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.

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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.


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

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!

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.

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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!


  • 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!

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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!

Painting Tips for Beginners

watercolor paint SET

When I first started painting in watercolor I was gifted a set of watercolor tubes by Van Gogh. It was a great set with a variety of vibrant colors. Painting with that set and those colors helped solidify my love of watercolor!

Sign up to receive the “Watercolor Basics” free pdf

The “Watercolor Basics” pdf covers paper, brushes, paints and other tools necessary for successful painting!

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Paint palette

The first thing I did with my new paints was squeeze them into my new palette. When the paint in the palette ran out I added more until the tubes were empty. Then I threw the tubes away.

I didn’t give much thought to the specific colors – my Van Gogh watercolor set had the “standard” colors. I thought of them simply as orange, green, blue, red, yellow, etc. I didn’t realize at the time that there are many shades of each color. Imagine my surprise when I replaced my green and it was a totally different green. As I added more colors to my palette – I didn’t know which colors were which. Things got confusing.

Painting Tips for Beginners create a color key - watercolor painting

label your colors

This might seem unimportant when you first start painting, but it can become frustrating when you replace a color and it isn’t the same shade, especially if you are in the middle of a project. Keep track of the names of your paint colors. If you put the paint in a palette like I do – label the palette or create a color key.

Explore your colors ~ create a color key

Creating a color key is a great exercise to learn what each paint color looks like. My key coordinates with my palette. I painted each color at both full strength and lighter – with more water mixed in. With a glance I know what each paint color is capable of.

Mixing Watercolor paints

I love my palette for painting with pure colors. It’s quick and easy to add a little water and re-activate the paints, but it has some limits:

  • The color is watered down, since I add water to reactivate the paint. To paint with full saturation color I use paint from the tube (with only a tiny bit of water mixed in).
  • If I want to mix colors, which I often do, I don’t do it in my palette. I prefer to keep the colors in my palette pure.

I use the plastic top of an egg carton for mixing colors. We eat enough eggs that I always have extra carton tops to use when I want to create new mixes. I hold on to some of the mixes for future use.

When I first started painting I assumed that for every color you wanted in your painting, you needed a tube of that specific color. I quickly realized that it would be impossible! Several years ago I took an acrylic painting class, where the teacher talked a lot about mixing colors. The interesting thing he said was that the colors in your painting would go together better if they were mixed from similar colors instead of straight from the tube.

A few years later when I started focusing on painting watercolor seascapes I used this theory. I mix the colors for my seascapes from three colors, which results in more natural looking ocean colors. Learn more here.

Seascape Painting Lesson
Seascape Painting Tutorials are available in my Etsy shop.

Mixing complementary colors

I also mix colors regularly to avoid using black. If you are painting fabric – there will be folds and shadows in the fabric because of the way it drapes. Instead of mixing black with your fabric color, mix the color with its complement.

As I wrote in my Watercolor Wisdom post:

Mix your shadows instead of using black. Mix a color with its complement to desaturate it – make it less bright – or to create darker values. Complementary colors are those across the color wheel from each other. I keep a color wheel with my paints. There’s a printable color wheel in my Etsy shop – click here.

Color wheel available for download in my Etsy shop.


Working in my sketchbook – a mix media sketchbook perfect for watercolor – is a big part of my art practice. It’s where I feel free to play and try things, explore ideas, experiment with color, etc. I think it’s important to feel free. Sometimes especially as a beginner, you can feel pressure while working on a painting. That is what happened to me. I became afraid of ruining a painting once it got to a certain point. That’s when I adopted the regular practice of working in a sketchbook.

My favorite sketchbook – the Canson Mix Media!

Aside from the freedom a sketchbook gives you, it’s also a great place to take notes. Let’s say you experiment with colors to create different skies. If you like one of your experiments it is helpful to jot down which colors you used. Otherwise down the road you may not remember.

reference photos

I always paint with a reference photo. I tell the kids at the art studio whenever they are drawing that everything they need to know is in the reference photo – you just have to look. Part of my progress in painting seascapes was that I studied the ocean in person and in the many photos I took. But because I took so many photos, I sometimes get mixed up as to which photo I am painting from, especially if a lot of time has past. This is why I write down, in my sketchbook or on the back of my painting board, what photo I am working from – where it’s saved and the date and time it was taken.

Painting ideas for beginners

I’ve developed several painting tutorials to teach watercolor technique while allowing you to paint a great final painting. Each lesson is available as an inexpensive printable PDF with step by step instructions and photos. Some lessons are also available in video format. Browse all the watercolor painting lessons here.

Beginner Watercolor Painting Lesson Starfish
One of several beginner painting tutorials available in my Etsy shop.

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Ready to get started in watercolor?

This Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide is for you!

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

Watercolor is a fun and convenient medium that requires little setup. There are a few basic principles to understand and after that the sky’s the limit!

Start your watercolor journey today – visit

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!

Christmas Paper Quilt Making Kit – a fun Christmas craft

Looking for a fun Christmas project? This Christmas Paper Quilt Making Kit is printable! After ordering, simply download the files, and cut the patterned paper into squares (trim marks are provided). Then get started designing your Christmas Quilt.

