Watercolors are not my preferred medium but I do use them from time to time. I absolutely love the way water and colors interact on the paper in an untamed manner.
With watercolors, you can produce stunningly elegant paintings. But they are generally considered to be the most difficult medium to learn, as you are not able to easily correct errors and due to the uncontrolled nature of water.
So to help you out, here are 10 watercolor painting tips for beginners. If you are more advanced, you probably already know these tips, but feel free to add any of your own tips in the comment section at the end.
Watercolor Painting Tip 1 - Be careful, but not tight
If you make a mistake in watercolor painting, it is often not an easy fix. A mistake made is a mistake stayed unfortunately.
So of course, you need to be careful with watercolor painting, arguably more so than with acrylics and oils. However, that does not mean you should be painting very tight. You still want to utilize that loose and free-flowing brushwork which watercolor paintings are known for.
Many of the great watercolor paintings seem to be a hybrid of loose and delicate brushwork, which compliment each other nicely.
You need to be willing to accept that mistakes will happen in watercolor painting. Otherwise you will paint far too reluctantly. This will not come easily when you start out with watercolors. You will either paint loose but with many mistakes, or tight with… probably still many mistakes.
But with experience you will be able to loosen your technique and retain a high level of accuracy.
Watercolor Painting Tip 2 - Learn how the colors interact
One of the most challenging aspects of watercolor painting is the element of uncertainty in relation to how the water and colors will interact on your paper. To limit the uncertainty, you should develop your knowledge of color theory to better understand how the colors will interact.
I put together a guide to color theory here.
Without a knowledge of color theory, you may unintentionally muddy up your painting as you experiment on the paper. Unlike acrylic and oil painting, there is a lot of color mixing on the paper with watercolors.
Watercolor Painting Tip 3 - Use masking fluid to preserve your whites
You can use masking fluid to cover areas of white paper which you do not want to be hit by paint. This is perfect for doing washes of color whilst keeping areas of paper protected from the paint.
When you are ready, you can easily remove the masking fluid and continue painting in that area.
This is perfect for detailing finer areas in your painting or just to keep areas of white on the paper exposed.
Watercolor Painting Tip 4 - Make corrections using the lifting technique
By using the lifting technique, you can ‘lift’ some of the water and paint from the paper. For example, say you placed down too much green in the trees. You can use the lifting technique to remove some of that color and then make any necessary adjustments.
You will not be able to completely fix any mistakes, but you will be able to mitigate the damage.
This video discusses the watercolor lifting technique:
Watercolor Painting Tip 5 - Use a hair dryer
There is no need to wait for the paint to dry on your paper before continuing. You can use a hair dryer to speed-up the drying time of the paint. You can even use a hair dryer to just speed-up the drying time of small portions of your painting and leave the rest of the painting wet.
Watercolor Painting Tip 6 - Splatter your paint
A great watercolor painting technique is to splatter paint onto the paper. This creates a very interesting effect which can be perfect for landscapes to depict grass and trees, or just to create some variance in your painting.
All you need to do is load your brush with paint and water and pull the bristles back with your fingers. Then release the bristles and let the paint ‘splatter’ onto the canvas.
This video demonstrates the splatter watercolor painting technique:
Watercolor Painting Tip 7 - Use artist quality watercolor materials
If you are just starting out, then there is nothing wrong with using cheap art materials. However, there is a noticeable difference between the high quality and cheap materials.
So when you are more developed (or just if you have the budget), I recommend you invest in some high-quality brushes, paints and paper to use. You should immediately feel the difference.
Here are some good products to check out on Amazon:
Watercolor Painting Tip 8 - Use the dry-brush technique to apply bold strokes of color
It is common practice in watercolor painting to start with light washes of color. A great way to create more interest in your painting is to contrast these general washes with areas of bold strokes using the dry-brush technique.
The dry-brush technique involves using paint with very little water. The paint will scumble onto the paper and create a very interesting textured effect, which contrasts nicely against loose brushwork. The paint will also be more opaque than when mixed with more water.
Here is a video which discusses the dry-brush technique:
Watercolor Painting Tip 9 - Paint from light to dark
Most artists who use acrylic and oil paints will paint from dark to light. But in watercolor painting, it is common practice to start from light to dark.
This is because it can be very difficult to keep your lights protected if you start with all your darks. If you get dark paint on an area that is meant to be light, then you don’t really have many options to correct the mistake.
Watercolor Painting Tip 10 - Preserve your whites!
Your whites in your watercolor painting are extremely fragile. Once color hits your paper, you will lose that beautiful white. So you want to try your best to protect any areas of white paper which you want to be exposed in the finished painting.
Here are some beautiful examples of leaving white paper exposed in a finished watercolor painting by Winslow Homer: