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!

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!

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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!

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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!

Watercolor Painting Ideas for Beginners

I remember when I realized I loved watercolor. It was during the early days of my blog, when I was exploring mediums. I pulled out my watercolors to make working in my sketchbook more fun and that was it! Watercolor has been my primary medium ever since. It has a magical quality that I love!

I enjoy sharing everything I have learned. There are tips and techniques that can make a world of difference for a beginner. I love designing watercolor painting projects that not only teach fundamentals but allow beginners to have the success of a beautiful final painting!

Beginner Watercolor Lessons

Below are beginner watercolor painting lessons that are a great way to experience watercolor! Each lesson is available as an inexpensive printable PDF with step by step instructions and photos. Some lessons are also available in video format.

Watercolor Coneflower Painting Lesson

Watercolor flowers - painting ideas for beginners

Embrace the fluidity of watercolor while creating this beautiful background. Learn to paint realistic looking flowers. Perfect for spring!

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Starfish Watercolor Painting Lesson

Beginner Watercolor Painting Lesson Starfish

I created this lesson while teaching a friend about watercolor. I wanted something easy, no pressure – where someone could experience creating a beautiful background with colors bleeding into one another. In the later steps experience painting layers to create the details of a starfish.

Birch Forest Lesson Watercolor Painting Lesson

Beginner Watercolor Lesson Birch Forest

This painting lesson is fun and easy. There is no pressure to draw – we let the tape do the work. In the early steps experience the magic of colors bleeding and blending. Use any colors you’d like! In later steps we work “drier” to create realistic looking birch trees.

The Birch lesson is also available in video format – click here to learn more.

Woodland Creatures Forest Watercolor Painting Lesson

Easy Beginner Painting Idea Woodland Creatures

Very similar to the above lesson, but with the added fun of cute animals! Simple steps will help you create this glowing painting!

Ice Cream Cones Watercolor Painting Lesson

Easy Painting Idea for Beginners - Ice Cream Cones

This painting lesson is a a color explosion! Creating the background is so fun as you learn to embrace watercolor bleeding and blending. And for painting each scoop of ice cream – a different technique is used!

The Ice Cream Cone lesson is also available in video format – click here to learn more.

Fall Pumpkin Farm Watercolor Painting Lesson

Fall Painting Idea for Beginners

Embrace the vibrant colors of fall with this step by step tutorial. Trace the barn and create the farm house with a few pieces of tape – no drawing required!

Irish Fields of Green Irish Landscape Watercolor Painting Lesson

Painting an Irish Landscape in Watercolor

This landscape of Ireland may look difficult but don’t let it fool you! With the help of painters tape and following the step by step directions, you’ll be painting the greens of Ireland in no time!

Polar Bear Northern Lights Watercolor Painting Lesson

Beginner Painting Idea for Winter - Northern Lights

The Northern Lights look like watercolor in the sky! Create your unique lights by following simple steps. A template is provided for you to trace the polar bear – no drawing required. Magic results await you!

Seascape Watercolor Painting Lesson

Watercolor Seascape Painting for Beginners
Seascape Painting Lesson

After practicing seascapes over and over, I developed a process to follow. In this lesson you’ll paint from a specific photo and learn the seascape painting process. Going forward you can use this process to paint any seascape! A basic understanding of watercolor is all that’s required. You’ll surprise yourself with the results!

The Seascape lesson is also available in video format – click here to learn more.

I’m excited to see what beginner painting lessons you try!

Tag me on Instagram @EileenMcKenna.

Watercolor Supplies

The supply list is included once you download a lesson. Besides more common watercolor supplies, I often use painter’s tape. I use it to tape down my paper – so it doesn’t buckle when it gets wet. I also use it to create straight horizon lines and in many painting lessons to mask areas. It takes the pressure off of having to draw.

How to tape down your watercolor paper

Painters tape is available on Amazon and at your local hardware store. See more of the supplies and brands I use here.

Coming up with your own painting ideas and other tips for beginners

  • Take photos when you are out and see something that inspires you.
  • Search on Google and Pinterest for photos that will make a great reference for an idea you may have. Pinterest is a great place to collect reference photos. (You can pin photos from Google to Pinterest also.)
  • Look through your photos and write an ideas list.
  • When you select a photo to use as your subject, make a note of the specifics (date and time). It’s frustrating when you come back to a project and can’t find the reference photo.
  • Use scrap paper or your sketchbook to test and plan out color mixes for your painting.
  • Consider a trial run of your painting. I sometimes do smaller thumbnail versions to try out different variations. If I have plans for a painting to be a tutorial, I often paint a smaller version to work out the exact steps of the painting before painting the final painting.
  • Consider painting two versions. This makes a painting feel less “precious.” You’ll feel freer to try out different things without worrying about ruining a painting. It also comes in handy when you have to wait for the layers to dry. Just switch paintings. Two versions can be a great learning experience.

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This page 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!

Eight Watercolor Painting Ideas for Beginners

Easy Watercolor Valentine’s Day Cards for Beginners Painting Lesson

These four Watercolor Valentine’s Day cards are easy to paint! And you’ll learn several watercolor techniques along the way!

Watercolor Techniques you’ll learn:

  1. Tape your paper
  2. Painting wet
  3. Painting dry
  4. Fading edges with a damp brush
  5. Splattering
  6. Allowing colors to bleed and blend.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Painter’s Tape
  • Watercolor Paper
  • Cardboard larger than your paper
  • Watercolor Paint – red and pink
  • Container of water
  • Paper towel
  • Medium sized round brush (#6 or #4)
  • White crayon

Before you get started:

Fold and trim your watercolor paper to create cards. If you have envelopes on hand, trim your cards so they’ll fit in your envelopes. Now let’s paint!

