How to Watercolor – a complete guide for beginners

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It’s been just a few months since I decided once and for all that it’s time for me to learn how to watercolor. I decided to sum up my series here so that you can find all your watercolor resources in one spot! If you’re looking to learn brush lettering check out the best brush pens for lettering and the rest of that series! Disclosure: this post contains commissioned links.

Click to learn how to watercolor from scratch with step by step watercolor tutorials for beginners! #watercolor #art #watercoloring

Watercolor is one of my favorite media for a few reasons:

  • The dry time is quick making it easy for me to do as a mom, who can’t leave things lying around
  • On the same note, it’s easy to do quick, small-scale pieces
  • It’s so versatile –  I use it for brush lettering, to make more detailed art, for quicker washes, etc.
  • It’s really easy to learn how to watercolor because the medium is so forgiving and easy to manipulate!
  • It plays well with other art forms, such as line art.
  • It is relatively inexpensive! While you CAN go all-out and get top-of-the-line canvases, paints, and brushes, you can also stick with a basic pan set like this one and wet media paper, especially if you’re doing it just for fun.

Now on to your full guide on how to watercolor! This is a summary post, which gathers a series I did into one page to make it easier for you to sort through and go through the posts in the correct order.

Make sure to click on the title or image for the full guide, brought to you by Stefanie of Simple Acres blog, so that you can get all the details you need. Each post works as a “lesson” and then you’re on your own making the most of these new skills.

On each post, Stefanie has also linked to a few specific project tutorials that are great for practicing.

How to watercolor step 1: gather your supplies!

Making sure you have the best watercolor paints for your needs, as well as all the watercolor materials and painting supplies to get you through learning! Stefanie broke down for you in these posts what works for which needs to really help you choose.

Watercolor 101 – use books to learn how to watercolor!

If you’re more of a visual, hands-on step-by-step learner, you may prefer to have a book or two open in front of you! This is also a good way to learn how to watercolor more in-depth. While this guide shows you basic techniques so that you can step out on your own, these top watercolor books for beginners will give you much, much more than we can in a few posts.

MIx Your Own Watercolors - the best watercolor books for learning color mixing with watercolors

Learn the basic techniques and skills you need to know how to watercolor!

Stefanie takes you through some basic watercolor techniques for beginners so that you can get started! Practice these over and over again on scraps of paper, then go on to making your own watercolor artwork!

watercolor techniques for beginners - splatter

Now that you know how to watercolor, try these fun art projects:

Once you know the techniques, you can start creating frameable art with some specific projects by Stefanie, such as this watercolor fall tree art or these watercolor gift cards.

Or, take a walk, find your inspiration in nature, in a favorite place, object, or person, and continue creating your own watercolor art!

The more you practice, the better you’ll become.

Have you learned how to watercolor? What are your top tips for beginners? Got any questions? Comment below!

Click to learn how to watercolor and to master the art of watercoloring for beginners!

Loved learning how to watercolor? Try learning these new skills:

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    1. Hi Priscilla
      This guide is meant for those who want to learn from scratch. If you’d like more, I can refer you to some great classes online that you can take. I’d like to point out that you missed the part that you have to practice. And finally, if you don’t have innate skill you might not master it. I thought that much was obvious, but I guess not so I’ll spell it out: I can’t make you master watercolors. I can only teach you the skills, or rather, hire someone more experienced than me to teach the skills, which is what I’ve done.
      I’d also like to point out the nuanced difference between “mastering watercolors” = learning it enough to be adept at it, or to conquer it AND being a master watercolorist – which usually refers to being THE dominant, chief, eminently skilled at something. The words are the same but the different implementation has a different meaning.
      Once again, I apologize if this free series of posts with in-depth research, trial and error was disappointing to you. There are many paid courses (and books – did I mention books?) online. But you might want to wait until you’ve tried the above and made sure that watercolor is really for you.

      1. OMG! That was awesome. Usually I see bloggers and YouTubers reply to rude comments in a very passive way or way too passive , but you!….. you went in with guns blazing, but tastefully and with your words. I loved it….so much so I read it a couple of times hahaha more people should learn to use words so eloquently as you have. Excellent job my dear.😊

      2. I know I am months late, but I’m assuming Priscilla did the same thing as me. Read this post through, said I have the supplies, not buying books today, where’s the next post that actually tells how to do something? I’m used to blog posts having a clear link at the end to click to go to the next part of the guide; this post does not have that so it’s easy to come to the conclusion that this was the end of the guide. Thankfully I remembered reading that we needed to click on pictures so I went back and carefully read all the highlighted links till I found one that looked like it would be the next step. You might need to make your posts a little more user friendly if you don’t want everyone to have the same experience as Priscilla.

        1. Hi Julie, This post clearly states: “Now on to your full guide on how to watercolor! Make sure to click on the title or image for the full guide, brought to you by Stefanie of Simple Acres blog, so that you can get all the details you need. Each post works as a “lesson” and then you’re on your own making the most of these new skills.” before the list. That means that anyone who actually read the post wouldn’t have found this confusing.

          This is a summary/round up style post that outlines the various posts in one place. The first one states “supplies” the next “books” the next “techniques”. I find this to be more user friendly than “read next” posts as you have to go through each one to see the one you really want. This serves as a “table of contents”. There’s no “read next” button because it’s not part of a series. It’s a summary. At the end, as a bonus, I linked to specific projects. Links are highlighted in another color. Images are linked too for convenience.

          Once again, I did this as a bonus “summary” page for the free series (which I paid an expert to write). If you don’t like how free blogs are structured buy a book. However, it’s actually shocked me how “controversial” a free blog post on watercoloring has become. As you can see this is a very popular post and most people don’t have that problem.

