenna
Watercolor Dog Portraits by Eileen McKenna

Recently I wrote about how you should take some time to observe a reference photo before painting. I have to constantly remind myself of my own advice because I want to jump in and start painting. I want to get to the fun part!

1. observe your subject

After painting a few dog portraits, the part 2 to this advice occurred to me:

2. Do a “study”

What is a “study”? Essentially a study is a practice painting, drawing, or sketch. You have most likely seen studies done by the Masters before they painted their final masterpieces.

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The masters did studies

Georges Seurat, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” 1884-1886
(Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago Public Domain)

George Seurat spent two years on site sketching, before painting A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte. He created approximately 60 sketches. “This approach enabled Seurat to capture the color, light, and movement of the scene before him.”

The benefit of doing a study

Sketching or painting helps you see the subject more closely. As I painted the dog portraits I noticed more about the dogs as I painted. When I paint or draw my eyes travel back and forth from my painting to the reference photo and back again.

This is something I try to instill in the kids at the art center where I teach:

Everything you need to know about the subject is in the photo. If you want to realistically draw or paint it, keep looking at the photo and your artwork.

Eileen McKenna

Another way of seeing

I find it useful to occasionally flip both the reference photo and my paper to see things differently. Looking at things this way is supposed to trigger the other side of your brain. This theory was written about in the popular book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

I notice that when I look at things upside down it is easier to see the individual elements of something. For example a face upside down allows me to focus on the elements more than the whole face.

painting Stella

Stella Dog portrait by Eileen McKenna
Stella by Eileen McKenna

When I painted Stella, I looked through many photos and selected a few photos to practice with. I wanted to “see” what characteristics were unique to her. As I painted I felt I was getting to know her. These practice paintings helped me get a more realistic final painting.

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Read “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

READ “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

Ready to get started in watercolor?

Try my “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” where I walk you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

Unique Fabric

Finding Unique fabric

Beach Summer Fabrics - unique fabrics

Looking for unique fabrics for your next sewing project? Looking for fabric that represents a unique hobby or passion? Spoonflower has tons of niche fabrics created by independent designers – like me! Visit my Spoonflower shop here.

Lacrosse fabrics - unique fabrics

Finding fabric for a hobby or passion

It isn’t hard on Spoonflower to find a unique fabric. In the Spoonflower Magazine they have a section called:

“There’s A Design for That”

“With the largest collection of surface patterns in the world, Spoonflower has always been the destination for one-of-a-kind designs. But did you know that thousands of new designs are added every month? Dive into our Marketplace and spend a few minutes discovering the perfect match for any personality-we know you’ll find one as unique as you are.”

– Spoonflower Magazine

I know first hand that people are looking for niche fabrics. By far my biggest sellers are very niche fabrics, specifically my Swimming Laps and Rainbow Goggles fabrics and more recently my Lacrosse fabrics.

Swimming fabrics - unique fabrics

Somewhere, someone is looking to make a quilt or other sewing projects that encompasses their unique interests or a loved one’s interests. That’s how I connected with Sue Finley. Sue made a quilt for her daughter’s swim team. I was honored that my fabrics were part of it. Both my Swimming Laps and Rainbow Goggles fabrics are part of this quilt.

"Eat, Sleep, Swim, Repeat" swimming quilt by Wee Susie Stitches #swimming #quilt

create your own fabric designs

Can’t find the right fabric? Create your own!

I began turning my watercolor illustrations into fabric patterns on Spoonflower back in 2015. You can do it too! Fabrics are made up of a simple piece of artwork that “repeats” over and over. When you are uploading a design to Spoonflower, you upload the single “repeat.” Think of it as a slice of the design. Spoonflower will duplicate the repeat to fill whatever length of fabric you or someone else orders.

Example of a fabric repeat - How to create a repeating fabric pattern
https://www.spoonflower.com/profiles/eileenmckenna

How to create a repeat

In the post “How to create a repeating pattern in Photoshop,” I detail how I go about turning my illustrations into repeats. Below is also a Spoonflower video on the same topic.

How to create a repeating pattern in Photoshop. For fabric prints, gift wrap, wallpaper and more.
How to create a repeating pattern in Photoshop.

earn money from your fabric designs!

Not only can you upload your designs and order fabrics for your own sewing projects, but you can offer your designs for sale and make a commission when some else orders your fabric! Who doesn’t love passive income?

Let me know if you decide to give fabric design (called surface design) a try – I’d love to hear!

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Watercolor Tip

Stop and “look at” the roses

Several years ago I dedicated myself to painting seascapes. I painted one after another. I studied my photos as I painted and as time went on I noticed more things about the ocean and waves. These little details are what made my paintings better. 

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By nature I am an impatient person. I’ve heard it said that the Aries motto is “Ready, Fire, Aim.” It is certainly true about me. When I’m painting, I rarely draw anything beforehand. I immediately want to get to the fun part of splashing paint onto the page. But I am often reminded that if I took some time to look at and study my reference photo I would get better results.

I took a close up of a Gerbera Daisy, so I could see the details. A great start! But I dove in too quickly and ended up struggling. My painting had twice as many petals as it should have and looked off. I’m sharing the lesson I learned with you:

Take time to look at and study your reference before painting.

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Read “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

READ “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

Ready to get started in watercolor?

Try my “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” where I walk you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

A Fun Chance to Win a $25 Blick Gift Card

A St. Patrick’s Day Watercolor Challenge!

I’ve partnered with DuelGood to create a Watercolor St. Patrick’s Day Challenge! Enter for a chance to win a $25 Blick gift card.

DuelGood is a global social platform to inspire creativity, build connections and do good in the world by engaging people in fun, easy-to-execute challenges.

Download the DuelGood app and click Play to find the challenge.
St. Patrick's Day art painting challenge
Download the Free App
DuelGood App
Start creating, start competing, start connecting!

For weekly watercolor tips & Tricks sign up for my newsletter:

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Ready to get started in watercolor?

Try my “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” where I walk you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

St. Patrick’s Day Art Project

St. Patrick’s Day Watercolor Painting Lesson for Beginners

St. Patrick's Day painting project - paint an Irish landscape with sheep in watercolor. Beginner friendly.

This Irish Landscape with Sheep is a fun and easy painting for beginners – perfect for St. Patrick’s Day!

Watercolor Techniques you’ll learn:

  1. Taping your paper
  2. Painting a fade
  3. Using crayon to mask areas
  4. Adding details with a dry brush

Supplies you’ll need:

Please like the video and subscribe for more painting videos!

Dive deeper into watercolor with the “Fields of Green” painting tutorial

This Fields of Green Tutorial is the perfect St. Patrick’s Day painting project for beginners! Learn more here.

St. Patrick's Day Art Project
Visit my Etsy shop to download this Watercolor Painting tutorial!

For more watercolor tips sign up for my weekly newsletter:

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Ready to get started in watercolor?

Try my “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” where I walk you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

Spring Sketchbook Share

I don’t know about you but this Covid winter has been long! Creativity keeps me positive but it doesn’t help with the isolation. I was exploring new creative ideas and I remembered reading about two people sending a sketchbook back and forth to one another. I decided, I want to do that!

Spring Sketchbook Share - join in!

Originally my sketchbook share idea involved reconnecting with a friend, but I started reminiscing about pen pals. That got me thinking. It is also nice to get to know someone new!

My idea has grown to include YOU! But I need your help!

Please do me the favor of answering a few short questions to help me create a “Spring Sketchbook Share” that you would want to participate in. I would appreciate it so much!

“Spring Sketchbook Share” program

  • Connects you with a creativity partner
  • Option to invite a friend to be your partner
  • All skill levels welcome
  • Each time you receive the sketchbook you ~
    * Start a page and
    * Finish a page
    This ensures that each page is a collaboration between the creative partners.
  • Partners mail the sketchbook back and forth to one another. (U.S. residents only for right now.)
  • Participation in Spring Sketchbook Share entitles you to three months in the “Spring Sketchbook Share” Facebook group.

Get the latest “spring Sketchbook Share” announcements ~ join my email list!

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Spring Sketchbook Share with Eileen

Each creativity pair receives:

  • One sketchbook
  • Two sets of my favorite pens. (One for each partner.)
  • Ideas List to help inspire you in the creation of your sketchbook pages:
    * Theme ideas
    * Suggested mediums to use
  • Two envelopes of extra “bits and bobs” for some added flair! (One for each partner.)
    I can’t wait to put together these packets!

The “SPRING SKETCHBOOK SHARE” Facebook group

  • Weekly Facebook videos
  • Instruction in different mediums
  • Demonstrations on creating pages within themes.
  • All participants will have the ability (and will be encouraged) to share their sketchbook pages with photos and video.
  • Four month membership in the Facebook Group
  • Milestones will be awarded with entry into giveaways! Milestones will include partners completing 6 pages, etc.

The “Spring Sketchbook Share” is all about:
* creativity,
* connection +
* community!

I need your help!

Please click here TO answer the following questions about the “Spring Sketchbook Share.”

  • What do you like about the idea?
  • What do you dislike about the idea?
  • How could we improve upon it?
  • Would you like to be assigned a random partner or would you like to invite your own partner?
  • Are you interested? There is no commitment at this time.

Thank you so much for your feedback!
Eileen

New here?

I’m Eileen McKenna, creative explorer and watercolor artist. Sign up for my newsletter for weekly watercolor tips and tricks and creative links.

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The “Spring Sketchbook Share” is all about:
* creativity,
* connection +
* community!