Watercolors can produce extraordinarily beautiful and versatile art, from Cézanne’s loosely formed still lifes to James Audubon’s lifelike birds. They aren’t just for experienced artists, though. Beginners enjoy experimenting with their wide range of color options and blending effects, while their ability to be reactivated with water enables quick fixes. In addition, watercolors require few specialized tools and are easy to store and clean. If you’d like to learn how to paint with watercolors, keep reading. We’ll recommend specific watercolor supplies, go over basic watercolor principles, and discuss techniques that form the building blocks of all watercolor art.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Basic Watercolor Principles
Basic Watercolor Techniques
Other Watercolor Techniques
Putting It All Together
You may already have some watercolor supplies at home, but it’s worth using good quality materials even if you’re just starting out. It will be easier to learn and your results will be better. Check out the product recommendations below or get a curated set of supplies with our Watercolor Starter Kit. If you’re ready to start now, watch the video above to see watercolor techniques in action. You can also use the Table of Contents to skip to the next section.
Choose Your Colors
Get the most out of your watercolor paints by choosing colors that mix together well. This lets you combine them to form many other hues. Ideally, your set should include a cool red, warm red, yellow, green-blue, ultramarine blue, and neutrals like black and white. It’s a good idea to make a color chart that shows how your paints mix together. This way, you can quickly choose the right color while you are painting instead of guessing.
You should also look for high-grade paints with a large amount of pigment that will produce more colorful effects. Paints intended for students or hobbyists have larger proportions of binder and filler. They are great for experimenting and learning, but they simply aren’t capable of the same results as artist-grade materials.
Watercolor Palette: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors are professional-grade, traditional Japanese watercolors. These pigment-based, lightfast paints are wonderfully creamy and respond quickly to water. They are relatively thick and can produce intense colors or delicate washes depending on how much water you use. If you water them down, you can see a moderate amount of pigment granules in the paint. Gansai Tambi paints blend very well and come in large pans with plenty of room to maneuver your brush. They are available in individual pans as well as sets ranging from 6-36 colors.
Watercolor Tubes: Holbein Artists’ Watercolors
These watercolors are more moist than dry pans and are packaged in squeezable tubes. This makes them very easy to mix in a separate palette. Holbein Artists’ Watercolors are richly pigmented and give intense color even if you only use a small amount of paint. They use no dispersants, which allows them to preserve the texture of individual brush strokes and makes them especially good for fine details. These high-quality watercolors come in sets of 12, 18, and 24.
Select Your Paper
It’s best to use paper that is specifically designed for watercolors. Watercolor paper is typically thick and treated with sizing that controls how quickly the paper absorbs water. You’ll often see watercolor paper labeled as hot press or cold press. Hot press paper has a smoother finish that doesn’t allow the water to soak in as much. This makes it easier to use for lifting off, or removing some of the wet color. Cold press paper is rougher and more absorbent. It is the most common kind of watercolor paper and encourages even color distribution and softer edges. Check out our Guide to Watercolor Supplies for more information.
Watercolor Block: Global Art Fluid Watercolor Paper
Global Art Fluid Watercolor Paper is ideal for watercoloring. This heavy cold press paper is glued along two opposing edges to keep the paper from buckling as you paint. This reduces the need for stretching and makes it easier to use on the go. It absorbs water and color well and has a nice texture. The Easy-Block pads are resilient enough to support a moderate amount of reworking, but they will pill if overworked.
Watercolor Sketchbook: Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbooks
If you prefer to carry a sketchbook or keep an art journal, Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbooks are an excellent choice. They use archival quality cold press paper that stands up well to water and has a noticeable texture. These sketchbooks are available as medium-sized hardcovers or pocket-sized softcovers. Try the Zeta series if you’d prefer a smooth finish.