Please like the video and subscribe for more painting videos!

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Ready to start 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
Easy Watercolor Valentine's Day Cards for Beginners Painting Lesson

St. Patrick’s Day Painting Project

This Fields of Green Watercolor Painting Project will get you in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and take you on a “visit” to Ireland!

Fields of Green Ireland Painting Tutorial

Beginner Watercolor Painting Idea for St. Patrick’s Day

Ireland is said to have “40 Shades of Green” and in this beginner watercolor project we’ll use as many shades as possible! Beginner friendly! Step by step tutorial with photos walks you through painting this Irish landscape.

In this tutorial you’ll learn:

  • Masking with tape
  • Painting fades
  • Painting layers
  • Painting dry on dry
  • Using gouache – more opaque than watercolor
Painting an Irish Landscape in Watercolor

In addition to learning all these techniques – you’ll have a beautiful final painting when you are done!

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Watercolor paper. I use 9” x 12” Arches 140 lb. cold pressed paper. Trim to 9” x 11” to create a painting that works well in a 8” x 10” mat.
  • Painter’s tape – 1” wide
  • Watercolor paint. Colors: shades of green and/or blue and yellow for mixing greens (a touch of red can be added too), blues for sky (turquoise or other blue) and ocean (prussian or ultramarine blue), black, and orange (can mix with yellow and red) AND… 
  • Gouache – White Gouache (Gouache can go over watercolor. It is less translucent.)
  • Paint brushes – 1 large round brush – #6, one thin round brush – #1
  • Container of water
  • Paper Towel
  • Palette for mixing paint with water and mixing colors. Use a plastic lid or the top of a plastic egg carton.
  • Pencil, eraser (kneaded is best), ruler and scissors
  • Scrap of paper. Always test color mixes before touching your painting with your brush.

For a list of brands I use visit: https://mycreativeresolution.com/supplies/

Download the Tutorial

For more Seasonal Art Project Ideas:

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More St. Patrick’s Day Art Projects

how to draw a leprechaun printable tutorial
Printable Ireland St. Patrick's Day Coloring Pages make a Coloring Book Kids Class Activity Digital Download is a great way to teach kids about Ireland. Color and fold to create a book! Perfect for St. Patrick's Day.

For more creative St. Patrick’s Day Ideas:

Read Teaching Children about Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day Art Project

6 Tips for Watercolor Success

Watercolor Seascape by Eileen McKenna

Watercolor is such a magical medium! I love it. As I sit and paint I often think that no matter what the subject – a landscape or illustration – the painting process is similar. There are basic concepts that apply to almost every painting.

If you are new to watercolor – welcome! Think about these concepts as you paint:

Basic Watercolor Concepts

  1. Work light to dark.
  2. Work wet to dry.
  3. Work bigger brush to thinner brush.
  4. Build up the layers of paint, remembering tips 1-3. Allow time for paint to dry between layers.
  5. Unless you want colors to bleed into one another, do not paint next to wet paint.
  6. Find opportunities in your subject for the bleeding and blending of colors – that is the magical quality of watercolor! 

Basic Watercolor Concepts explained

1-3. Work light to dark. Work wet to dry. Work bigger brush to thinner brush.

When you begin a painting your brush should be fairly wet (with paint and water). The paint should glide onto the paper. You can even wet the page or an area of the page with water before you touch the brush to the wet surface.

These beginning blobs are the first layer of your painting. Usually they are the lighter colors. After they dry you can add more paint on top of them. With each layer your brush should be less drippy, so you can paint finer and finer details. With a drier brush the paint spreads less when it touches the paper.

4. Build up the layers of paint

The stages of a watercolor painting are like a camera coming into focus. The first layer is blurry. Each layer gets more and more crisp and detailed. Let the paint dry before adding another layer, so it doesn’t bleed into the last layer. As you paint the later layers, work with a thinner brush. It makes it easier to paint fine lines.

5-6. Watercolor bleeding and blending

When you want it to happen, the bleeding and blending of colors is beautiful. It creates such interesting effects. The watercolor paint is doing the work for you! Think reds and greens bleeding into one another to create fall foliage. When you don’t want this happen, let paint dry before adding wet paint near it.

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Ready to start 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
Six tips for Watercolor Success

How to Motivate to Finish Creative Projects

Watercolor Sunset Painting by Eileen McKenna

For three months this sunset painting sat unfinished. I couldn’t motivate to pick it up and work on it, until now. What changed?

For one thing, with the holidays behind us and a new fresh year ahead, I recommitted to creativity. My goal is to sit and paint every morning for at least 15 minutes. So far this year, I’ve done just that plus a few days at the end of 2020.

When I sit down to paint I usually have no plan. Sometimes I start by organizing my art supplies. That’s when I uncovered this painting (but immediately set it aside). I often start by playing in my sketchbook. There is no pressure with a sketchbook. I feel free to explore. As I paint, ideas come to me.

It’s so interesting how you can go from no idea…to painting bananas…to “It’s time to finish that sunset.” It just proves how important it is to regularly sit down to paint, to show up every day.

There are days that nothing exciting happens on the page, but that’s part of the creative process too. No matter what the results, time spent being creativity clears my mind.

I encourage you to paint, draw (or whatever) for 15 minutes each day. You never know what it will lead to!

*****

Ready to get started in watercolor? The “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” is for you!

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

Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor