Watercolour Tips for Beginners: What I Learned With Internet Research

We can all agree COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives and daily routines. After six months, I decided to look into my to-do list again to make my lockdown more bearable. I always wanted to learn how to use watercolours since I was very young, but I never got the time or energy to do it. But now the time has finally arrived. I fully dived into the internet, searching for information to learn and improve as much as I could. Now I feel like sharing the best tips and guidelines to start learning about this beautiful art technique.

1. Two Water Jars!

This seems like a no brainer. But having two water jars is one of the most important things you need to have at hand to achieve clear colours. Just use two mugs or recipients distinct from each other and have them comfortably set around your workspace. One will be for cleaning your brushes. The other one will be for mixing colors for your artwork. 

Bonus tip: use a porcelain mixing tray or, in case you feel like saving money, use a white ceramic plate from your kitchen. This will be very useful to mix the pigments with water properly. My watercolour set comes with plastic mixing trays, but I barely use them since the water doesn’t spread properly. 

2. Learn About Your Colour Palette

To start with watercolours, I bought an Aqualine Travel Set with 10 colours pans. At first, I mixed them to get different tones based on what I thought, not what I knew. Therefore my colours ended up looking muddy, and I couldn’t understand how to get stronger tones. 

The important thing about warm and cold colours is their location on the colour wheel. As you can tell by the image, the ones that are closer to red are labelled as warm and the ones that tend to go towards blue will be considered as cold.

Image by Kwamikagami at Wikipedia

The next step is to create a chart where you set every colour in a row and column and start mixing them to reference the results clearly. References are everything! This way, you will be spared of any headache when selecting the perfect colours for your project.

If you’re having trouble with identifying this, check out this Youtube video by makochinno. Her explanations were super clear, and I strongly advise you to check out her channel if it piqued your attention. (And, in case you were wondering, this recommendation wasn’t sponsored)

Watercolor Color Pallette made by me
I decided on a grid design for combining every colour I could get from it, and I frequently use it for reference.

3. Choose The Right Paper

Not every paper is manufactured to withstand big quantities of water. 

Using the right paper is crucial to avoid wrinkling and even disintegrating when working, so you should always look into buying watercolour paper with more than 200gsm (or grams per square meter). If you want to go for a heavily layered artwork, I advise you get a 300gsm watercolour paper. There are many other variables to get the ideal paper, but this is a good rule of thumb for beginners. Once you’re more comfortable with your skills and want to level up, invest in a good quality paper that will stand the test of time. 

In all my images, I am using 200 gsm Fabriano paper by Artel. It’s good for starting and practica with no fear, but I will upgrade to a better brand sooner or later.

Some of my artwork created over the last few days
I still have a long way to go with watercolours. Especially when it comes to creating the ink line.

4. Try Out Different Painting Techniques

The flat wash will be the most basic type of technique you can imagine when it comes to watercolours. It’s just dipping your brush in water and paint and spread it around the paper surface. But there are many more ways to create your artwork, and it’s always good to experiment to find a style that fits you.

For instance, you might have heard about painting wet on wet, which means applying water to your paper before applying paint. This can be great for creating several tones and blending, but you’ll need to work quickly. Once the paper starts to dry, you will have different layers of colour. The final result might not be the one you desired. 

I mostly use the dry on wet technique, which allows you to see the bottom layers once you start adding them. 

Even using alcohol for rubbing the painting can be a great way to start experimenting with new effects. Always feel free to mix and match as you wish. This article by My Modern Met gives great insight into this subject with clear examples and explanations.

5. Washi Tape is Your Friend

Tape your paper to your desk using washi tape. This will help you keep your artwork free of unwanted stains outside the desired areas. I learned that using washi tape makes it less likely to tear the paper once you remove it. It also helps with keeping the paper smooth while working and allows you to have clean lines of separation.  Some artists use rubber cement to keep certain areas free of watercolour and remove it once the artwork is finished. I am only sticking to washi tape for practical reasons. 

So far, my results have been improving with every session, but I still have a long way to go. I hope these tips and suggestions can make your introduction to this technique more accessible and fun. I can assure you that using watercolour is very fun to use!

If you want to read more articles about this or any other subject you might be interested at, be sure to check out my website archives.

One of my artworks taped with washi tape to the desk.
I usually prefer to use washi tape only to keep the paper in its place.