Learning to paint with watercolours is easy and inexpensive, but the deeper you go down the rabbit hole of watercolour painting techniques, the more challenging and complex it becomes. The complexity of watercolours and how much you’d like to challenge yourself is completely up to you.

Hopefully we’ll be able to give you a couple of ideas on what you need to start painting in watercolours. We’ll also focus on the various watercolour techniques you can master and hopefully, you’ll be able to find all the inspiration you need to create textures, transparency and watercolour vibrance in no time.

What Are Watercolours?

Watercolours and the usage of it in painting dates back to the times when ancient hunters used to paint their stories in caves. Aquarelle, as the French might call it, has however only become known as an artist paint medium during the Renaissance era.

This painting method uses pigments suspended in a binder of gum Arabic and during the eighteenth and nineteenth century it became the classic painting technique we know today.

Why Watercolour Painting Is a Great Idea?

Becoming an artist will mean exploring all kinds of paints, brushes, art materials and creative ways in which you can create a visual narrative to intrigue audiences. This article however, will focus on the beauty of watercolours as a medium.

Watercolour paints are fairly inexpensive to use and therefore ideal for any beginner who’s learning how to paint. It’s a versatile artist medium and a lot of professional painters still use watercolours to do a quick plan their next painting or create translucent pieces to exhibit. Watercolours are easy to clean with water and soap and is generally safe on most surfaces or friendly to your paint brushes.

There’s also less wastage with watercolours and a beginner needs as little as four art materials to get them started: Paint, water, paper and brushes.

Watercolours are also ideal for travelling artists as you don’t have to carry an array of paint tubes with you. You can also use a journal or create a paint journal for quick little watercolour paintings of the places and people you see during your travels.

Watercolour Paints
Cake watercolours are easy to travel with and you simply dip a wet paintbrush in them to create the colour intensity you prefer - Image by Deeana Creates on Pexels

What You Need to Paint in Watercolours?

Painting in watercolours is easily accessible to all due to the small amount of materials required to get started. We already mentioned how paint, water, paper and brushes are all you need, but here are a bit more details on the type of materials that will set you up for success.

The Perfect Paper for Painting

Watercolour artists make use of special watercolour paper which is usually thicker than normal paper, have an interesting texture and absorb some of the water to ensure the pages won’t buckle and tear.

The type of paper will be based on your needs and the manufacturing process created three popular types of paper most artists use today: hot press, cold press and rough paper.

Hot press paper is usually more smooth while the cold press paper became more popular among artists. Rough paper, as the name implies, have a rough edge or dimple feel on the paper which can be used to create paintings with textured nuances.

The type of paper is not the only thing to consider. Paper comes in different grammages or thickness. 180 gsm Paper will absorb water well for a basic watercolour painting, but 300 gsm is able to accommodate multiple paint layers without buckling. If that’s not thick enough you can go for 640gsm, which is more expensive and considered a high-quality type.

Watercolour Paints To Suit Your Taste

Did you know that watercolours also come in tubes?

Watercolours are sold in what they call the cake or the tube type. Both of these have their own benefits and the paint itself is actually the same, the only difference is the one is sold as hardened tiny blocks while the other remains wet in tubes.

A major benefit of the cake form watercolours is less wastage, but it’s also easier to carry while the tube watercolours allow artists to create more intense colouring.

Watercolour pencils, considered by some as a medium on its, allows you to apply your colour in a slightly different way and is a useful addition if you want to add solid lines of colour to your work.

Gouache is a type of transparent watercolour you’ll use as you become more experienced in your watercolour painting. It can mimic the opaque results you get from oil paints or acrylic paint, but can also be used in the exact watered-down ways we do with other watercolours.

Watercolour types
Watercolours also come in tubes and can be used in the exact same way as cake watercolours - Image by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Brushes For Your Stroke of Genius

The type of paint brushes you’ll use will be based on your personal decision, but usually the smaller and softer types are more suited for the detail-orientated nature of watercolour painting.

Nylon bristle brushes are preferred by a lot of painters who specialise in watercolours, but others enjoy working with the premium sable hair brushes which are also used for acrylics and oils and perfect for fine artistry.

