Watercolor Techniques for Everyone

Updated on July 11, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Gymnasts

Watercolor on paper.
Watercolor on paper. | Source

Too Hard?

Yes, watercolor is different than oils, but not harder. If you started painting with oils and acrylics you know that the basic rule of thumb is to start with the dark colors and finish by adding the highlights. Well, watercolor has to be treated the opposite. Because watercolor has no real “white”, you must consider the paper to be the white and plan ahead of time where you will NOT PAINT to leave the highlights or white of the paper. So then you are laying down progressively darker and darker colors until the darkest shadows are added last. This isn’t harder, but it is the opposite of the way oil painters are taught to think. The following are a few tips that may help.

Source

“Fine Art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together”

— --John Ruskin

Dalhia

Watercolor on wrinkled paper
Watercolor on wrinkled paper | Source

“A man throws himself out of the fourth-floor window; if you can’t make a sketch of him before he gets to the ground, you will never do anything big.”

— --Eugene Delacroix
Source

Facts about paints

Source

Watercolor art

Do you like watercolor paintings in your home?

See results
Click thumbnail to view full-size
More wrinkled paper effect.
More wrinkled paper effect.
More wrinkled paper effect. | Source
Source

Color Facts:

  • Burnt Umber is iron oxide fired at a high temperature or “burnt”. Basically a burnt orange.
  • Burnt Sienna is also calcined earth or earth fired at a high temperature.
  • Cadmium is an artificial mineral color.
  • Carmine red is made from female cochineal beetles from Peru and the Canary Islands, dried and crushed.
  • Greens are made from ground malachite mixed with gum Arabic.
  • Indigo (blue) is from a plant that yields a dark grayish blue.
  • Lakes signify colors made from synthetic dyes.
  • Lamp Black is made of burnt carbon or soot from lamps.
  • Madder Red is a transparent ruby-red color from the root of the madder plant; mostly replaced today by Alizarin Crimson.
  • Purple is usually made of ground mollusk shells.
  • Ultramarine was made from ground lapis lazuli (a semi-precious stone) mainly from Persia and China; today it is made artificially.
  • Yellow is made from saffron (a type of crocus).
  • Zinc Oxide (Chinese White) is a by-product of brass production and is used to replace lead white

More On Colors

Source

“You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is00unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.”

— --Alice Neel
Click thumbnail to view full-size
More wrinkled paper effect.Splatter effect.
More wrinkled paper effect.
More wrinkled paper effect. | Source
Splatter effect.
Splatter effect. | Source

More On Watercolor Paint

  • The Hooker Green is good in both light and dark. It mixes well with yellow or blue and I like them both.
  • The Lamp Black, however, is a dull lifeless color with only a few uses such as outlining or the pupils of eyes. I prefer Indigo, which is not black but a blue-black. When thinned it makes a cool grey and for hair, it adds great blue highlights. It mixes well with other colors and has a life of its own. If you were choosing between Indigo and Lamp Black, I would say go with Indigo.
  • Chinese White is not what most people think. Many new watercolorists have tried oils and acrylic before diving into watercolor. If you have you know that in oils or acrylics, the dark colors are applied first and the whites and highlights are last. Because oils and acrylics are mostly opaque, white covers the dark colors easily. This is not so in watercolor. These colors are transparent (for the most part) and white is blocked out first on the paper and not painted at all. White is the color of the paper. So why do they sell “Chinese White”? Chinese White is used to mixing with other colors and make them slightly opaque and pastel looking. But it cannot be used to cover a “mistake” because when it dries you can still see through it to the mistake underneath. What happens is it simply muddies-up the mistake. Also, it is not pure white. It never matches the color of the paper. You will be very unhappy using it as a “white-out”. Painting over with white acrylic would look better (though I don’t suggest that because acrylic is shiny). It is always best to try to wet the area and blot off the offending spot with paper towels than to try any kind of cover-up.

Colors

Source

Paint

All these colors come in tubes of varying sizes depending upon the manufacturer and the brand. My advice is to squeeze out only a little at a time onto your pallet. I had a man in my class once who did not want to be bothered with tubes, so he bought a large pallet and immediately squeezed the entire tube of each color into the wells. This seems like a great idea except for one important factor. Several of the colors do not age well outside of the tube. Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Prussian Blue and Purple Lake all tend to crumble after a month or so. Once this starts the only thing you can do is throw the dry lump away and replace it with fresh paint from the tube. These tubes last a long time and I doubt that my student painted enough pictures in one month to have used up the entire tube worth of paint on his pallet before having to replace it. I paint every day and it takes me many months to use up a full tube of paint.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
More wrinkled paper effect.Beach comber.
More wrinkled paper effect.
More wrinkled paper effect. | Source
Beach comber.
Beach comber. | Source

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

— --Pablo Ruiz Y Picasso

Brushes

Source

Special Effects

A Word On Brushes

  • I have several favorite brushes listed here. Of course, the best are sable brushes but even I can't afford to have all sable brushes, and I have been painting for decades. The rule of thumb with buying brushes for watercolor is to see if they are Natural Hairbrushes or Nylon. The cheaper synthetic brushes, usually nylon bristle, don't hold enough water and leave streaky brush strokes with watercolor. These brushes are good for acrylic but not watercolors. While this is not a bad thing for things like tree trunks, you will hate it on flowers and faces. Natural hair such as squirrel hair, goat, mongoose, badger, hog, ox, pony, sable (not necessarily from sable, but from any member of the weasel family), or camel hair, hold the water better, spread the paint smoother and longer. There are a few synthetic labels today that is almost as soft as the real hair and are worth the extra price.
  • Camel hair labels, interestingly enough, have no hair from camels at all. This is the label for any and all other leftover hair blended together. This is why camel hair brushes are usually cheaper than any others. Even so, I find them to be very useful and I have many in my set. The cheaper ones sometimes shed, which is annoying, so it is worth paying for good brushes.
  • Bamboo brushes are usually made of hog hair bristles with a bamboo handle and used for calligraphy, oriental-style painting, and watercolor. They are different to use but usually affordable and versatile. I have many bamboo brushes on hand for painting and I keep small ones in my travel kit. When traveling you only want one or two brushes and the bamboo is best because you can use them for large washes and small details too.
  • These days they make a high-priced synthetic hair brush that has the same soft smooth texture and characteristics of sable without the same high cost. Taklon brushes are made of man-made filaments dyed and baked to make them softer and more absorbent. These are higher priced than the camel hair brushes but are well worth the money. Winsor and Newton Cotman make a set of synthetic hair brushes that are reasonable and versatile. If you can't afford a lot of brushes I suggest you get a #10 or #12 round. It will do almost everything you will need to do for one price.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My dad.Persimmons.More persimmons.
My dad.
My dad. | Source
Persimmons.
Persimmons. | Source
More persimmons.
More persimmons. | Source

“A painting is never finished—it simply stops in interesting places.”

— --Paul Gardner

Questions & Answers

    Watercolor Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        3 years ago from Fresno CA

        CorneliaMladenova,

        Oh no! Don't think of yourself as a failure. Paintings that didn't work out as well as you wanted are only exercises to help you get better next time. I admit it's hard to do faces in watercolor because you have to start light and work up the darker colors and shadows. The problem is that those layers make little lines on the face, which most people don't like. I like the lines, it makes it look hand painted and artsy. Keep trying. You'll get there. I know you are immensely talented. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • CorneliaMladenova profile image

        Korneliya Yonkova 

        3 years ago from Cork, Ireland

        Thank you very much for these useful tips, Denise. I love watercolor and my passion is to experiment with different brushes, but it is a nightmare for me to paint people. I am good with creating plants and animals on the paper but when it comes to humans- I am simply a failure. Should try to work more. :)

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        4 years ago from Fresno CA

        denise.w.anderson,

        I'm so glad you got something out of this. It's true, there is a big difference between watercolor and acrylic. Many art shows are now dividing the category of acrylic into two: acrylic handled like oil, and acrylic handled like watercolor. Many acrylic users water it down so it flows like watercolor but is more "predictable" than watercolor and mistakes can be painted over where watercolor won't allow for that. I still like watercolor better although it takes more planning for white spaces and build up of colors.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        4 years ago from Fresno CA

        tdalexander,

        I'm so glad you found the tips here helpful. I hope you do try it. Don't worry if it isn't perfect the first time... it drys fast so you can afford to make mistakes and try again.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        4 years ago from Fresno CA

        I love painting in any medium. Lately I have been taking watercolors and scanning them into my computer to continue tweaking and painting using Adobe Photoshop. There are some very interesting tools out there.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        5 years ago from Fresno CA

        Ann1Az2, thank you for that. I know so few people realize that watercolors come in other than the typical Crayola set. The thing with the tray sets for kids is that the paint is made cheeper (naturally) and is not as color-fast. After a couple years the colors fade. The professional watercolors in tubes is color-fast and fade resistant as long as you keep paintings out of direct sunlight, which fades even oil paintings eventually. That's another thing people don't realize. Sunlight has a bleaching quality to it. If you put some dingy, or even colored socks on the clothes line for a couple days, the sunlight will bleach out the color and make them white. It does that with paint of any kind.

      • Ann1Az2 profile image

        Ann1Az2 

        5 years ago from Orange, Texas

        Wow, I found this to be so interesting. My mother painted but mostly with oils. Watercoloring to me always brings kids to mind, like you said in your poll. I had no idea that it even came in tubes. I've only seen it in trays, of course, for children. This puts a whole new light on it. Yours paintings are beautiful. Voted up!

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        5 years ago from Fresno CA

        Thanks, I'm glad you like it. I did it to mine and I have some very old, uniquely handled brushes now. :)

      • Dbro profile image

        Dbro 

        5 years ago from Texas, USA

        What a great idea! I never thought of repainting my brush handles. Nail polish is the perfect idea since it is waterproof when dry. This just may extend the already long life of my brushes.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        5 years ago from Fresno CA

        Dbro, I have a few brushes like that myself. Since it is just enamel that is on the brush handles, I found I can replace it with fingernail polish and practically make an old brush new again... plus colorful. :) Thanks for visiting.

      • tdalexander profile image

        Toni Boucher 

        5 years ago

        I learned with oils and never had much success with water, but based on the tips in this article I feel confident I have enough tips and inspiration that I could pull it off now with water colors. The images are the perfect compliment too. Thanks!

      • denise.w.anderson profile image

        Denise W Anderson 

        5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

        It is good to know that with watercolors, you have to start with the darker ones! I tried watercolors in the past, but became frustrated because I was doing just the opposite. I ended up using acrylics instead for my project, as I could predict more what they would do. Maybe I will try watercolors again, now that I've learned this. I've bookmarked the page to get the information again. Great video, I bookmarked the video site as well.

      • Dbro profile image

        Dbro 

        5 years ago from Texas, USA

        Great article, Paintdrips! As a watercolorist myself, I have used most of the techniques you describe here. Watercolor is a wonderful medium, and I appreciate your clear descriptions of not only the methodology but also the characteristics of the paint itself.

        As for brushes, I have a few favorites that I have been using for years. In fact the paint has worn off the handles of a few of them, but they are tried and true!

        Thank you for writing this informative article. Hopefully people will try this great medium and find out for themselves what a joy it is!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, feltmagnet.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://feltmagnet.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)