Argh the long awaited watercolour tutorial series! I’ve been putting this off for so long even though I took the photos so long ago. I think that it’s because it’s such an involved topic. There are so many tips and tricks and information that I want to put in this series that I feel like I’m going to forget and miss important things. It’s a topic which is so personal to the artist as well that there is no set way to do things, it’s all about experimenting and finding what’s right for you.
But enough of that let’s get into it!
Today we’re going to start from the beginning: materials.
The two most important parts of watercolour painting are the paint and the paper. Even with the best set of paints in the entire world if your paper sucks it’s going to be difficult to get anything done.
I strongly suggest buying watercolour paper. It’s really not that expensive and you will see much better results with it than regular paper or drawing cartridge paper. I have always had decent paints but it wasn’t until I moved to really good paper a few years ago that I was able to get any of the beautiful effects that I had in my head.
This is what I’m using at the moment, it’s not my first choice in paper but it’s reasonably priced (I think I paid $20 for 100 sheets on sale) and it’s decent.
Look for paper which is at LEAST 200gsm weight. I personally prefer 300gsm but 200 is not bad. The weight of the paper is so important when you’re working with wet paints because thinner paper will curl and buckle with water much more. Thicker paper will hold more colour and stand up better to layered paints. Thicker=infinitely better.
Make sure your paper is acid free as well. This means the paper won’t degrade as fast over time so your artwork is safer. Seriously though, watercolour paper changed my whole outlook on painting so if you can afford it, get it.
Watercolour paper comes in hot pressed and cold pressed varieties. This is how the paper is made and it will effect how the paint takes to it. You can also get smooth grain or rougher textured paper which I prefer.
Paint is another thing you don’t want to cheap out on if you can afford it. While cheaper paints are obviously cost effective and not the worst to actually use, you will never get the same results as you will with a decent quality paint.
I used cheap paints for a very long time until my favourite palette was ruined and I happened to have an art voucher during a sale. I scored a Windsor and Newton 12 pan paint kit for $20 and it has made an insane difference to my artwork. These kits can be quite pricy if you don’t get them on sale but even if you just start with 3-4 colours it’s worth buying a good brand.
Keep in mind that each brand has several “grades” of paint too and the difference is usually in things like “will fade after 100 years rather than 200 years”… so if you are just starting out and price conscious then pick the cheaper range from a good brand.
I use Windsor and Newton and the range is Cotman. The pans are a little expensive but the tubes are around $6 each and have a lot of paint in them. They go on sale quite often so keep an eye out for bargains!
Watercolour paint comes in two forms: liquid in tubes and set in pans.
I prefer working from pans out of personal preference so even when I buy the tube colours, I make my own pans and set them to dry over a few days. When I was branching out to buy tube colours for the first time I had a conversation with an art store attendant who made me feel very stupid when I asked about the difference between pan and tube colours. Turns out contrary to her snotty advice, there’s no real difference, it’s just personal preference.
With pan colours you can generally tell whether they are good quality or not because when you paint with cheaper ones they feel and look almost grainy. Good quality pans look almost shiny and feel really smooth to use.
When you are starting out I suggest buying a palette with maybe 12 colours. These are usually the basics you will need until you work out the kind of painting you want to do. Later on you can customise your palette how you like. For example, mine didn’t come with pink or purple so I added them later.
Really so long as you have the primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and a black and white you can mix a lot of other colours you want. That said, watercolours are not like acrylic paints, there are some colours you just can’t mix and diluting colours with white to make pastel colours is much more difficult because white generally just makes the paint more opaque because of it’s chemical consistency.
This is another thing to keep in mind. Watercolour paints are coloured with pigments which have different properties. So some colours are more opaque and some colours are transparent by nature. For example, the orange in my palette is SUPER opaque and bright, you can never dilute it down too much without distorting the colour. The blue in my palette is the total opposite, getting a bright opaque blue isn’t going to happen with that shade because by nature it is thin and transparent.
As you play around more with your paint you will start to get a real feel of the colours and what you can do within their physical limitations.
Now brushes! These are the brushes that I use the most.
From top to bottom…
Big brush: Good for backgrounds and big sweeping strokes
Thin long brush: Good for outlines
2 x Short thin brushes: Good for details and small areas
Standard brush: Good all rounder, this one folds up with a lid for traveling
Aqua brush: Best brush everrrr
Brushes come made from different materials and have different qualities which are suited for different jobs. My preference is usually for acrylic bristles and a medium brush with a very fine point for details.
My ultimate brush is the Pentel Aquash brush because it actually holds the water inside the brush. You control the water by squeezing and it’s a very natural way to work. I find constantly washing and dipping my brush for more water irritating so this is perfect for me.
The tip is flexible but retains it’s point really well. It took me like 20 minutes to unlearn everything from years of brush dipping and fall in love with this brush.
Pens and pencils next!
My preference is for fine tip water proof markers. Always go with waterproof for obvious reasons. I prefer to use a mechanical pencil with orange lead. The orange is easy to hide in watercolours so you can’t see all of the sketch lines.
You can see what they look like with a quick wash of colour over them below. Rather than do white highlights with paint I prefer to use a gel pen because it is totally opaque and gives good precision.
The last thing you might find yourself wanting to play with is art masking fluid. Basically what this does is mask off areas you can then paint over. When you remove the fluid afterwards you will have a clean area underneath.
It can be an absolute bitch to paint with though! Never use the same brush you would use for regular painting because masking fluid is really hard to clean out. I have a dedicated fluid brush which I replace every few months when it gets gross.
I had stayed away from masking fluid for a long time because I thought it was very expensive. For this 100ml bottle it only cost around $12 and I have barely used any of it at all in the last year, totally worth it!
I applied fluid below and painted over it.
When it’s removed it looks like this:
So that’s the first edition of Watercolour Walkthrough! Hopefully that will set you on the right course to get your first set of equipment! Let me know what you guys thought of this, if you have any questions leave them in the comments and I’ll cover them in the next edition!
Next time I’ll be going over a lot of basic techniques you will need to know 😀