WATERCOLOR FOR BEGINNERS / WATERCOLOR TIPS

5 Easy Watercolor Exercises for Beginners

WARMING UP TO WATERCOLOR…

If you are new to watercolor – chances are you might feel a little overwhelmed. What supplies do you need, where do you start, and how to you even paint with this captivating paint medium? It can feel challenging at times – but similar to exercising or running – you have to start with the basics and build your way up. So today I’m going to be sharing with you five easy beginner watercolor exercises to get you in the mood to paint.

THE FIVE BASIC WATERCOLOR EXERCISES

1. PAINT RATIOS /VALUES

Before you even lay paint to paper – the very first task we must conquer is mixing our water to paint ratios. Watercolor is all about values – or diluting your colors with water to create a scale from dark to light.

HOW TO MIX PAINT RATIOS…

I recommend starting with tube paint – since that is easier to explain than pan paints or watercolor concentrates. Begin by squeezing a dab of paint on your palette and then adding water until it glides along the surface with ease. This is what I consider an inky paint ratio and the darkest version of paint ratios you will use in watercolor. Slowly add more water to your paint and watch how the color becomes more diluted and transparent. Also, notice how the paint glides much easier; the more water you add.

Once you’ve got the hang of mixing your colors on your palette – next try painting a value scale of one color – going from your inky consistency to a very watery or tint like consistency on your paper. This is, in my opinion, the first key to really getting a grasp of watercolor.

Painting value scales from dark to light

2. WET ON DRY & WET ON WET

In the watercolor world – there are three different ways we can apply our paint to our page – Wet on Dry, Wet on Wet, and Dry Brushing. Today – I’ll only be talking about the two main application techniques used with watercolor – Wet on Dry & Wet on Wet.

HOW TO PAINT WET ON DRY…

Wet on Dry is taking wet paint and applying it to your dry paper. This method gives you the maximum amount of control when working with watercolor. Make sure when you are painting with this method – your paint is gliding along the surface of the paper and not clumping up. If your paint is gunky – chances are you don’t have enough water and need to dilute it a bit more until you achieve that smooth inky like consistency or and even more diluted state.

HOW TO PAINT WET ON WET…

Wet on Wet is taking wet paint and applying it to your wet paper. This method gives you the least amount of control when working with watercolor but also the loosest and airy feel. When painting wet on wet, make sure you are not using too much on your paper. There should be a slight sheen along the top of your page – allowing the paint to move quickly and erratically in the water. If you have too much water – your paint will be pushed outward toward the edge as it dries. Create a line of color along the outside of your shape.

3. FLAT WASHES & GRADIENT WASHES

Now that you know how to apply your paint to your paper – next, it’s time to try some basic watercolor washes, specifically a Flat Wash and Gradient Wash.

HOW TO PAINT A FLAT WASH…

Flat washes are pretty easy once you get the hang of them. The easiest way to paint a flat wash is to slightly tilt your paper at a 45-degree angle, either with an easel or some towels propped behind your paper. Then with a flat brush – start at the top of the page and slowly move downward in a side to side motion – pushing your paint slowly downward. Since our board is tilted – gravity will be your friend as you move your paint downward. Once you’ve got the hang on this on dry paper – switch things up and try painting it on wet paper.

Flat Washes on an Easel
HOW TO PAINT A GRADIENT WASH…

Gradient washes can get a bit tricky – especially when working with two colors. The easiest way to paint a gradient wash is to once again slightly tilt your paper at a 45-degree angle, either with an easel or some towels propped behind your paper. Then with a Round brush – mix up your starting color, in-between color, and then ending color on your palette.

Next, start at the top of the page and slowly move downward in a side to side motion – pushing your first color slowly downward about one-third of the way. Then with your brush, pick up your in-between color and add this new color to the droplet or watery edge of your wash. Allow the colors to mingle together before pushing once again downward.

Finally, when you reached two-thirds of the section, please pick up your last color and once again add it to your droplet or watery edge of your wash, allowing it to mingle with the previous color before pushing downward and finishing your gradient.

Gradient Washes on an Easel

4. COLOR EXPLORATION / VARIEGATED WASHES

This has to be my favorite exercise of all the ones I’m mentioning today, and that is color swatching! In all honesty, – there are hundreds of different ways to explore color swatching. For today – I’ll be showing you the loose and messy method (aka fun) wink.

HOW TO PAINT VARIEGATED WASHES…

For me – I like to explore color with a goal in mind. Such as night sky colors or deep earthy greens. Then I tend to lay down one color on my paper and, with a second brush – lay down a second color right next to it, allowing the two to mingle on the page. Technically – this can be called a variegated wash – and is the most fun and easy wash of the three.

There are no rules when it comes to this wash other than making sure not to overwork the paper with too much water. Remember, you can always lift up excess water with a tissue or even add water with a brush on top of paint that seems stagnate on the page. The point of color exploration is to let the paint do what it wants, and you are just along for the ride.

Color Exploration for a Sky Painting

5. ADDING TEXTURE

And finally, the last exercise is adding texture to your paintings. This is done in several ways – salt, plastic wrap, rubbing alcohol, even ink, and acrylic paints. My favorite method of adding texture to paintings is with a splatter technique using a toothbrush and iridescent medium, which adds a bit of sparkle to any painting.

Winsor and Newton Iridescent medium being used in a splatter technique.

And that’s it! Practice these basics and explore your colors as you paint. And for a bonus – if one of your variegated washes turned into a gorgeous background – try adding a scene to it as I did here? Thanks again, and enjoy it!

variegated wash background paintings
About Author

Hi there! My name is Carrie and I'm a Watercolor Misfit! What's a Watercolor Misfit? Well, anyone who is willing to try new things and not afraid to get their hands covered in paint! So what do you say, are you a Misfit-ian?

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