No matter what it is, these days everyone is looking for a shortcut, the summary or the dummies guide. People want to know how to get to grips with new concepts as quickly and painlessly as possible.

If this sounds like you, then perhaps this is how you feel about grasping watercolour painting techniques or finding quick watercolour painting ideas to inspire your next piece.

Regardless of how much time you decide to invest on how to learn to paint with watercolours, be assured there are certainly techniques to learn. From mixing colours to ensuring the paint remains where you intend it to, there’s a lot to know when it comes to how to do a watercolour painting.

Did you know that watercolours are actually more challenging to work with than oils and acrylics?

Included in these reasons is the fact that controlling colour is one of the very specific watercolour painting techniques that every enthusiast needs to learn.

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Controlling Watercolour Paint

Learning to paint with watercolours requires knowing how to control your paint. To demonstrate this, place a few drops of water on some paper and watch what happens.

Paper, by nature, is absorbent, however, this can vary depending on the type. Watercolour, which is made from cotton fibre and blended with wood pulp to give it a unique texture, is better at absorbing liquid. Its weight permits for the application of water without it buckling or becoming brittle.

This all sounds simple until certain watercolour painting ideas, like needing clouds in your sky, becoming challenging.

Regardless of what is causing the colour to go where you don’t want it to, the first tip to get around this is to use quality art supplies.

As a beginner, it would be understandable if you didn’t want to overspend on paint, brushes and paper, but good advice would be to not settle for the lowest quality either.

For instance, if you seriously want to learn to paint with watercolours,  good paper is the place to start.

After that, you’ll need a palette of colours and a few brushes to test out these watercolour painting techniques.

Find good watercolour tutorials and resources here.

It might work better to paint with an easel than on a flat surface
When you learn to paint with watercolours, give yourself plenty of practice time to master these techniques Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The Wet-On-Dry Method

The simplest of all watercolour painting techniques is learning how to get wet paint onto dry paper.

Here, don’t be tempted to make tight brushstrokes in an attempt to control where the paint goes, as that won’t necessarily do the trick. Besides using a dry brush, a better method is to try and control the amount of water you use when mixing paints.

The Wet-On-Wet Method

This is a trick that is well suited for large areas like painting watercolour on canvas.

To start, using bold strokes, paint the area with water so that no one spot gets wetter than the other, then apply your mixed colour.

This is one of those important watercolour painting techniques that ensures that the wet surface, especially if it is watercolour on canvas, will absorb less colour.

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The Dry-On-Dry Method

When your watercolour painting ideas call for distinct and sharp lines this is the method you should use.

This particular technique may not make sense at first because watercolour paint (like all paint) is wet! So, there will be wetness, however, not as much.

Start with a dry piece of paper then use as little water as possible to mix colour. After that, blot away any excess liquid from the brush before it meets the surface. This works well when painting watercolour on canvas.

The Dry-On-Wet Method

Imagine that you wanted to add a bright yellow sun to the sky that you have just painted.

Rather than needing to wait for the paper to dry or having to use a blow-dryer to speed up the process) you could simply mix as little water as possible to your yellow paint. Next, blot off the excess water before applying it your work.

Mastering these key watercolour techniques for beginners will help you to control your paint and the intensity of your colour.

These are just some of the things to discover when you learn to paint with watercolours as a beginner.

Mastering Washes

When it comes to how to do a watercolour painting, mastering washes means that you will fill a large area of your paper (unless you are painting watercolour on canvas) with a layer of base colour for your background. After that, there are several watercolour painting techniques used to wash your paper.

The Flat Wash

As the name implies, this wash, which incorporates the wet-on-wet technique means that you will apply an even layer of colour.

To start, take a wet, clean brush and apply your colour using even, bold strokes. Try and use your widest brush and leave round brushes for more detailed work.

The Graded Wash

Whether you are painting watercolour on canvas or paper, imagine that you are trying to create an opaque looking colour at the top of your piece that transitions to a translucent look towards the bottom.

Again, use the wet-on-wet technique to mix colour so that it is especially vibrant. Next, paint in horizontal strokes that start at the top and move down. As your brush ‘runs out of paint’ your strokes will become more light.

The key to this technique is propping up your board so that it is angled slightly towards you. This gravity will help you achieve the effect that you want by forcing your liquid to remain on the paper’s surface rather than saturating it. This technique is known as the Ombrė Effect.

The Variegated Wash

If you want to know how to do a watercolour painting of a landscape or seascape that calls for vast areas of colour then understanding the Variegated Wash technique is for you.

Again, using the wet-on-wet technique, boldly apply colour with dashes, swirls and random streaks. Make sure that colours complement each other and that there is enough liquid to allow them to run and blend.

You could even tilt your board in different directions to control the blending so that it doesn’t end up being a messy blob.

The technique is one of the watercolour painting ideas that can really add remarkable depth to your work.

practice washes with water colours to master how they act
Making washes with watercolor paints is a great way to learn how the paint will interact with the paper Image by Stux from Pixabay

Understand How Colours Interact

As you learn to paint with watercolours it will start to make sense that the more water that is added to your paint, the more translucent your colour will be. In the same, you will begin to know that mixing certain colours will result in other colours. For instance, blue and yellow make green, while blue and red make purple.

All of this does not include another very important factor if you want to know how to do a watercolour painting: paper.

Knowing how absorbent your paper is wont not enough when it comes to understanding colour theory.

First, make sure that you know the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary colours. For reference, consider downloading a colour wheel.

Painting from Light to Dark

When it comes to how to do a watercolour painting, one of the first things you will learn is that unlike oils and acrylics where artists start with dark tones and finish with light ones, watercolour is the opposite.

Why do you wonder?

The reason for this is that when using watercolour it is very easy for the paint to run away from you and spread to places you don’t intend! To keep this from happening you could try the Lifting Technique which means that you will need to blot off excess colour from a page with an almost dry brush or paper towel.

You could also avoid this by concealing mistakes by painting darker colours over lighter ones. Remember that you can cover up mistakes made with light colours more easily than you can cover mistakes made with dark colours.

Every page in your sketchbook is a new opportunity to block the white, paint the light and then the dark
Always, when starting a new project: after sketching your design, paint the light colours first! Image by Robert Armstrong from Pixabay

Other Quick Tips for Watercolour Beginners

In conclusion, here are a few more easy tips and tricks to ensure that your process for learning how to paint with watercolours is easy.

  • Use two jars: instead of spending precious painting time changing your water, keep one jar for rinsing and another for clean water.
  • Tape your paper: this will keep paper in place and prevent it from wrinkling when it comes into contact with water.
  • The heat gun or blow-dryer solution: when you don’t have time to let each layer of paint naturally, just remember to use a diffuser when using a hair dryer so that paint doesn’t land up where it’s not wanted
  • Block out white spaces: when there is a section of your painting that is meant to stay white, perhaps a cloud, for instance, using masking fluid will preserve those spaces and can be removed later for the finishing touches.

Finally, remember that if you want to learn to paint with watercolours some formal teaching is highly advised. One of the best ways to do this is to find a Superprof tutor who could teach you in person or online.

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.