Many variations are possible! Your quilt design depends on where you place the patterned squares on the key.

To order and download the Quilt Kit visit:

Halloween Paper Quilt Making Fun!

Printable Halloween Quilt Activity Kit

The best part about creating a paper quilt is there is no sewing! Just print the patterned papers and the template. Cut squares out of the patterned paper. Assign the different papers a letter in the key. Then follow the template. You can create several different quilt designs with one printable kit. Just assign the papers to different letters in the key.

Printable Halloween Paper Quilt Making Kit
Printable Halloween Paper Quilt Making Kit

Watercolor Sunsets

Watercolor Sunset by Eileen McKenna | painting in watercolor

It’s been a summer of sunsets. I’ve been teaching the kids at the art center how to paint watercolor sunsets – showing them some of the color possibilities, and how to blend the colors. I encourage them to choose their own color combinations and I love seeing how different their skies are from one another. 

I’ve also been admiring virtual sunsets on Instagram and using some of those photos to paint from. The painting above is inspired by Heidi of @yankeeinsc. Heidi’s photos of sunset skies in South Carolina and the reflections are spectacular. Be sure to visit her on Instagram. 

I’ve also painted from photos taken closer to home. From the account of @sunnydog41 and @charmychar. It’s fun to make the personal connection when you paint someone’s photo. Soon we are going on a short road trip and I’m excited to take my own photos!

Explore your creativity. Learn watercolor.
Learn Watercolor, Explore your Creativity at

For the Love of Watercolor

For the love of watercolor   | watercolor for beginners how to guide

Over a decade ago as a young mom, I took a drawing class followed by a watercolor class. A few years later, I got serious about creating everyday and started my blog. I set out to explore every medium in search of my thing. The early days of my blog involved pencil sketches and working with acrylics. Then one day I decided to add color to my sketchbook and pulled out my watercolors. BAM! It hit me – I loved watercolor! I never put them away again.

Over the last few years I have developed watercolor painting projects and other learning resources in PDF and video form. Today I’m super excited to announce my new guide called “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.”

Ready to get started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.”

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

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

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

What’s in the downloadable pdf guide: 5 chapters, 5 painting projects, 50 pages.

The exercises and painting projects walk you through and build upon the fundamentals of watercolor. 

The 5 painting projects include:

  1. Starfish Painting
  2. Birch Tree Forest Painting
  3. Ice Cream Cones Painting
  4. Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake Illustration
  5. Seascape Painting

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

Learning from Others

My painting from Megan Elizabeth’s Acrylic Seascape class

I love watercolor – how you can add more and more water, how easily it spreads on the paper. I occasionally paint with acrylics but find myself struggling with them. They don’t spread as easily and you can’t add too much water because it breaks down the paint. Last weekend I took an online acrylic class “Acrylic Painting: Abstract Landscapes” with Megan Elizabeth, which focused on painting a seascape.

Often I try to figure things out myself, but I thought it would be a fun project for the weekend and might provide some insight into my own struggles with acrylics. The class, which is suitable for beginners, is easy to follow. I enjoyed learning how someone else approaches painting a seascape – which is my favorite subject. The biggest take away for me was observing the paints Megan uses – which are much more fluid than the heavy body ones I have. And she doesn’t mix her colors. She blends on the canvas. I’m always struggling with mixing the right color and then running out and not having enough. Definitely food for thought when I try my next seascape canvas.

Taking a class often reveals nuggets that can enhance your own art practice. They might not even be a key element to the lesson, but have value to you at for where you are in your art practice. I’ll never forget taking Val Webb’s Drawing Children class where she explained the nuances of a child’s face. I realized drawing (or painting) something involves knowing your subject really, really well. I applied this lesson to seascapes and spent more time observing the ocean.  

Ultimately we take advice from others and roll it into the way we prefer to do things. I’ve been watching YouTube videos on how to hold a brush and they reveal differing opinions. It’s good to know other options on how do things and then you can decide what works best for you.

Final painting from my Watercolor Seascape Painting online Class

Time and learning new things during quarantine

Happy Face Mask Fabric Design | Sew your own mask!

I remember a saying when I was a kid, “You can be anything you set your mind to.” During self quarantine I’ve been thinking a lot about time. I think the saying really should be “You can be anything (or do anything) you set your TIME to.”

As I pursue new things – some out of curiosity, some out of necessity, some out of both – I realize now more than ever how important time is. Time waiting for the dough to rise. Time practicing sewing to make masks. Taking my time giving my husband a haircut.

Setting our mind to something, having a goal or intention, is important but it’s only the first step. Spending time working on something is the essential ingredient. Each time I bake bread I learn more about the process. The more I sit down to sew, the less it feels like starting over. I threaded the bobbin again today!

I have more time these days. I think it’s important to be intentional about what I spend my time on. I can do anything!

“Smiles Happy Face Mask” Fabric is available in my Spoonflower shop. Browse all my fabric designs here.