Watercolor Rules

Orange Sunset by Eileen McKenna

This past week I was teaching watercolor to the kids at the art studio. I’ve noticed that the kids are often impatient. They paint a background color and then they rush to paint the details. Since the background is still wet, the details bleed creating a blob.

I told the kids that painting in watercolor is like getting dressed in the winter. Just like you add layers of clothes to keep warm, paint layer after layer, letting each layer dry before adding another. With each layer add more and more detail. 

When you start a painting, start with a wet, bigger brush, painting the lighter colors. As you progress to the final layers, paint with a drier, thinner brush to allow for the finer details.

Watercolor “Rules”



Following these “rules” helps you to turn beginning blobs into a detailed illustration or painting.

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Is the key to watercolor – layers or patience or both?

Recently I was talking to a friend who paints in acrylics. When I said I painted in watercolor she said, “You must be very patient.” I was so surprised by her comment, because actually I’m not patient at all!

As I teach and share more and more of my watercolor process I continually come back to layers. Watercolor painting is all about building up the layers. Paint the first layer wet and loose. Let it dry. Work drier and with thinner brushes with each added layer. As you add the layers, it’s like focusing a lens on a subject. Your painting gets more and more “in focus” as you add layers/finer details.

I’ve been teaching a kids painting class, primarily acrylics. Occasionally we paint in watercolor. What I notice with the kids is they paint one layer and declare the painting done. They are reluctant to wait for it to dry and then add to it.

Maybe I’m more patient than I give myself credit for. I look at each painting like a challenge. The first layer is a blob – the ugly stage. Can I work at it and turn it into something?

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