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!

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!

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!

For more watercolor tips sign up for my weekly newsletter:

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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

Woodland Creatures Birch Forest Watercolor Painting Project

This watercolor painting project is a new spin on a my original birch forest painting tutorial. The woodland creatures – an owl, a fox and a bunny – make this new beginner project fun for all ages!

It’s easier than it looks! The final painting may look complex but the instructions – with photos – walk you through the entire project step by step. It’s a great project for home schooling, for a group, or even painting on your own.

Watercolor techniques used:

  • Masking areas with tape
  • Wet on wet painting
  • Splattering
  • Dry on dry painting
  • Painting layers

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Watercolor paper. I use 9” x 12” Arches 140 lb. cold pressed paper. 
  • Painter’s tape
  • Watercolor paint. Colors: orange, yellow, cobalt blue, black
  • Paint brushes – 3 round (1 thick, 1 medium, 1 thin) and 1 flat.
  • Container of water
  • Paper Towel
  • Palette for mixing paint with water. You can use a plastic lid or the top of a plastic egg carton.

The printable pdf instructions are available in my Etsy shop here.

Let me know if you try it – I’d love to see!

*****

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

Fun Beginner Winter Art Project Learn Watercolor Kid Art

Watercolor Basics for Beginners

If you are new to watercolor – welcome! Watercolor is one of the most fun mediums. When painting with watercolor, aside from paint, water is the key ingredient. Water on the paper, how much water is mixed with the paint, and how much water is on your brush.

Water on the paper. If your paper is wet, the paint you add will spread quickly and even bleed into areas you didn’t touch with your brush.

Tip: Wetting your paper before adding paint, is a fun technique which leads to interesting backgrounds with colors blending into one another. Avoid too much water that leads to puddles on your paper. When puddles occur soak up the excess water and paint with a dry brush or paper towel.

Water mixed with paint. The more water you mix with your paint, the less saturated the color will be and the more transparent it will be on the paper.

Tip: Always test your brush on scrap paper before touching your painting so you aren’t surprised by the results.

Water on your brush. A brush dripping with water and paint will spread easily even on dry paper. A dry brush will not spread smoothly, but will go on more irregularly – missing some areas of paper.

Tip: To dry your brush blot it on a paper towel and soak up the extra water.

Experiment! Try out the different ways water changes how paint interacts with paper. You may feel you have no control with watercolor, but the more you know and can anticipate how the paint will react to situations, the more control you have.

Looking for resources for beginners? Check out my Etsy shop here.

Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction
Watercolor Basics for beginners

Creative Excitement

Creative excitement the start of a new watercolor painting | watercolor for beginners
This is the best feeling. It’s creative excitement. I’ve spent a little bit of time organizing my supplies, and now I’m sitting in front of a new creative project – a watercolor painting. I’ve done some prep work – I have my reference photo picked out, I’ve taped down my watercolor paper, I’ve measured and taped the horizon line, and I have a plan – I’m going to start with the figures.

There is so much hope and excitement at the beginning of a project. Sometimes a little nervousness too. I’m working larger than I normally do, and adding figures is fairly new too. I think it’s good to push ourselves, to expand our capabilities.

Later will come some struggle. It’s expected and if it was easy, it would be boring. I used to give up when a project got hard, but I’ve learned to push through – it’s extremely satisfying. I may not overcome the struggles perfectly but there’s always a lesson learned for next time.

New to watercolor? I have a pdf Quick Start Guide that will help get you started. Sign up for my newsletter and get the “What you need to know to get started with watercolor” pdf for FREE! Sign up here.
Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction

These fun and easy pdf tutorials, where you learn watercolor and create a beautiful painting at the same time are available for download in my Etsy shop.
Easy Starfish Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn Watercolor Techniques  Easy Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn watercolor techniques! #winter #forest #watercolor #beginners How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | tutorial | step by step instructions | painting tips

 

Start with basic brushstrokes

Watercolor setup. Eileen McKenna. #artist #setup
It has been over a week since I last painted – gasp! Work has been busy and I could make other excuses. Things haven’t slowed down, BUT this morning instead of diving right in I thought, “Sometimes we have to make time for the things that are important to us.”

Brushstrokes

I set up all my stuff – which had been put away to use the dining room table. I turned to a blank page in my sketchbook and grabbed a tray of extra blue paint and started making strokes. I had no thoughts about what I would paint. Then I grabbed a fan brush and started playing with that. The strokes reminded me of beach grass.

Beach walkway sketch

Next thing I’m doing a watercolor sketch of the path down to the beach. The jump from no idea to an inspired idea was so quick. So don’t wait for an idea to strike! Sit down, set up, start with some basic lines or brushstrokes. Who knows where it will lead!

I’m so proud that after a year of painting the ocean, there are 21 paintings in my shop,  available as prints on watercolor paper or canvas. Browse them all at shop.eileenmckenna.com.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

Watercolor Painting “Must Haves”

Painting “Must Haves” #watercolor #supplies #beginner

I’ve joined in on the fun with Mollie Makes magazine, a lifestyle and craft magazine for those who live creatively, and followed the prompts for #molliemakersweek. Today’s prompt was “must haves.” I recommend these products to anyone starting out in watercolor.

My “must haves”

My “making spot”
“Making Spot” #painting

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

Have you visited my online shop? Prints of my seascapes are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes including the new “mini” canvas 11″ x 14″ at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!

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!