Unfortunately, even if you are starting out, the rough bristles should be avoided. Rough bristles won’t create smooth edges when you paint in watercolours and will even make a scratchy sound on the paper. It also doesn’t absorb the amount of water you would like to disperse and we would recommend softer brushes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Protecting Your Painting

If you plan to go for art classes or to an art school we’d recommend getting a nice drawing pad for artists. This will protect your paintings from rain and other elements and makes it more convenient to move your paintings around.

Once done you can also frame your painting between two panes of glass to not only protect it, but make it a main feature against any wall.

Ask a framing specialists for recommendations on how framing can place your painting in the spotlight.

What Else do You Need?

The more you paint and fall in love with it, the more techniques and art supplies will be added to the mix. A Palette is a useful addition which allows you to place drops of tube watercolour paint on it and is also useful for mixing colours.

Using an upright easel can be tricky due to the way watercolours behave. The colours might run down and a slightly tilted easel will allow you to better direct the flow of the water. Consider using a support panel to paint on which makes moving your painting around an easier task. This is a wooden plank or surface to hold the painting and most artists stick the corners of the painting down with easy removable masking tape.

Lastly, you’ll need a cup or container to hold water or wash your brushes in. Something as simple as a cleaned yogurt tub or glass bottle works like a dream.

Watercolour Painting Techniques

Getting a professional art tutor or attending an art class will help you explore some of the most well-known techniques in watercolours, but it’s just as easy to get started on your own.

Painting wet-on-dry is an easy and obvious technique where you simply apply wet paint on dry paper. This technique allows you to adjust how much water and colour you add to the mix.

In contrast to this, wet-on-wet painting is where you allow the water to mix the paint directly on the paper. You will paint on already painted, wet paper and this is the perfect way to create a wash of colour or let colours bleed into each other.

Watercolour techniques
Test creating gradients on pieces of paper before you actually start putting paint to paper - Image by 祝-鹤槐 on Pexels

A gradient wash is where one colour changes in gradient or intensity, while it blends into another colour. How will you do this? Make a dark stroke with paint and add more water to fade it as you brush away from the initial stroke. Alternatively, while a stroke of paint is still wet you can simply add another colour, using the same amount of water as the first stroke to let them flow into each other.

Working with watercolours frequently will show you how to work with the medium instead of against it. You’ll start to flow with the colour lines created by the paint and the water, and through layering and altering colour intensity you’ll start to form the shapes you require. Dark colours will add shading and depth while the white paper and light tones will allow you to show light reflected in the object.

Want to add textured effects to your painting? Why not try to splatter watercolours, use a sponge or even apply creased plastic? Paint splattering is ideal if you want to something like leaves on a tree or berries in a bush. Use your index finger to spray the wet paint onto the paper to create spots of colour.

A sponge will allow you to create a completely different textured feel while creasing up plastic, pressing it onto the wet painted paper and allowing it to dry will create pools of colour to contrast cloudy coloured areas.

Paint splatters
Use watercolour paint splatters to create interesting textures and splashes of colour in your painting - Image by Shelly Still on Pexels

Paper towels can be used not only to clean up once you’re done, but also to correct and lighten colours. Use them to absorb excess paint or moisture on your painting.  This is a useful technique, especially if you want to layer different colours in the transparent way that made watercolours popular.

Equipment like masking tape or rubber cement can help you create clean lines and edges in your painting. Simply apply the masking type before you start painting and remove it once the paint is dry. Rubber cement works in a similar way as it keeps the paint from sticking to the paper and can be peeled off once the paint is dry to reveal the untouched section on the page below.

Search online for a watercolour painting tutorial, you’ll come across some interesting techniques like using rubbing alcohol or sprinkling salt over wet paintwork. Both of these techniques create some interesting textures in watercolour pigments.

Lastly, once you’ve experimented the basics of watercolours you can start applying your skills to mixed-media art. Mix drawing and painting to create interesting lines, layers and dimensions. Pen or pencils create different effects and maybe finishing off your painting with additional lines of solid watercolours will give it that added professional touch.

Watercolour and pen
Mixing pen and watercolour paints can create stunning visual effects - Image by Martina Bulkova on Pixabay

What Will You Paint With Watercolours?

The possibilities with watercolours are endless. Will you be painting a landscape, still-life, some wild flowers or portraits of someone you know?

Hopefully this is only the start of your journey and with the help of a art tutor you can explore even more techniques and ways to get lost in the world of watercolours.

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Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.