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Watercolor painting is easy to understand and this is the main reason many beginners start with this.  For watercolor painting, all you need is paper, paint and a brush.  But, this doesn’t mean you can master the tips and techniques in no time.  To be successful, allow yourself plenty of time start from the basics of watercolor painting. 


History of Watercolor Painting


Watercolor painting has been around since ages, dating back to the cave paintings of Paleolithic Europe.  They were also used for manuscript illumination during the European Middle Ages.  Albrecht Durer, the German Northern Renaissance artist is one of the earliest exponents of watercolor painting and his paintings ranged from landscapes to wildlife from 1471 to 1528.   In the 1500s, a watercolor painting school was also established in Germany by Hans Bol.  Although watercolor painting began centuries ago, they were only used by Baroque easel painters for small scale drawings such as sketches and cartoons.  In those times, watercolor painting was also practiced by notable people such as Van Dyck, Claude Lorrain and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. 

During the 18th century, watercolor painting started gaining recognition in England.  It was valued for its usefulness to depict terrain, properties, geology and so on by mapmaker, surveyors, engineers and military officers.  Watercolor color artists were needed during archeological expeditions so they could document discoveries made in Asia, Mediterranean and the New World.  This stimulated a great demand for artists to create memento paintings of popular places and sites. 

In the United States of America, watercolor painting got recognition in the 19th century.  The currently known American Watercolor Society was established in 1866 as the American Society of Painters in Watercolor.  The major supporters of that time included William Trost Richards, Thomas Moran, Fidelia Bridges, Thomas Eakins, and John LaFarge and so on.  Many more innovations followed the popularity of watercolors such as heavily woven papers and pencils (made especially for watercolor painting). 

The four major constituents of watercolor paints are colorant, binder, additives and solvent. 

Watercolor Painting Techniques


Watercolor painting is quite demanding.  It is neither like acrylic painting nor like oil painting. In acrylic and oil painting, the paint stays at the same place where it had been applied and they don’t even change their form or appearance when they dry.  In watercolor painting, the shape of the paper as well as absorbency changes when it becomes wet with paint together with the appearance of the paint when it dries.  When painting with watercolors, you should not try to take control of the water.  Instead you should know the techniques of taking advantage of its behavior.  

Watercolor paints are transparent and it is difficult to hide mistakes.  They do have the hiding power as acrylics and oils have.  Since the paper is also delicate and absorbent, the paints cannot be scraped off and the canvas repainted.  Watercolors are traditionally applied with brushes.  These days, artists have come up with other alternatives such as sponges, sticks, scrapers and sprayers.  Watercolors also combined with charcoal, chalk, crayon, pencil and so on. 

Watercolor paints are greatly acknowledged by artists for it fast drying time, non-toxicity, lack of odor, ease of disposal, ease of cleanup and so on. However, to be a successful watercolor artist, here are some basic techniques that can be used. 

Washes and Glazes


For a watercolor artist, it is important to be familiar with the terms; washes and glazes.  Washes are applications of diluted paint in a way that eliminates individual brush strokes in order to create an undivided area of color.  This can include applying a wash to create a light blue sky.  There are a number of techniques which are used to achieve this, but the most common one is the student methods which involve tilting the paper and applying the paint in a progression of horizontal and even brush strokes in a downward motion.  Each stroke should overlap the stroke on top so that excess paint is pulled downwards and then wick up the extra paint using the tip of a damp brush or a paper towel.  This creates a translucent and airy color effect that is exclusive to watercolors.  On the other hand glazes are applications of new colors over a previously layered paint.  The dilution of the new layer should be enough to allow the previous color to show.  Artists use glazing to mix different colors, produce a smooth colored surface or to adjust a color. 



This technique involves picking up undiluted paint with a small moist brush and applying to a paper in crisscross brushstrokes.  The tip of the brush just needs to be little wet with paint and the paint needs to be just fluid enough so it can transfer to the paper without applying much pressure.  The aim of this technique is to mix the colors using only short touches.  The overall effect is highly controlled, textural and objective. 

Mixing Paints

If you want to obtain the densest possible color when working with watercolor paints, you should use the paint directly from the tube without diluting with water.  However, lighter colors are obtained when paint is diluted with water.  But, it should be noted that paint should be used directly from the tube when performing the drybrush technique.  If you need to completely cover the paper with paint, it is not a good idea to use paint without diluting as it will produce a leathery and dull appearance.  Generally, you may mix one part tube paint with 2 or 3 parts water to eliminate the leathery appearance.  On the other hand, to create the most saturated color, one part tube paint can be mixed with 4 to 6 parts water.  A flat palette is mostly used with tube paints as it provides ample space for mixing and diluting paints.  However, if the paint has dried out in the palette, it can be made workable again by applying water.  Just make sure it has not been dirtied with another color and that it has not been stored away before completely drying out as it will result in the formation of molds on the paint.  There is not much difference between the paints available in tubes and those available in pans.  If tube paints are left to dry in the palette, they can be used the same way as paints in pans. 

