Watercolour Painting Advice for the Terrified

By Jean Cowan in Art Tutorials > Painting Tutorials

The beginning watercolourist often experiences a trial-by-error initiation, in which the desire to produce a lovely, light-filled watercolor painting exceeds one’s ability to actually do so.

However, once bitten by the painting bug it is impossible to give up on the challenge. Here are some tips to help overcome the feelings of despondency often associated with the learning process.

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1. Get a good tutor.

Whether it’s face to face, via the internet, by reading a book or watching a DVD. Find someone you can use as a mentor to help guide you through the creative process.

2. Attend workshops.

Check the skill level, but don’t be intimidated. There is often a wide range of skill levels, from beginner to advanced, in every workshop. Try to learn from everybody.

3. Join an art society and attend demonstrations.

This is great for accountability, to ensure you are painting on a regular basis. But it can also be a great source of critique and a excellent opportunity to learn from other artists in your community.

4. Get quality tools.

Getting the proper tools can make the job ten times easier. While some things you can afford to skimp on, having the proper paints, paper and brushes is imperative. The best watercolour paper is Saunders or Arches. For brushes, always have a fat bellied one with a point and a 1” flat brush.

Make sure your watercolour tubes are purchased from a reputable art store. Start with a mix of Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Aureolin, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine blue, Cobalt Blue and Cerulean blue. From these you can mix deep vibrant darks as well as transparent glowing washes.


Here’s where you can cut corners. The mixing palette is of great importance, but it really only need be white, and large. A plastic BBQ plate from the $2 shop is equally as effective as expensive art shop palettes.

A child’s sand bucket works great as a water container; and a bath towel can be used for absorbing water from your brush. Get a spray bottle with a fine mist for wetting your paper and paints.

You’ll also need a board to stick your paper to, light weight, so it can be easily moved. (Coat it with an acrylic sealer to make it waterproof.)

Get masking tape, to give a clean edge to your painting. Buy a few 2B pencils for your drawing. And save one of your old cut up credit cards for making marks in drying paint.

With the above materials you are set to produce watercolor paintings. Get familiar with your colors by making swatches on paper, label them, mix them wet into wet and note the results. Keep in mind, the less you stir the paint, the fresher the result.

5. Give yourself attainable goals.

Set simple, achievable goals, such as: I will paint a painting showing a light area, a mid-tone area, and a dark area. Forget the fancy brushwork or dazzling color, just try for your tonal contrast.


These suggestions should be enough to get you started. Keep practicing, and until we meet again, happy painting!

To learn more from Jean, please visit her website at www.jeancowan.com.au .

NOTE: You may also be interested in EE's step-by-step drawing guide for artists. Click below to learn more!

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