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Learn the basics of this popular hobby and try painting with watercolours
Watercolour painting is a popular form of painting for beginners. As well as being easy to get started, you don’t need many materials, it’s portable so you can do it anywhere (perfect for holidays!) and painting also promotes mindfulness.
You don’t need any prior experience, anyone can give watercolour painting a go. To get you inspired we asked two of our favourite watercolour painting experts to share their tips for how to start your painting journey: Terry Runyan, author of the book Painting Happiness – Creativity with Watercolors and Esra Alhamal who runs the watercolour business Bristle and Brush where she sells handmade watercolour paints and leads watercolour painting workshops.
Still need some persuading? Painting is one of the most relaxing creative hobbies you can take up. It gives your mind some much-needed downtime away from the demands of work, family and digital devices. Plus it promotes the feel-good factor, boosting your mood and giving you a sense of personal achievement.
Before you start painting you’ll need paints, brushes and paper. It can be confusing knowing which types you’ll need so we asked Terry and Esra what they suggest:
The first thing you’ll notice when you buy watercolour paints is that they come in two forms: solid blocks and tubes, so which should you choose? Both are suitable for beginners. Watercolour blocks are easy to transport so are perfect for travelling with. They are available as ‘student grade’ for beginners or professional which tend to have more pigment in them.
Watercolour tube paints also come in these two grades and, as you require very little paint, they tend to last longer than blocks. Just bear in mind that you will need a palette to use with your tube paints.
Paintbrushes for watercolour
For beginner’s it’s highly recommended that you start building a collection of brushes in different shapes and sizes, but the three main ones you’re most likely to use are a large flat brush to fill in large areas, a round brush for most of your painting and a small brush for details. Terry recommends using high-quality synthetic brushes.
Once your paint and brushes are sorted you’ll need some paper. When you shop for watercolour paper you’ll see two different types. Cold-pressed paper has a slight texture to it which look a bit like dimples. It’s the best paper for beginners. Hot press paper is completely smooth and flat and is favoured by watercolour artists that do finer, detailed work.
Always have a roll to hand. You can blot your brushes on them to dry quicker and dab away excess water from your work or lift off colour if you feel like you’ve applied too much.
Ensure you have a constant supply of fresh water to clean your brushes with so that you get the exact paint colours you want.
Creating light pencil marks for guidance will help you feel more confident and it’s something the professionals use, too, Esra explains: “At least 50% of my paintings start with a light pencil sketch on the watercolour paper, I find it very useful having the drawing there.” Avoid charcoal pencils as these can smudge – go for a hard pencil instead.
Some artists like to use watercolour pencils alongside their paints. These look like ordinary colour pencils but when they’re dipped in water they apply pigment to your paper as if it were a brush. These pencils often create heavy colours so are usually best restricted to highlighting areas you want to draw attention to.
The best condition for watercolour painting it to have natural light, so paint during the day when you can see the colours in their purest form, or buy daylight bulbs that mimic natural light.
Easel or clipboard
If you want to paint alfresco, attaching your paper to a clipboard makes it easy to transport. But if you’re working on larger pieces you could invest in an easel.
Professional watercolour artists have spent years mastering their art so when you’re starting out don’t worry about perfection, simply play with colours and enjoy the process of making your own discoveries. Terry is a fan of approaching paint in this way, she says: “Beginners shouldn’t worry about their technique. It’s best just to play with the paint to see what it does.”
One of the most useful things you’ll learn the more you paint is understanding how much water to use (it’s usually more than you think) and how much pigment you’ll need (usually less than you think!)
As for what to paint, leave the still life and landscapes for now, advises Terry, and try something simpler: “I think starting with painted blobs is a lot of fun. You can change blobs into birds or cats, adding details, eyes, beak, wing, tail and/or whiskers and can transform that blob into something awesome!” To see Terry in action creating watercolour blob, watch her YouTube tutorial.
Esra recommends trying templates from a kit, that way you don’t have to worry about designing an image, but can focus on the painting.
You can also try these basic watercolour methods:
This is where you apply water onto your paper first and then to add paint on top. The watercolour paints merge on the paper creating a smooth, flowy look which is why this is a popular way to paint large areas, such as those you see in skies and landscapes.
This is the reverse of wet-on-wet, this time, your paper should dry to begin with. You then apply moistened paint to your brush and begin your painting. With this method, your colours will be bolder and you can create more definite lines and shapes.
Why not practice your watercolour skills in the peace and tranquillity of Scotland on a six-day retreat? Find out more about our Paint with Watercolours trip here.
Mixing your own colours is one of the most satisfying aspects of watercolour painting. As different colours overlap and merge together you’ll see new colours forming.
Esra enthuses: “My advice would be starting to paint and seeing all the possibilities especially by mixing different amounts of water into your paint to create different shades and tones.
“The practice of mixing with water and with white paint is really fun. Having white paint is a great starting point for tones, but you can also mix primary colours together to create your own secondary one. You will need a plate and clean water to do that and always clean your brush before moving to a new colour.”
Don’t worry about mistakes, watercolours are very forgiving as Esra explains: “If the colour you applied is very light, you can lift it by adding a little clean water and pressing with a tissue and that would fix the issue. If colours bleed into each other, I would always wait for both to fully dry and then apply the colour again. There are usually ways around most things!”
Terry adds: “Most of the time I make something out of any ‘mistakes’ with watercolour. I like to call them happy accidents. If I need to fix something, I’ll come back in with a wet brush and dab up what I can. You have to do this sparingly because it does affect the final painting.”
Another good habit to get into when you’re mixing colours is to make test cards before you start painting. This way you can test out colours and keep a record of how you made them so should you run out, you can go back and recreate them.
Now you know what you need for watercolour painting and have learnt some of the basic watercolour techniques for beginners, here’s some inspiration from some of our favourite watercolour artists to inspire you. Happy painting!