When mixing watercolor paints, it is important to keep the different paints from becoming discolored with other paints.  You can always use a clean moist brush to pick the color you want to mix and apply it to the mixing area of the palette.  Rinse the brush completely and them use for the next color.  Each time you pick up a new color, make sure to rinse the brush completely.  Once you have got all the different colors in the mixing area, they can be mixed and applied to the painting. 

When you use watercolor paints, make sure to apply using single or joined strokes and then leave to dry.  Excessive brushing the wet paint once it has been applied results in dullness and color muddiness. 

Paint Lightfastness


Paint lightfastness is an important aspect of watercolor painting.  It is in fact the ability of a pigment to retain its real color when exposed to light.  It is often indicated on the paint tube as a numerical rating.  According to the American Standard Test Measure, from a rating of 1-5, 1 and 2 are the most permanent.  Therefore, in some art museums, watercolor painting is displayed under dim light.  

Watercolor Painting Tips For Beginners

Watercolor painting can be hard in the beginning just like any other new form of art.  It obviously takes time and practice to be a good artist and as a beginner, you should never get discouraged by your lack of progress and your mistakes.  However, to start with the art of watercolor painting successfully, there are certain tips that you need to follow.  Art supplies are the first important thing that you need to consider.  There are many different types of art supplies on the market today that are a great choice for a beginner.  As a beginner, although you need quality supplies to start with, it doesn’t mean you go to an art supply store and spend hundreds of dollars just on paints and brushes. 

There are many stores, even online art supply stores that sell good quality art products at very reasonable price.  Every one wants to save money these days and for this reason, your art supplies should be based on your budget.  Buy the best quality you can with the budget you have.  Moreover, buy only a small amount at first and practice with these.  You can always come back and buy more afterwards.  Good quality supplies will help you bring the artist out in you and you will be able to determine how good or bad a painter you are.  But, when you use cheap paints and supplies, you will never get a good result and you will never be happy with the painting no matter how hard you try.  So, to begin with, here are a few tips you can follow to be able to make wise decisions as a beginner. 


The kind of paper you choose will have a major effect on the outcome of your painting.  There are different types of paper available and these are used for different purposes in watercolor painting.  You should choose the paper depending on the result you want to achieve.  These days, the categories available for watercolor paper are hot pressed, cold pressed and rough.  Hot pressed watercolor paper has smooth surface whereas cold pressed paper is slightly textured and rough paper gives the most texture.  But, the favorite for most artists is cold pressed paper as it is more versatile.  However, there are other things to consider as well when choosing your watercolor paper.  Apart from the different texture, two other important things are the sizing and weight.  When the fibers of the watercolor paper are treated for absorbency (making them less absorbent), it is known as sizing.  Paper also comes in different weight, which means that the lighter the paper is, the more chances it has of wrinkling when wet.  Experiment with the different papers and choose the one which you are most comfortable working with.


Brushes are really important when it comes to painting.  However, you should brushes which are of good quality so they work well under different conditions.  You will find brushes in many different sizes, shapes and materials.  There are some which are made of natural hair while most are made of synthetic fibers.  Brushes made of natural hair are more expensive because they have the ability to perform well.  Synthetic brushes are available at cheaper prices but they do not perform as excellently as natural hair brushes do.  There are also brushes available which are made of both natural and synthetic fibers.  When beginning with painting, you don’t need a whole range of brushes.  It is good to start with only a few good quality brushes.  You may want to purchase an oval brush, a flat wash brush and a liner brush for use in the beginning. 



Watercolor paints are also available in different types.  There are artist quality and student quality as well.  Student quality paints are less expensive as they contain more fillers than pigment.  Artist quality paints have more vibrant colors and are a great choice for professionals.  For a beginner, it is a good idea to go with some good quality student paints.  This will allow you to experiment with the different colors without having to worry much about the cost involved even if you waste the paint while experimenting.  Professionals do recommend artist quality, but you should make a decision based on your choice and budget.  You can find watercolor paints in tubes and pans or blocks.  Watercolor paints available in blocks are in dry form and they need water to be added to them to make them workable.  You need to make sure that your brushes are clean when you start with watercolor pans otherwise you will be making the paint dirty.  Paints available in tubes are more workable since they are not in dry form.  It is a good idea to buy good quality primary colors so you can learn to mix them to create new colors instead of buying premixed colors. 



