Updated: Jul 20, 2020
Basic Tips and Painting Techniques to help get you started!
It can be overwhelming and intimidating looking at a blank sheet.. especially not knowing how to use your paints or not feeling confident about your abilities yet. I know that's how I felt initially and still do sometimes! Don't let the fear get in your way! You're doing this to have fun and explore. Take your time to get a handle on how the watercolors flow and blend. Play around, you might just end up loving what you create!
First things first - Swatch that watercolor set!! Creating a little piece of paper with color swatches for each pan or tube you've got can be incredibly helpful. It gives you a quick reference for what those colors actually look like when applied to paper and dry. The color you see in the pan and when wet isn't the same as how it will appear once completely dried. I cut mine to fit inside the pan set I have, so it can live inside there while not in use. Way easier than trying to find it every time you're looking to paint!
Water Cups! Use at least 2 when painting. You should always have 1-2 cups for cleaning your brushes (if you'd like, one cup for warm colors and one for cool) and 1 cup for loading your brushes up with water. This will help keep your colors free of any contaminating pigments that could change your color and cause a muddy appearance.
The swatch created with clean water on the left, shows the true red pigment of the paint. The swatch created with dirty water and the same color paint, resulted in a visibly different color. The left over blue in the water mixed with the red, changing the color. Now imagine if you were trying to paint a yellow flower and used that same blue water, you'd have greenish hue instead!
Here is a look at my basic set up when painting:
I like to keep a paper towel or two handy for blotting my brushes, and wiping away color from the painting surface. Scrap paper is also a great thing to have - this allows you to test your colors before applying them to your piece!
I tend to use ceramic palettes for color mixing or the space provided in my watercolor tin. Plastic palettes or old plates work just as well. You just want mix on a non-porous, white surface so you can see your colors properly.
A couple general rules for working with watercolors:
The more water you add to a color, the more transparent it will be. Less water will create a more opaque layer.
Paint from lightest tones/colors to darkest. Paint around areas you want to keep white or use masking fluid if you don't want to worry as much. Masking fluid will protect your whites, keeping the paint away from the paper surface wherever you apply it. It needs to be applied ahead of time and allowed to dry.
Now for the fun part!! Techniques for painting.
Practice on a scrap sheet by creating a few squares of color.
Wet on Wet.
With this technique you do need to work kinda quickly, the paper can dry fairly quick depending on how much water you've applied. Take a wash of color and apply it to the page. Clean your brush and load it with water. Using another color apply it directly a top your wet space. This creates a very soft and blended look.
Wet on Dry.
Lay down a color of your choosing. Let that dry. Take your brush, load it with clean water, grab another color and apply it on top. The strokes you make on top won't bleed into the layer below. You can use this technique to create crisp lines or build up layers and textures. I use this method when creating fur texture for pet portraits.
Wet your watercolor of choice slightly. Take a dry brush pick up some color and apply it to the paper. You will see more bristle and paper texture with this method. This is also super useful in creating fur texture for pet portraits!
Dry on Wet.
Lay down a color of your choosing. Take your brush, load it with clean water and wet your next color. Using a dry brush, pick up some of that color and apply it on top of the wet areas. The strokes you create on top will be distinct but soft around the edges. They bleed and mix into the layer below depending on how wet the paper is and the amount of water on your brush.
Take your brush, load it up with water and your color. Apply an even layer to the paper. If you're trying to cover a big area, a size 8 or larger flat shader brush could be really helpful!
Take your brush, load it up with water and your color. Start where you'd like the most opaque portion to be and lay down some of your color. As you move along, add more clean water to your brush by dipping it in the cup and giving it a quick shake back & forth. This removes some of the pigment from the brush. As you continue, the color should become more and more transparent.
This uses the wet on wet technique mentioned before. Start by applying one color to the paper - I started with the yellow since it was the lightest. Next, while still wet, take your additional colors and apply them in dabs or bigger strokes. The colors will start to blend and move together. You can also push them around with your brush or add more water to create different effects.
Other ways to play! You can combine these with the methods listed above.
Apply salt to the wet areas. The salt will push the water away from the granule, creating a light space/pattern. Wait until everything is completely dry before brushing the salt off the paper. (I've made the mistake of doing this too soon and smearing colors all over!) Sea salt is recommended. I used coarse kosher salt to create this example.
Use paper towel or cotton balls to pick up color from wet areas to create lighter areas, clouds or different textures. This is also a great way to clean up a mistake or create a soft background too.
Feeling like you want to play yet? I am! Check back next week for more watercolor fun!
I will be sharing another way to use watercolors. Its something pretty simple that you could do with things you already have on hand at home and fun for your kids or friends!
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