What is watercolor

10 Tips for Watercolor Beginners

I’m excited to share some tips and tricks to help you get started with this beautiful and versatile medium. As an art teacher, I’ve seen how watercolor painting can be both challenging and incredibly rewarding. Something about how the colors blend and flow on the paper is magical! In this post, I’ll share ten tips essential for anyone just starting with watercolor. So grab your paintbrushes, and let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Tip #1: Invest in good-quality materials

When it comes to watercolor painting, having suitable materials can make a big difference in the quality of your work. While it can be tempting to go for the cheapest supplies, I always recommend investing in good-quality materials, including high-quality watercolor paper, paints, and brushes.

Using good quality watercolor paper is essential for achieving the desired results in your paintings. Cheap paper tends to buckle and warp when wet, making it difficult to control the paint. Colors can be dull on cheap watercolor papers, or the paper can be damaged. Look for paper specifically designed for watercolor painting, weighing at least 140 lbs, and 100% cotton if you can afford it.

As for watercolor paints, it’s worth spending more to get a good set of professional-grade paints. Cheaper paints often have a lower pigment concentration, meaning the colors can appear dull and washed out. Professional-grade paints have a higher pigment concentration, allowing for more vibrant and nuanced colors in your paintings.

Lastly, having the right brushes can make a big difference in applying your paints. Look for brushes specifically designed for watercolor painting, with soft, absorbent bristles. Investing in a few high-quality brushes will be more beneficial in the long run than having a bunch of cheap ones that don’t hold their shape or don’t pick up enough paint.

Investing in good-quality materials from the start will give you a better foundation to work with and help you achieve better results in your paintings.

Watercolor portrait

Tip #2: Start with a limited color palette

As a beginner, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the number of colors available in a watercolor paint set. However, using too many colors can make achieving a cohesive and harmonious painting more challenging. I recommend starting with a limited color palette of just a few colors.

With a limited color palette, you can focus on learning to mix colors to create new shades and achieve a broader range of hues. Let’s start with a warm and cool version of each primary color (red, blue, and yellow) and a few earth tones like burnt sienna or raw umber. With just a few colors, you can create a wide variety of shades and tones and experiment with color mixing to create unique color combinations. You can chose watercolor in pans, in tubes, in bottle, in brushpens… 

Starting with a limited color palette will also help you develop a better understanding of color theory and how different colors interact with each other. As you become more comfortable with color mixing, you can gradually add more colors to your palette and expand your options.

Remember, it’s not about having a lot of colors but rather knowing how to use them effectively. Starting with a limited color palette is a great way to build a strong foundation in watercolor painting.

Tip #3: Practice basic techniques

Watercolor painting involves various techniques you’ll need to master as you progress. It’s essential to practice these basic techniques regularly to build your skills and develop your unique style.

Some basic techniques you’ll need to learn include washes, wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry techniques, glazing, and lifting. Learning how to control the amount of water on your brush and how to use different brush strokes to achieve other effects is also essential.


Tip #4: Use plenty of water

One of the most important things to remember when working with watercolors is to use plenty of water. Unlike other painting mediums, watercolors are designed to be used with water to create soft, flowing washes and blends.

A wet brush with plenty of water will help your paint flow and blend smoothly on the paper. It’s essential to keep your brush loaded with enough water so that the paint can move around the paper and create interesting textures and effects.

Using plenty of water also helps prevent your paint from drying too quickly on the paper. This is especially important when you’re trying to create smooth transitions or gradients. If the paint dries too quickly, you may end up with harsh lines or uneven colors.

Of course, it’s also important not to use too much water, as this can cause your paper to warp or damage. The key is to find the right balance between using enough water to create a smooth, flowing wash and not using so much that it damages your paper.

As you work with watercolors, you’ll better understand how much water to use for different techniques and effects. But as a beginner, it’s always a good idea to use more water to ensure that your paint flows and blends as it should.