All artists need a palette so they can mix their watercolor paints.  A white palette is a good choice for watercolors because it allows you to see your mixtures clearly. 

It’s Time To Get Started


After you have decided on the art supplies you are going to use for your watercolor painting, it is time to set up your studio.  You will need to choose a place in the home where there will not be any interruption from the family members.  Talk to your family and see where they think will be the ideal place for you to set up your studio.  Once the place has been decided on, you may need certain things to make your work easier.  Obviously, the place needs to be clean for you to do your painting and to keep your painting.  And you will also need to have some kind of arrangement so the basic essentials are within easy reach. 

Here are some of the things that you may need in you studio. 

-          A large plastic jug for water. 

-          A spray bottle containing water so you can rewet your paints and palettes when it needs to be.

-          A container to hold your brushes

-          Pencils for drawing and sketching

-          A sketchpad

-          Cotton rags or paper towels

-          Erasers

Choosing A Subject

This is often the most difficult thing to do when you are confused or uninspired.  Sometimes, there will be so many ideas in mind that it is hard to choose a single one to paint.  On the other hand, sometimes the mind can be as black as a white canvas.  So in these circumstances, it is always good to think about the subject that you have a deep connection with.   Think about a subject that you love the most.  Think about something that you are interested in.  It can be wildlife, nature, landscape, a boat in the harbor, an apple on the table, a vase of your favorite flowers and so on.  Choosing something that you have an interest in will give you a great head start. 

If you love nature, simply go to your favorite spot and take a few pictures from the different angles.  Likewise, if you are an animal lover, go to a zoo with you camera and capture all the beautiful images you can.  When you are back at home, you can choose the one which you like the most and start you painting based on that.  An important thing to keep in mind is that every successful artist had been in your shoes at some point in time.  It takes time and patience to be successful at something.  Never be discouraged if you failed to paint something the way you wished to.  Give it a second try and be happy with what you create.  Every painting is unique and every painting displays the feelings of its creator. 


Light Washes First

For artists who have been using acrylics and oils may find working with watercolors difficult due to the medium being transparent.  And since there are no white colors, you have to determine carefully which areas of the paper will have to be left out.  In watercolor painting, it is a good idea to start with light washes and avoid the areas that you intend to leave white.  After you finish with the light washes, move on with the darker washes.

Thumbnail Sketches

To avoid problems while painting, it is important to plan your work.  With the use of small thumbnail sketches, you can adjust the composition and move the subject around.  The sketches can be broken into different tonal areas and shaded.  This will allow you to control the lights and darks and let the maximum contrast appear at the center of interest. 

Maintain Color Harmony


  1. Limit Your Palette



There are a number of things you can do to maintain color harmony in your painting.  The first and the most important are to limit your palette.  It is tempting to dip your brush into all the different colors and put it on the canvas.  But, it should be noted that this will result in a muddy and discordant work.  To avoid this, always start with two or three colors depending on the subject and depending on the atmosphere you are trying to create.  More colors can be introduced later if need be. 

  1. Avoid Foreign Colors


There are times when we look at a painting and say to ourselves that there is a color or an object which does not seem to fit.  For example, a vase of flowers with red roses and a single yellow rose that just seems out of place.  Or the color blue used for the river just seems discordant.  The solution for this problem is to avoid use of foreign colors that just takes the essence of the painting away.  However, if you feel the need to use the color although you know it’s not too appealing, introduce more of the same color at other places in the painting to maintain color harmony. 

  1. Neutral Darks


Use warm and cool darks instead of neutral darks.  This will give the painting more life and character. 


Positioning the Centre of Interest

A painting can be made more successful if the centre of interest in well positioned.  Break the vertical and horizontal axis in a ratio of 1:2 so that the center of interest is at an unequal distance from each side.  Do not place it right in the middle of the painting unless you require a very formal and static composition. 

Softening Hard Watercolor Tube Paint


When paint has dried in the tube, you cannot squeeze it out of the tube as it becomes too hard.  But, this does not mean all the paint in the tube will go waste.  You can cut the tube open and use a wet brush on it so it dissolves in water.  However, after cutting open the tube, if you can take out the dry block of paint, put the block on a palette and use some water to soften it.  Watercolor paint is water-soluble and no matter how dry they become, they can be made useable by adding a little water.

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