watercolor for beginners: FAQs about watercolor and 5 easy steps for painting WC

  • This is the place to learn about watercolor for beginners.
  • And, learn five easy steps you can use to paint any watercolor.

Learn about watercolor for beginners painting by Carol MayLearning to about watercolors

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watercolor for beginners

  • Tell me about watercolors. Didn't i use watercolor paints in grade school?

You probably did. Watercolor is a clean, convenient paint you can use to create any picture you can imagine.

Art paints all use the same pigments for their beautiful colors. The pigments in watercolor paints are mixed with gum Arabic.

Watercolor is easy, safe and convenient. It is easy to clean-up with water.

The watercolor brushes I have been using for around twenty years have never seen soap. I just swish them around in water, blot the excess water away and lay them down flat to dry.

What does Wikipedia say about Watercolor Painting?

How do you use water colors?

Egret and lilies watercolor by Carol MayLet your imagination flow
  • Watercolors are simple to use.

All you have to do is dip your brush into clean water and then dip you brush into your selected color.

You do not have to mix or add anything to the watercolors - just water.

Watercolor for beginners is so easy!

Mix your colors in the center of your palette. The more water you add, the lighter your colors will be.

If you want intense colors, use less water and more paint.

Keep a clean water container handy. Wash your brush out in clean water when you are changing colors, so you don't contaminate the other colors.

What are the best watercolor paints?

  • Watercolor paints come in two different forms.

Pan watercolors are pressed into cubes, dried and usually placed in a container with a lid. When you want to use 'ad' pan watercolors them you rub a wet brush on your selected color cube.

The brushes used on pan watercolors wear out faster from all the rubbing. You are limited to using small brushes because a large brush would over-lap into the adjoining pan colors.

Pan watercolors are very handy for travel and painting in the field. They are very easy for people starting watercolor for beginners.

Tube watercolors have some glycerin added to keep the paint flexible.  Any size brush may be used with tube watercolors.

Squeeze the tube paint out onto your palette. Cover the paint palette between painting sessions. If the paint dries out, spritz it with a bit of water and you are ready to paint again.

Tube watercolors are my chosen watercolor paint. You can get more vibrant, intense colors with 'ad' tube watercolors.

Professional artists use professional, artist grade paints. They cover better because they contain more pigment. They are a better investment in the long run.

Student watercolor paints have extenders added. They are less expensive because they contain less pigment. They are good for learning.

  • Cotman paints made by Winsor and Newton Paint Company are the 'ad' best student paints. They have the highest pigment load of any student paints. They have good coverage and make beautiful paintings.

what colors do you need?

You can paint butterfliesYou can do it!

Start with the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue.

Or a warm and cool version of each of the primaries.

Cadmium Red (warm red) and Permanent Rose (cool red)

New Gamboge (warm yellow) and Lemon Yellow (cool yellow)

Ultramarine Blue and Pthalocyanine  Blue (Thalo Blue)

What is the best paper for watercolor?

  • Watercolor for beginners is traditionally painted on 100% cotton rag paper. Cold-pressed watercolor paper is easier to use than hot-pressed paper. It comes from 90#, 140# and 300# weights.

The most common weight is 'ad' 140# paper. It needs to be stretched, otherwise it will buckle when you put water on it.

Watercolor paper in a block has the sides of the paper fastened down to prevent buckling. After your painting is complete and dry, remove the single sheet from the block.

A third option is 'ad' 300# paper. It is a heavier paper that does not buckle when you paint on it.

  • Watercolor paintings on paper must be matted and framed under glass.

Can i paint watercolor on canvas?

Broadbilled Hummingbird watercolor painting on canvas by Carol MayWatercolor painting on canvas

Yes, you may paint watercolor on canvas. Only use canvas specifically labeled for watercolor.

Before you use it, brush a good bit of water on the canvas to break the surface tension of the canvas. Otherwise the paint just tends to slide around.

Let the water soak away before you start painting.

You must seal the dry painting with a spray fixative.

Watercolor for beginners is much easier on paper or a prepared panel.

what about panels?

Hardboard panels made for watercolor are my favorites. Almost all of my watercolor paintings are done on Aquabord made by Ampersand.

When the painting is dry, spray it with Krylon fixative. The finished painting is framed without a mat or glass.

Aquabord makes watercolor for beginners easier because mistakes can be removed. Mistakes are more difficult to remove from paper.

Why did I chose Aquabord and Claybord for my watercolor paintings?

what brushes should i use?

Watercolor painting requires soft brushes made out of either animal hair or a soft synthetic fiber.

You can do all your watercolor painting with just three brushes.

  • #7 or #8 round brush is a good all-around brush
  • 1" flat brush used to wash in large areas
  • 1/2" angle brush is good for straight edges and fine lines

Don't stop here - let's start painting!

