Monday, July 29, 2013

Art Basics: Watercolors

Are you afraid?  Most people love to look at watercolor paintings but are afraid to try to paint one.  I'm going to give you what I consider the most important tip to using this fun and versatile medium.  The funny thing is that the clue is in the name:  WATERcolor.  That's right, the most important thing to learn about watercolor painting is how much water you need to use.  So let's dive right in.  The water is perfect!

Watercolors are a transparent medium.  This means that you never want them to be thick and shiny when dry.  You want the paper to absorb the paint.  You want the colors on underneath layers to show through.

Today I'd recommend you invest in watercolor paper.  It works so much better than drawing paper for this kind of exercise.  I used good old Crayola watercolors.  If you find you like this medium you might want to invest in some better paint.  Let me know - I'll give you some recommendations.  You'll also want a couple of different paint brushes.  Just make sure they are soft and flexible.  A big cup of water, a cold drink for yourself and an everyday object (yes, Miss Pear is still alive.) I've included a lot of pictures today.  I'll make a video soon.

 Once again let's create a value scale using the primary and secondary colors.  The watercolor technique we'll be using is called wet-on-wet.  This simply means that you wet your paper with clear water first and then apply the wet color.  The paint will move wherever the water is and bleed across your paper.  To get a lighter effect rinse your brush after applying the color and with that wet brush just drag some color until it's very faint.  Consider the white of your paper is your white paint!

1.  Draw 3 rectangles and 6 circles on the paper with pencil.
2.  On the first rectangle paint clear water.
3.  Load you brush with one color and gently paint it on the edge of the rectangle.
4.  Rinse your brush with water and gently blend the paint across the rectangle.  Rinse and dry your brush so that the color gets fainter and fainter.
5.  Now try this on the first 3 circles.  Wet with clear water, dab color along one edge, rinse your brush and blend the color getting fainter as you get to the light source. You can use a tissue to blot out areas that you want less color.

6. Paint the next 3 circles yellow using the same wet-on-wet technique. Dry these circles completely.  I used my hairdryer to speed the process.
7.  Now add layers of analogous colors on top of the yellow to create a transparent glaze of color.  Paint gently so you don't lift off the yellow. Completely DRY BETWEEN LAYERS! The one on the far left I did with orange and then red.  The second one was with green then blue.
8.  The third one I did with the complementary color to give a neutral tone.

Let's bring out "Miss Pear" again.
1.  Lightly sketch your everyday object with a pencil.  
2.  I painted clear water over my pear.  Then I painted it yellow using wet-on-wet.  Completely DRY.
3.  Now LIGHTLY paint clear water on the yellow and drop in some green.  Completely DRY.

4.  Again lightly paint clear water and drop in some blue.  Completely DRY.
5.  Paint the stem with some brown.  I also wet the area around where the stem is connected and let some brown bleed onto the pear.  DRY again.
6.  Now add a little blue to the stem.  This will make it dark on the edge

7.  Paint the shadow under the pear with blue and purple using wet-one-wet.  DRY.  Then paint a little brown in the darkest areas of the shadow - the reverse of what you did on the stem. I even dragged a little on to the pear to give it more shadows.
8.  Lastly I painted the negative space with the blue and purple wet-on-wet again to give my pear a dramatic background.

Did you notice how I kept emphasizing  DRY?  That's because the second most important thing you need to know about watercolors is that your paper needs to be completely DRY between layers.  That's how you get glowing edges and transparent glazes.

Tomorrow we're going to try acrylic paint.


  1. That sounds like fun ... I have watercolors at home, too. Thanks!

  2. You make it sound easy... I have always found watercolors so much harder than oil or acrylic. Much less forgiving when you make a mistake.

  3. Watercolor is one of my favorite mediums. I love its portability. I can take them with me sailing and hiking! I love the feel of watercolor paper and the results of mixing water and color to get beautiful effects. Great tutorial, Karen!

  4. Thank you for this very informative tutorial. I learned more from this than any of the videos I have watched!

    1. Thanks Kim. I'm in the process of making some videos. Hope to post them soon!