I have been painting in watercolor for over twelve years. When I first started out I didn’t know anything about paper or paint or even brushes. For months I used the wrong paper and it showed! Over the years I’ve tried different paints, papers and brushes. I created the “Watercolor Basics” pdf to give you the information I was missing when I started. I want you to start your watercolor journey with the right tools and tips, so that you’ll have success and develop a love of watercolor like I did!
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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.
I started painting in watercolor about twelve years ago when I enrolled in a class. A few years later – during the early days of my blog – I gave myself the freedom to explore everything and anything. I came back to watercolor to make working in my sketchbook more fun, and remembered how much I loved it. Watercolor has been a focus of mine ever since. Here are the most impactful things I’ve learned.
Embrace the magic. When I showed my teacher my first watercolor painting she said, “No, no, no, you’re drawing.” I was quite proud of my painting and didn’t understand what she meant. But as my familiarity with watercolor grew, I began to understand. Allow watercolor to do its thing. Colors bleed into one another creating interesting effects. It’s magical!
Go with the flow. Give up control. Some people say they don’t like watercolor. I think it’s because you don’t have as much control as with other mediums. Colors will bleed into one another whether you want them to or not. But over time you will better be able to predict what will happen – how the paint will react. You have more control then you think. Embracing the fluidity creates beautiful effects.
It’s not (quite) permanent. A damp brush can “erase” watercolor. This is more effective when the paint is still wet. A wet brush can also soften edges. You can “work” at a painting to turn it into your desired outcome.
Paper matters. Always use watercolor or multimedia paper. Other papers are not made for watercolor and will wrinkle and tear, especially the more you “work” your painting. Tape your paper to cardboard if you are painting to the edges, to prevent buckling.
It’s all about the layers. Add more and more detail with each “layer” using a finer and drier brush as you go. Allow drying time between each layer. A watercolor painting is like a camera coming into focus. It’s starts out blurry – the first layer. With each layer the painting comes more and more into “focus.”
Use super thin brushes for fine lines. Years ago I began using a black gel pen for thin lines. I really liked this illustrative effect and used it for years, but unfortunately unlike watercolor every pen line is permanent. You can’t erase and adjust. Just this year, I saw on Instagram an artist using super thin brushes. I’ve been using them ever since.
A simple paper towel is one of your most important tools. How wet your brush is (with water and/or paint) is an important factor in how your brush stroke will react to the paint on your page. To control how wet your brush is, blot it on a paper towel to absorb excess water. I do this constantly as I paint.
Test what’s on your brush before painting. Use scrap paper to test color mixes and saturations. I test what is on my brush often to see how watery or dark a color is, before I touch my painting.
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.
Preserve your brushes. Don’t leave your brushes sitting in water. Lay them flat to dry. Use an old beat up brush to mix colors or to mix water to dried up paint.
Repurpose. The top of a plastic egg carton makes a great mixing tray.
Try white gouache.White gouache (more opaque than watercolor) was a game changer for me. Instead of using frisket to keep areas white, I use white gouache at the end of a painting to “add the white back in.” (Frisket is like a glue that keeps paint off the areas you apply it to. You peel it up when you are finished painting.)
This guide is for you! Learn the fundamentals. Practice with exercises & projects. Discover a love of watercolor! Learn more here.
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Two years ago I created a blog post called “Easy Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners.” The post outlined the steps I took to create this birch forest painting.
I created this image to go with it and pinned it on Pinterest.
The post became my most viewed post. Currently it has over 47,000 views!
For a long time I aspired to create a watercolor video lesson. It is much easier to learn by watching something then to read about it. But I struggled with the exact format I would use to create the video lesson. Finally I came up with a format and figured my most popular post was the obvious lesson to start with.
Instead of a long continuous video where I explain what I’m doing as I paint the project, my format is as follows. For almost every step, you can listen as I explain the step. You can also read the slide to follow along. Then you can watch a video demonstration of that step. My hope is that this format will better communicate the nuance of each step.
I’m really excited to see how effective the video lesson is. The birch forest painting project is such a great project for beginners. You learn so much about watercolor while painting the project. And it yields a great final painting at any level.
Easy Birch Forest Watercolor Online Video Painting Lesson – Learn Watercolor with this simple project!
Learn several watercolor techniques
10 step, easy to follow 17 minute video lesson
Listen and/or read the easy to follow instructions, watch a video demonstrations of each step