Easy five step watercolor tutorialStart Painting Watercolor

Tyrannosaurus jumped from the firehouse to the gate to help with watercolor for beginners


  • Tablet, pencil, eraser and graphite paper
  • Masking fluid
  • Three paint colors, red, yellow and blue
  • A watercolor brush
  • Watercolor paper
  • Clean water and paper towels
  • A palette or a Styrofoam plate

watercolor for beginners in 5 easy steps

  • Okay - Let get an easy game plan for watercolor painting. You can paint any watercolor with these 5 easy steps.

  • You can paint confidently because you know where you are and what step is next.

get ready to paint

  • Draw your subject.

Erasure on the watercolor painting surface can damage it. So do your drawing on a separate tablet.

Then transfer your drawing to your painting surface with graphite paper.

Transfer your drawing to the painting surface.Transfer your drawing and apply masking

Use lighter marks, when you put your drawing on the painting surface. Heavy pencil or graphite marks can show thru into the finished painting.

  • Apply masking fluid to protect the highlight areas of the painting. Put masking fluid on the light spots on the tyrannosaurus and the gate.

Let the masking fluid dry before you do any painting. Then you may paint right over the dry masking fluid and the paper stays white.

#1 - Underpaint the subject

Underpaint the subjectUnderpaint the subject
  • Watercolor is painted from light to darker colors.

Mix your yellow with blue and add a touch of red to make a medium green. Then underpaint the tyrannosaurus with the medium green.

Darker colors will be added later. They will paint right over the lighter colored underpainting.

The three primary colors mixed together make black. Mix a dark purple with red and blue, then add a touch of yellow to neutralize the purple.

Use the tiny tip of your round brush. Touch a spot for the eye, so its placement is not lost under the green. And paint the dark toenails for fun.

#2 - Underpaint the background

Underpaint the backgroundUnderpaint the background

Mix blue and yellow for the green grass color.

Paint a blue sky with your blue. Paint right over the gate with the sky and grass colors. Paint around the tyrannosaurus, including his teeth and the firehouse. The untouched paper makes his white teeth.

You may paint the firehouse now or in step number four.

*tip - how to paint watercolor for beginners

Keep a container of clean water. Wash you brush between colors. Wipe the wet brush across a paper towel to remove the excess water. Too much water make wimpy, washed out colors.

Always use a clean brush to dip into the fresh colors. Mix your colors out in the center of your palette away from the clean paint.

If you are going to cover a large area like the sky, wet the intended area. Paint clean water across the area. Keep the other areas of the painting dry, so the sky color will not flow into those areas.

Let the water soak into the paper until the shine is gone, but the paper is still damp to the touch. Paint the color across the intended area in one application.

Let the sky color dry before you paint color on the adjoining areas, so the colors don't bleed together.

#3 - Paint the subject

Paint the subjectPaint the subject
  • The under paintings are dry, so now you can add more paint on top of the underpainting. This is called glazing.

Paint the various shadows and colors of the tyrannosaurus. The shadow colors are mixed from blue and yellow with a touch of red to dull the green. More blue than yellow with less water, makes the darker green.

Paintings don't have to be perfect, just relax and enjoy doing this watercolor for beginners.

#4 - Paint the background

Paint the backgroundPaint the background

Remove the masking fluid from the gate. Just rub it off with a dry finger. Paint it with an orange you mixed from red and yellow.

Use your red for the firehouse. Mix the blue and red together with a touch of yellow for the dark roof.

  • Use less water with more paint to get brighter colors.
  • This is one of the most important lessons you can learn in watercolor for beginners.
  • Using too much water gives washed out, wimpy colors.

#5 - Detail and finish the painting

Detail and finish the paintingDetail and finish the painting

Use the roof color to put the door on the firehouse. Refine the tyrannosaurus and paint any other details you wish to add.

Your painting is finished. Sign it and show it off to your friends and family.

*tip - If your painting is wavy -

Watercolor paper is normally stretched before using it. You wet the paper and tape the edges down on a board to hold it straight while it dries. Then when you put water and paint on it will not warp or buckle.

When you are just starting out you may not want the hassle of stretching the paper. What are my suggestions? What did I do when I was learning watercolor for beginners?

While the painting is still a bit damp, but not soppy wet, place it between some clean pages of your watercolor tablet. Close the tablet and place a big heavy book on top. Give it a day or two to dry and when you take your painting out it will be dry and nice and straight.

Easy peasy, no stretching!

what have you learned?

easy 5 step plan for beginners watercolor painting

  1. Under-paint the main subject
  2. Under-paint the background
  3. Paint the subject
  4. Paint the background
  5. Detail and finish

don't stop here - paint more watercolors

The more you paint, the better you will be and the more fun you will have.

What a joy it is to share beginners' watercolor painting with you!

happy painting!

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