how to watercolor paint

watercolor painting techniques

Learn how to watercolor paint with artist Carol May. Starting with the basics and then onto paint application.

Follow me step by step, as I paint a Rufous Hummingbird visiting a daisy flower.

How to watercolor paint a Rufous Hummingbird visiting a daisy flower, art by Carol MayPainting A Rufous Hummingbird Visiting A Yellow Daisy Flower

getting ready to paint

The setup and getting ready is a big part of how to watercolor paint. Once you are ready the painting will go smoothly.

my palette

I use watercolor paints from a tube. They are easy to use.

I keep all the watercolors I would ever use in a plastic palette with a lid. 

The colors may dry out between paintings. But with a spritz of water, they are as good as new.

Here are my favorite watercolor paint colors.


My watercolor paletteWatercolor Palette

the colors we will be using

I chose a split compliment of three colors. How I choose color schemes.

The other colors we will be using are mixed on the palette.

  • Cobalt Blue or any blue of your choice
  • Quinacridone Sienna, Burnt Sienna or the orange you use
  • Lemon Yellow, Raw Sienna or New Gamboge


Split Compliment painting color schemeSplit Compliment Colors

get your paint ready

I spritz water into wells of my chosen colors to soften them.

If the well is running low, I add fresh paint.

The softened colors are pulled out to the center of the palette for mixing.

All mixing is done in the center of the palette, so the colors in the wells remain clean and pure.

How to freshen your tube watercolor paintsFreshen Your Paint

keep your colors clean

Never put a brush with one color on it into the well of a different color.

Clean your brush with water before putting it into the color wells.

I use a glass jar for washing my brushes. When the water gets dirty, I get clean water.

I blot the excess water out of the clean brush on a paper towel I keep next to the water jay.

Keep your watercolors clean for bright colorsKeep your colors clean!

my painting support

My favorite painting support for watercolor paintings is Aquabord or Claybord.  

My watercolor story tells why I chose Aquabord.

We will be using an 8x10 board for this demo.

How do I decide what size to use?

I tell in the How-to Painting Checklist.


I use Ampersand Aquabord for my watercolor paintings.My Painting Support

how to watercolor paint

Transfer your drawing to the Aquabord and you are ready to paint.

paint the hummer's throat

Using a round brush wet the throat area.

Use a pale yellow on the side toward the light.

While the yellow is still wet, put orange on the opposite side.

Allow the two colors to mingle together.

Beautiful mingling colors are the joy of how to watercolor paint.


Start the watercolor hummingbird painting on the throat.Paint The Throat

paint the body

Wet the body with water. The wet area will have a sheen.

The paint will spread into the wet areas.

Mix blue and orange to make a brown for the area away from the light.

Add orange, as you go toward the light.

Leave the area below the throat white.

Let the colors mix while painting the hummingbird's body.Paint The Body

painting the wings

Mix a very light grey-brown with the orange and blue.

Use more water to make it a light color.

Apply to the forward wing.

Colors get lighter and cooler, as they go into the distance.

Add a bit more blue to make it greyer for the wing farther away.

Mix you complimentary colors to get the hummingbird's wing color.Painting The wings

now the head

Mix an orange-brown.

Touch the top of the hummer's head with the brush tip.

This leaves stippling marks to simulate the short feathers.

Leave the eye, around and behind the eye white.

White paper makes the whites in watercolor paintings.

Painting the hummingbird's headPainting The Head

Leaving the whites is important in learning how to watercolor paint.


paint the eye, beak and feet

Add more blue to your blue and orange mixture to make a black.

Color mixing is a big part of how to watercolor paint.

Paint the eye leaving a white highlight.

Paint the beak with one dark line down the center.

Then put a lighter dark on the outside edges that catch the light.

Mix complimentary paint colors for painting the hummer's eye and beak.Paint The Eye and Beak

painting the flower

Freely paint the flower petals. Use a variety of oranges and yellow.

Leave some white spaces for a little spark.

On some petals put the paint on one end of the petal.

Then pull it toward the other end with water.

This makes the petal color go from full color to lighter and lighter.

Mix a variety of greens from your blue and yellow.

Start painting the daisy flowerPaint The Flower Petals

Add more yellow for the green toward the light.

More blue makes a darker green for the underside of the stem and other areas away from the light.

paint the flower center

Use a variety of brown, orange and yellow to paint the center of the flower.

Stipple with the end of the brush to portray the stamens in the center of the daisy.

Continue painting the yellow daisy flower.Paint The Green Flower Parts

paint the background

Use a flat brush to paint the background.

Start with your darkest color in the upper right corner.

Use light or dark blue, according to your personal preference.

I first started out darker and then changed my mind and lightened it.

As you move to the left of the painting add a bit of yellow.

Reflected light causes the background to get lighter the farther away from the light source.

I made some marks behind the bird to simulate flight movement.

Paint the background of the hummingbird painting.Paint The Background

Toward the bottom I mixed a variety of greens to indicate foliage.

The darker colors at the bottom of the painting help ground the painting and direct the viewer's eye to the focal area.

I went over the hummingbird again and darkened and brightened colors, where I thought it needed it.

I also did a little bit of adjustment on the flower petals.

Where petals were overlapped by a petal next-door, I darkened them.

Painting a watercolor hummingbird and a yellow daisy flower with Carol MayFinal Touch-ups

now it's your turn

Painting is so much fun! Learning how to watercolor paint is not hard.

There are no mistakes that can't be fixed. If you make a mistake just put some water onto the area you want to remove, rub it a bit with a brush and blot it off with a paper towel. It's that easy!

Jump in and go for it and have fun!

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