Watercolor Basics: Useful Tips to Learn Watercolor Painting for Beginners

woman painting on canvas

The best way to learn watercolor painting is to invest in the right tools: good paints, a variety of paint-brushes, and paper. Then you must practice. You can easily use watercolor tutorials online or simply print out some PDFs or free templates to do so. If there are watercolor painting classes nearby, you may want to enroll in those too; that is indeed the best way to learn watercolor painting as you’d have someone to guide you from the start.

However, if you have budgetary and time constraints, then you can begin free watercolor painting lessons online. Many experts offer their advice and tips on their channels. I have mentioned some great resources to help you learn the basics, towards the end of this guide.

In addition, the following, very basic tips can also help you get started with water coloring.

Beginner’s watercolor tips to get started

paper, watercolors, brushes and paints

Gather your supplies

Basic watercolor kit contains clean water in a bowl, a set of brushes, watercolors, good quality paper, a rag or old cloth to wipe the brushes on, and a plastic dish or palette to mix the colors.

Watercolors

Watercolors come in different forms but they all have a common characteristic: they can be ‘activated’ with water. Pan watercolors come in metal or plastic boxes and contain squares of dried watercolor paint. They are handy, travel well, and last for years. Many brands also include palettes for mixing the colors.  Tube watercolors are also available readily and they are creamier and richer than pan watercolors.  Alternatively, you can buy liquid watercolors in bottles. These are highly concentrated and offer a range of bright colors including fluorescent shades.

Brushes

The choice of brushes for watercolor painting for beginners is a personal choice. The size and type of brushes you use will affect the quality of your brush. A large brush of size 10 is ideal for filling large areas with color while a small or thin brush of 0 lb or size 3 is ideal for adding details and filling small areas that are tricky to get into. As you progress in your lessons, you can invest in different types of brushes including round and flat brushes.

Paper

Paper for water coloring has many aspects to it. You must consider its weight, texture, and format. The heavier the paper, the more water it can pick, without warping. If you are planning to paint every day and want all your watercolor artwork together, then go in for spiral bound watercolor pads. Many top brands make these watercolor books.

Color mixing

It helps to know your basic color theory.

  • Primary colors – Red, Blue, and yellow
  • Secondary colors – These are formed by mixing two primary colors. This orange (red + yellow), green (blue + yellow) and purple (red + blue) form the secondary colors.
  • Tertiary colors – These are formed by mixing one primary and one secondary color.

Start by painting your own color wheel.

color wheel

Practice simple strokes using your brushes

practice brush strokes
  • Pick the brush with the smallest tip. A size 0 or even a size 000 can help. Use this brush to draw fine lines. Practice drawing lines several times. You can also change your brush to see which one gives you the finest lines.
  • Next, start painting strokes from left to right, starting at the top of the paper and using continuous motion to cover the entire paper with thin horizontal lines.
  • Repeat the exercise with vertical lines. Use strokes from top to bottom of the page.

Start doodling

Next, start doodling just as you would with pencils or pens. Trace different shapes-whatever comes to mind. Practice circles, stars, flowers, clouds, trees, and other basic shapes. Do this well until you gain control over your lines.

Practice painting roses and flowers

Most watercolor painting for beginners lessons begin with flowers.

flowers and leaves drawn with watercolors
  • Load a round brush with a concentrated mix of paint.
  • Paint a little rosebud with three nested half-moons.
  •  Rinse the brush, pick up some water and gently dab it on a rag. The brush should not be dry, rather it should be just moist enough to get your painting going.
  •  Place the moist brush into the center of the rosebud you made.
  •  Start pulling the color down and around the buds to make lighter colored petals. You will need to keep your brush flat to create a nice wash around the rosebud.

This technique can be useful for painting all kinds of flowers. The more you practice, the better you’d get!

Progress

Once you have mastered various brush strokes with simple art forms like flowers and fruits, you can progress to painting faces, animals, and even cityscapes.

Some useful watercolor tips

woman using brush to paint
  • Use a hard pencil to draw before you paint. Once you are confident, you may go sketch free and not use a pen or pencil at all. Achieve a free, spontaneous look.
  • Always keep a ‘test’ paper to test your colors when you mix the paints. It should be of the same weight and quality as your actual paper.
  • Experiment with using more water when you are mixing and painting. The paint will become less uniform and more interesting.
  • Start with big brushes but progress to using smaller ones.
  • Some paints granulate as they dry. This phenomenon can be used to create a grainy effect and an interesting texture.
  • Lunar black paint contains iron particles that can give the effect of ‘charcoal’ drawings. You can experiment with this paint to create an atmosphere.
  • Know your color temperatures – red, orange, brown, and yellow create a warm effect while blue, green, and white create a cold effect.
  • Experiment with adding different colors in your painting while the colors are still wet. You can create fascinating textures and colors this way.
  • Use a toothbrush to create a spattering effect.
  • Instead of a small bowl to dip your brush in, use a heavy bottle as it is difficult to tip over. Change the water frequently.
  • Hairdryers can be used to dry the painting quickly. Be careful when using it though: if the paint is wet, it could create blown trails on the picture.
  • Refill your pan watercolors by emptying colors from tubes into the squares.
  • Experiment with cold-press and hot-press papers for different textural effects.

Some useful resources

Best watercolor tutorial books

  • Portfolio: Beginning Watercolor: Tips and techniques for learning to paint By Maury Aaseng
  • Watercolor Secrets: 200 Tips and Techniques for Painting the Easy Way by Robin Berry
  • Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by  Jenna Rainey

Best YouTube watercolor techniques for beginners

Sandy Allnock’s Getting Started: Basic Watercolor Techniques

Easy Watercolor Painting Ideas for Beginners Step by Step by Makoccino

For a complete list of the best watercolor YouTube teachers, visit this blog.

Here are some easy watercolor paintings for beginner’s templates.

Also, check out these watercolor basics PDFs