“Watercolor is like life. Better get it right the first time – you don't get a second chance!” - Sergei Bongart

Have you thought about becoming an artist?

If you want to learn more about watercolour painting, here are a few things that you should know.

What Are Watercolours?

Watercolours are used by a lot of artists. They’re famed for being quite easy to use although there are some very advanced techniques.

So what are watercolours?

Watercolours are made of finely ground pigments mixed in water so that they’re adhesive. It’s painting with water, basically.

Paintings made with watercolours are often done on paper and also called watercolours. The colours appear quite light on the paper because of the water. Of course, this can vary depending on the artist. Some painters choose to add far less water to make the colours stronger.

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How do you layer watercolours?
When you paint with watercolours, you need to go from light to dark. (Source: trudith)

Using watercolours is one of the oldest painting techniques. It’s almost the opposite of poster paint, which needs very little water to be used.

The technique has been around for ages and used by many civilisations who used pigments and water to paint certain aspects of their culture.

However, watercolours are often thought of as a training technique that allows artists to think about the first steps of their works. It wasn’t until the 17th century that using watercolours would start being recognised as a legitimate technique.

Watercolours can be easily corrected. In fact, once the paint dries, it can be touched up just by adding a bit of water. That’s also why you have to be quite careful not to wash away your first few layers of paint when you do. They dry quite quickly, too. You just have to wait until the water evaporates.

Watercolours are often a good option for beginners because they're cheap, transparent, and can be rewetted when you make a mistake, unlike acrylic paint, which dries quickly.

How Do You Use Watercolours?

Would you like to start painting with watercolours?

While there’s nothing better than painting classes or workshops, here are a few tips for painting with watercolours.

Firstly, you should know that watercolours are usually used on paper. It’s pointless trying to use watercolours on a cotton or linen canvas because they’ll absorb the paint before you have time to manipulate it.

You, therefore, need to get the right kind of paper. There are different types of paper with different grammages. This depends on your own preferences. Watercolour paper is often quite thick so that the sheet doesn’t rip when the water’s added to it.

To start, the artists paint with two solutions. They can either paint directly onto the dry paper or they can wet the sheet with their brush before adding the pigment to it.

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Which is the best way to paint with watercolours?
It doesn't matter if your palette is messy if your painting is good! (Source: padrinan)

The latter technique allows the artist to mix the colours directly onto the paper. However, if you’re not certain how it’s going to turn out, you can always mix the colour on a palette first.

Watercolours, unlike oil paints, require very few layers as they get darker with each layer. You, therefore, need to start with your lightest shades before going darker.

With each new layer, use less and less water, especially for dark areas and shadows. This makes the colours less pale.

When painting with watercolours, you should use white paper. This makes the colours stand out more. It would be very difficult to paint on sky blue paper, for example.

Furthermore, you can use the white of the paper for your lighter areas.

Once you’ve finished, you need to know how to store your artwork. Paper can be very fragile. As you leave your painting class, you should use a drawing pad to keep it safe. When it rains, as it often does, your watercolour won’t be protected and you'll have to just watch as all your work washes away.

If you want to show off your work, it’s a good idea to keep it behind glass. There are plenty of products for protecting both watercolours and poster paints. These can act as an extra layer of security.

You should also consider mixing watercolours with other painting techniques.

Paint from Life with Watercolours

Watercolours are used by many artists. It’s an important part of art classes alongside poster paints, acrylics, graphite, Indian ink, pastels, charcoal, coloured pencils, oil paints, etc.

So why should you choose one method over another?

A Technique for Travellers

Watercolours are a popular choice for travellers. Travel notebooks are great for painting with watercolours. You've probably seen a pretty realistic seascape painted with watercolours. Travellers can use them to paint portraits and landscapes.

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How much do watercolour paints cost?
There are plenty of great examples of watercolour paintings. (Source: Marty-arts)

This style of painting is popular because you don’t need a lot to do it. Unlike oil painting where you need a whole host of equipment, watercolours just require water, a sheet of paper, the paints, and a paintbrush.

There are lots of different watercolour brushes you can get. You can get some that have a small reservoir for water so you can paint with them absolutely anywhere.

People from all different walks of life are taking to watercolours in order to capture the world around them.

An Outdoor Technique

There are more than just travellers taking advantage of how few materials painting watercolours requires. People often paint with watercolours in gardens, parks, and outdoors, with artists copying the landscapes they can see.

Watercolours are useful for landscape painting in both art classes and outdoors (as long as it’s not raining). Painting tutors often take their students outside to paint landscapes with watercolours.


Watercolours are often used for starting projects. A painter can create what they have in their head with watercolours to see their vision more clearly than they would with a pencil sketch.

This is also useful for quickly copying famous works in a museum in order to study them. Students can’t always spend hours doing this which can make watercolours a great option.

You’ll soon know everything you need to about Rembrandt, Braque, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Courbet, Delacrois, de Vinci, etc.

Essential Equipment for Painting Watercolours

If you want to paint with watercolours, you should get an easel, paint, brushes, Gum arabic, watercolour pencils, fixative, kneaded erasers, a rag, etc.

Don’t worry though, in comparison to oil paint and acrylic paint, watercolours are very affordable and certain accessories, like an easel, aren’t absolutely necessary. However, you should get everything you need to protect your creations once they’re finished.

Where can you buy watercolours?
A watercolour palette can be useful for travelling with. (Source: stevepb)

Choose the Perfect Paper

Watercolour paper is special. It needs to be thick enough so it doesn’t rip.

So how do you choose the right paper?

Sheets are available in different grammages. Paper for watercolours should be around 300g so that it won’t crinkle when the water’s added. Most art stores will stock this type of paper.

You also need to pay attention to the type of paper grain. Some paper is smooth while other types can be rough. You need to find a preference.

Buy Good Brushes

Using the right brushes is important when learning to paint. Cheaper brushes will lose their bristles over time. You obviously need these bristles in order to paint. It’s a better idea to have decent materials right from the start.

Watercolour brushes need to have short bristles in order to manipulate the brush with ease. Water is a technique that requires fine strokes. The shorter the brush, the easier it is to do fine details.

You also need to take care of your brushes, too. Clean them after each session and store them in a case or a box.

Watercolour Paints

Watercolour paints are sold in tubes or tubs. The tubs have little blocks of paints which you have to add water to. A case is a good idea for keeping your paint tubs organised.

Just like oil paints, extra fine watercolours are richer in pigment than fine watercolours. They’re therefore of a higher quality. You should try and find the best value for money.

If the pastel tones you achieve with watercolours aren't doing it for you, you should consider having a look at gouache (also known as opaque watercolour), which can achieve colours closer to acrylics and oils but is water soluble and can be rewetted just like watercolours.

You may also consider learning how to paint with pastels...

While acrylic painting lends itself to start textures and brushstrokes, there are ways to create texture with watercolours. If you're struggling to make your pieces more vibrant, you might want to consider getting extra instruction or private tutorials.

You'll be surprised how much progress a beginner can make with some extra help or by attending art lessons.

Drawing Pads

These are great for protecting your watercolours and you can find them in most art stores. They come in a variety of different sizes and colours and are rarely very expensive.

While you don't need to go out and get Winsor & Newton supplies (which are often considered some of the best), after a few painting lessons and mastering portrait painting, artistic composition, and using different surfaces to get interesting textures, you might want to upgrade your gear a bit.

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