BEGINNINGS ARE ALWAYS HARD…
It doesn’t matter your age, background, etc. – starting something new is always scary. Especially, when you aren’t quite sure where to begin. Hopefully – I’m not dating myself too much there – but like I heard growing up from my Saturday morning School is Rock cartoons – “Knowledge is Power!” Just a little bit of knowledge can really take a lot of the fear and edge off of a new endeavor. That being said – you still need some enthusiasm to get you pumped up into starting something new. So – hopefully this post will help boost your confidence and give you some enthusiasm for starting watercolor! So without further ado – here’s…
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO START WATERCOLOR…
THE BASIC APPLICATION TECHNIQUES
WET ON DRY, WET ON WET, & DRY BRUSHING – You’ve most likely heard these terms when searching the basics of watercolor. These are the three basic ways you can apply your paint to your watercolor paper.
WET ON DRY – WET PAINT ON DRY PAPER
Wet on dry – as the name implies means using wet (or diluted paint with water) being applied to dry paper with your brush. This method give you the most control when using watercolor – and thus is perhaps the most frequently used application of the 3 types.
WET ON WET – WET PAINT ON WET PAPER
This application technique is used by applying wet paint onto wet paper. This method is used for backgrounds or loose airy effects in watercolor. That being said – this method is the hardest to predict and control when painting with watercolor. That being said – always remember – your paint will ONLY go where the water is. Thus, no water = no paint.
DRY BRUSHING – PAINT APPLIED DIRECTLY TO DRY PAPER
This method I rarely use when painting – but it can be very helpful when creating textures or interest in a painting. This can be done by simple taking a damp or dry brush filled with paint and scrapping it across your dry watercolor paper. This method really stands out when painting on cold press or bumpy paper – since the brush strokes will leave empty white areas mixed in with colored ones.
SKILL #2 :
MIXING PAINT TO WATER RATIOS
INKY TO WATERY PAINT MIXTURES – This is probably the least talked about skill in watercolor – yet I believe it’s one of the most important. When painting with watercolor – you will constantly be mixing and adjusting your paints using water. For me – I typically start with five basic starting points for paint to water ratios. I have a whole online watercolor course just dedicated to this topic – but to summarize it here – your three main ratios that you will use mostly are an inky ratio, a milky ratio, and finally a watery ratio.
INKY RATIO – DARK & VIBRANT
This ratio will give you the most color pay off – but also appear thick on your paper. This ratio is often used in wet on wet application – since the water on your paper will further dilute your paint.
MILKY RATIO – THE MOST FREQUENTLY USED RATIO
This ratio is where most of your paint to water mixtures will be inside your palette. This mixture still has a touch of color – but allows the paper to shine through the paint – giving it an airy (almost glowing) essence.
WATERY RATIO – TINTED WATER
This ratio is often used for backgrounds or loose effects – since it has very little color pay off. That being said – this mixture is great for testing colors on your paper before committing. It’s always best to start light and build up color than to try and lift or lighten a color after application.
SKILL #3 :
WASHES – SMOOTH & WITH PURPOSE
FLAT WASH, GRADIENT WASH, VARIEGATED WASH – Washes are another type of application – except these cover a section or block of space with a specific criteria. All of these washes can be applied wet on dry or wet on wet depending on your preference.
FLAT WASH: SMOOTH EVEN COLOR
This is perhaps my favorite type of wash to paint. It can be done by simply painting a smooth block of color on a section of paper. The whole goal is to paint as evenly and cohesively as possible – almost as it the paper has been dyed rather than painted with your brush.
GRADIENT WASH: SMOOTH TRANSITION OF COLOR
Gradient washes – in my opinion are the hardest to paint. They also require a smooth cohesive look while transitioning from one color to another or by lightening a solitary color with water.
VARIEGATED WASH: THINK LOOSE AND AIRY
This is the easiest and funnest wash to paint – since it really has no rules. I recommend painting this one mainly wet on wet. When approaching this wash – think tie dye.
HACKS FOR ALL WASHES
Now that you know the different kind of washes you can paint – lets next talk about some hacks for getting those perfect washes. When painting a flat wash or gradient wash it’s MUCH MUCH MUCH easier to tilt your board at a 45 degree angle and allow gravity to be your friend! By tilting your board – it helps pull the water down and keeps you from getting back washes or those watery background blossoms. Another hack you can do is always making sure to paint your washes in one direction. Never go backwards! This will lift your previously painting color and make your wash look uneven. It’s always best to push forward and finish the wash – let it dry and then re-layer a new color overtop.
SKILL #4 :
CONTROLLING YOUR BRUSH
USING YOUR BRUSH & PAINT AS ONE – Now that we have a better idea of breaking down our paints – let’s next take a look at how to control our brush and yes there is a correct way to wield your brush.
THIN STROKES: CONTROLING YOUR PAINT STROKE
The watercolor brush that you will use 90% of the time when painting with watercolor is a round brush. This brush is considered the KING of all other brushes in the watercolor realm. So all of these tips are going to be related to him. The first thing you need to know is that working with a brush is different from writing. As an example – if you desire super thin lines when using a pencil you tend to put a bit of pressure down to create a nice thin line. But when painting a thin line with a brush – you typically hold it at a perpendicular to your paper and gentle glide it across (not moving the brush – but rather your entire hand.)
THICK STROKES: CONTROLING YOUR PAINT STROKE
Next, if you desire thick brush strokes – make sure to angle your brush at a 45 degree angle and allow the full edge of your brush to glide across the paper. This will allow you to make super thick lines.
COMBINING STROKES: CONTROLING YOUR PAINT STROKE
Once you have a better idea of painting both thin and thick lines – try combining them together. I recommend writing your name – since you are fairly familiar with how it might appear in a cursive or calligraphy style writing. By practicing your brush strokes in this way – it will become more natural and easier for you to learn and eventually apply into your painting.
SKILL #5 :
VALUES OF COLORS
EXPLORING THE DYNAMICS OF ONE COLOR – Next – let’s look at breaking down your colors into values. This skill is different from paint ratios – in that we are looking more at the depth or intensity of light to dark one particular color can stretch. This skill is crucial if you want to learn to paint with watercolor.
VALUES OF WATERCOLOR:
To do this – simple take your inky paint mixture from your palette and coat a section of your paper in an intense solid color. Next slightly water down your mixture and paint a slightly lighter shade of the same color. Continue lighting your color until you end of with a light tinting of color on your paper. This skill is great for understanding your paint colors as well as exploring monochromatic paintings – or paintings using only one color.
AND FINALLY A BONUS SKILL FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO MADE IT TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST! And that bonus skill is GLAZING! Glazing – also known as layering – is used in watercolor to build up color intensity without the paint appearing chalky or thick.
GLAZING: THE LAYERING OF COLORS
Glazing – also known as layering – is used in watercolor to build up color intensity without the paint appearing chalky or thick. Glazing can be done by painting one solid and light block of color and then allowing the section to completely dry. Once dry – you can build on that color by laying down another block of color over the previously painted one. This building of color is how watercolorists keep their paintings airy and light yet vibrant. But be careful! Glazing too many layers can distort the color and even rough up your paper. So I recommend doing 5 to 7 layers max.
AND THAT'S IT! TECHNICALLY 6 SKILLS TO GET YOU STARTED IN WATERCOLOR!
If you enjoyed this post – and would like to learn more – please make sure to check out my online watercolor courses. I go into all of these topics with alot more depth if you would like to really dive deep into the magical world of watercolor! But hopefully this will help you to at least get your feet wet!