Watercolor painting is not the easiest to get into. It has its own set of rules, and it can be a challenge to learn them. If you’re interested in watercolor painting, a class is a great idea, but for those of you who don’t have the time or money, here’s a short primer to help you get in touch with your inner watercolorist.
Getting started in watercolor painting is not as expensive as some other art mediums. An old rag, some paper towels and some mason jars are some things you might have around your house. You can get an inexpensive set of paints in tubes for $10-$15 at Target or any craft store. You’ll need something for a palette to mix your paints – it needs to be non-porous and waterproof. I picked up these two mixing palettes at Michaels. You can find a 10-15 page sketchbook of just watercolor paper at most craft stores as well (do not use normal paper, even sketchbook paper- it will buckle!).
Lastly, you’ll need brushes. Brushes are surprisingly the one thing I would recommend investing in. There is nothing like starting a painting and realizing it’s covered in hairs from your brush. All brushes do this occasionally, but if you get bargain brushes, you’re going to find this happening constantly.
Always go with tubes of paint. Fresh watercolor paint out of the tube will always be the most vivid. Start with just a dab of each on your palette – a little goes a long way. Make sure to spread them out so the colors don’t mix when you add water. Once you’re done painting for the day, only clean paint off the areas that are too small to save. Otherwise, just let your paint dry on the palette; you can reconstitute it later with water. Don’t throw away paint!
There are two main ways to paint with watercolors: paint on a dry surface, or paint on a wet surface, called a wash. Painting on a wet surface will cause the pigment to disperse. You can get great atmospheric effects this way, and mix paints on the surface of the paper instead of on your palette. On the other hand, it’s not good for details. Painting on dry paper will give you the control you want. A good painting utilizes both; just remember to let washes completely dry before you paint on top. If you’re unsure, check the surface in the light. If there’s still some moisture, let it sit longer. If not, lightly touch it with your finger – if the surface is colder in that area, it’s still not dry.
Brushes are almost more important than any other part of the process. You can get by with just a few, but the more variety the better. Large flat and round brushes are good for washes, but not so great with details. Smaller brushes are great for details, but it becomes time consuming for washes. It’s a fine balance, which is why it’s good to invest in a variety.
Cleaning your brushes is incredibly important. Watercolor painting relies heavily on the amount of pigment in the water on the brush. If you still have pigment from your previous color on your brush, it’s going to muddy anything else you paint. This is why I recommend having two mason jars: one for clean water to use for painting, the other to clean your brushes.
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- Your brush not only puts pigment on the page, it can take pigment and water off. Washes can dry unevenly if there’s too much water, so try the following technique to remove some water without losing pigment: Hold your paper upwards at about a 45 degree angle. Once all the excess water has gathered at the bottom, use a dry brush and lightly run it across the area with water. This should pick up some of the water on the page. Dry your brush, and do it again until all the excess water is gone.
- Always keep some paper towel in your non-dominant hand. This can be used to dry your brush and catch any dripping before it’s too late.
- Don’t be afraid to draw it first! As long as you draw lightly and erase an excess lines, there’s no reason not to draw out what you’d like to paint first. Because watercolor isn’t as forgiving as some other paints, it’s good to be as prepared as possible.