Tip #5: Don’t use too much paint

When working with watercolors, loading your brush with lots of paint can be tempting to get a bright, bold color. However, too much paint makes working with the medium more difficult.

Watercolors are supposed to be transparent, meaning that you should be able to see the texture and color of the paper through the paint. If you use too much paint, you may end up with an opaque layer that covers the paper underneath. This can make it more difficult to blend colors and create interesting effects.

Using too much paint can also cause your paper to become oversaturated, leading to warping or buckling. It’s better to use a light touch with your brush and build up your colors gradually, layer by layer.

Try using a small amount of paint first and gradually build up the color as needed. You can achieve more interesting effects with less paint than you initially thought.

Watercolor flowers

Tip #6: Experiment with different papers

When it comes to watercolor painting, the type of paper you use can make a big difference in the final result of your artwork. The texture and absorbency of the paper can affect the way the colors blend and spread, as well as the level of detail you can achieve.

Hot-pressed paper has a smooth texture and is best for detailed work, such as line drawings and small brush strokes. It also works well for dry brush techniques and achieving a high control over the paint.

On the other hand, cold-pressed paper has a medium texture and is the most commonly used paper for watercolor painting. It is suitable for many techniques, including wet-on-wet and dry brush techniques. The surface allows some paint to be absorbed into the paper but leaves some pigment sitting on top of the paper, creating interesting effects.

Rough paper has a coarse texture, which creates a more pronounced texture in the final artwork. This type of paper is great for creating texture effects and is also suitable for wet-on-wet techniques.

Tip #7: Embrace mistakes

As an art teacher, I cannot stress the importance of embracing your mistakes enough. Watercolor painting can be unpredictable, and mistakes can happen even to the most experienced artists. But rather than getting discouraged or frustrated, learn to embrace your mistakes and use them to your advantage.

Sometimes, a mistake can turn out to be the best thing that happened to your painting. It can open up new possibilities and lead you in a direction you would not have thought otherwise. So, instead of covering up a mistake, take a step back and consider how to incorporate it into your painting.

One way to embrace your mistakes is to turn them into happy accidents (hi, Bob Ross!). For example, if you accidentally drop too much water on your paper and the colors start to bleed, take advantage of this effect by creating a beautiful abstract painting. Remember, the beauty of watercolor painting lies in its unpredictability and the happy accidents that can happen along the way.


Tip #8: Take breaks

Painting with watercolors can be a relaxing and enjoyable activity, but it can also be physically and mentally taxing. I always remind my students to take breaks during their painting sessions. Resting your eyes and hands is important, especially when working on a long and complex painting.

Taking breaks also allows you to step back and assess your work. When you come back to your painting with fresh eyes, you may notice areas that need more work or that you want to change. Also, taking breaks can help you avoid overworking your painting and making mistakes.

Tip #9: Seek out resources

As with any new skill, there is always more to learn about watercolor painting. As a beginner, you may feel overwhelmed by the information available. But don’t worry. There are many resources available to help you improve your skills.

One of the best resources is other artists. Join a local art group or take a class to meet other artists who can offer advice and support. Online forums and social media groups can also be a great way to connect with other watercolor painters and learn from their experiences.

Many books, videos, and online tutorials can teach new techniques and inspire you to try new things. Don’t be afraid to experiment and take risks with your watercolor painting.


Tip #10: Have fun!

Last but certainly not least, it’s important to remember that painting with watercolors should be a fun and enjoyable experience! As a beginner, it can be easy to get caught up in trying to create a perfect masterpiece, but the truth is that mistakes and imperfections are all part of the process. So be easy on yourself if a painting turns out differently than you planned. Instead, try to learn from your mistakes and enjoy learning a new skill.


As you embark on your watercolor journey, remember that it is a continuous learning and growth process. You can create beautiful works of art with the right materials, a solid understanding of basic techniques, and a willingness to experiment and have fun. Feel free to make mistakes and take breaks when necessary. And most importantly, enjoy the process of exploring and creating with watercolors. 

Happy painting!

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