          This is a problem produced by the “skimming” epidemic – people skim instead of reading. They then complain that the project didn’t work (because they didn’t read the instructions) that they can’t find the printable (because they skimmed right over it – all three times that I linked it). Or that they can’t figure out how to use a post like in this case. I try to make my posts as skimmable as possible but it’s not foolproof – I can’t anticipate where people will glance and where they won’t. I totally get skimming – I’m guilty too. Only, if I miss something, I don’t blame the author for my skimming.

          Once again, if people don’t like how blogs are written, they can feel free to buy a book, support an artist!

    2. Just one comment from a water colorist. Beginners need to know that watercolors are not easy to ‘manipulate.’ They are not ‘controllable’.They tend to have their own ‘freedom’, which makes watercolor challenging as well as ‘fun!’ If you tell a beginner that they are easy to manipulate, they will get frustrated.

  1. You can’t master watercolor if you begin to paint with those cheap watercolors. You’ll leave it after the first try. Begin with REAL watercolors like Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton, Schminke.

    1. I think I would have to, respectfully, disagree with that line of thinking. Speaking from experience, I’m sort of new to watercolors, I think that set of 36 colors you see in this post is a great way to get started. They are very colorful and will give you a feel for the medium without the fear of wasting good, and often precious, hard earned money. The cheap paints, pans or tubes, will still let you learn about using brushes, water, paper ( to a certain extent) and colors. I would recommend using Canson XL watercolor paper though as a starter paper, it’s really not that bad and it’s VERY affordable. You will automatically upgrade your supplies as you learn, you can’t help it , it just happens as a natural progression. So buy colorful cheap paints, and a variety pack of cheap brushes and have fun. You can always pass them on to a child or grandchild who will love them as much as you did.🤗

    2. Uh. No. I’m not spending a bunch of money on a hobby I might not like. You might be a gazillionaire, Cuki, but not all are. Remember that not everyone is you.

    3. I realize this is a belated reply, but for anyone who has found their way here like I did–Cuki, that is absolutely not true. I have bought some of the cheapest watercolors on the market, and I am not only having a blast, but I am also making some pretty darned good progress. Gatekeeping tool snobs like you aaaalmost kept me from even trying it, because I kept seeing full-fledged artists saying not to buy cheap watercolors, and I can’t afford anything but. Man, I am SO glad I didn’t listen.

    4. @JanSun,
      As an art teacher for PreK3-g4 students, it’s important to me that my students have positive, experiences with the materials we use in class; learning experience s for adults are not much different. As a beginner who might not be prepared to make a large investment in resources, I highly recommend using quality school-grade materials to begin. BEWARE, not all paint boxes are created equal! There will be chalky ones and some that are very transparent without vibrancy, while others will be very opaque and tempera-paint like; sadly you might not know until after you’ve already spent money. Simply going on to Amazon and buying the cheapest paint boxes with the largest number of colors is NOT what I would recommend though. I suggest crayola’s “educational” box with 12 colors and a small tube of white watercolor paint. The box already comes with a high quality brush and you can experiment with color mixing right in the lid.

      For my classes at school, I use a 12-color Pelikan box. It’s nice because you can buy your own quality brushes (I recommend 3 sizes: a #2 and a #6 round and a #8 or 10 flat brush – one where the hairs don’t pull out when you slide your fingers over them a few times; these hairs will be stuck in your work if you buy a cheap brush). This box already comes with a small tube of white paint (a little goes a long way…). These paints can be very opaque if you don’t dilute them with enough water, so they can be controlled, but they also have a nice vibrancy when thinned. Also, you can easily pop out only the colors you want to use, keeping your box nice and neat. I recommend using a cheap plastic palette for mixing and exploring how your colors interact to make a variety of colors BEFORE you start any project. Keep a small sketching notebook with your color swatch explorations and notes on how you mixed the colors. This will be helpful later as you begin to apply your practice to actual projects.

      For my personal use, I prefer schminke tube colors. They’re not so expensive and if you have a good quality, close-able mixing palette (mine was only $10), then you will not waste your paint and can use over a longer period of time. I’ve had some tubes for years and for the basic colors (crimson, primary yellow, primary cyan, ivory black, and Chinese white) you shouldn’t spend more than $30! Of course, you will need to mix all of your own colors; it’s the same with a basic paint box. Also, you can always find “student” starter sets (I recommend Windsor Newton – 6 colors I think) at stores like Michael’s and use a 40% off coupon, which will reduce the cost incredibly, thus making the “art snob” supplies far more affordable and more enjoyable to use over something that maybe affordable, but grainy or less vibrant due to less pigment and cheap binders.

      As for paper, not all watercolor paper is created equal! I actually really like the Canson watercolor papers, however, if you use a quality removable tape to tape the edges of your paper down to your work surface or limit an excessive use of water, you could also use Canson’s mixed-media paper. I use mixed-media paper with my students for a variety of projects and it works great and we never tape it down! If it curls, simply place it face-down and iron it flat on a low setting without steam.

      I hope these tips help and make the quality supplies more understandable. Yes, the cheap supplies might help you decide if watercolor is the right hobby for you, but they also might discourage others who don’t understand that quality supplies make a difference in the experience. Also price does not always equal quality.

      FYI: I am not a watercolor color expert and have not been formally trained to use watercolor materials. I have a degree in graphic design, fine art, and education k-12 with a focus on ceramics and a minor in Art History. So my experience with watercolor has been trial and error for both myself and my students.

      Good luck in your art explorations!

  2. Super excited to find your post! We home school and my goal this year to help my daughter explore watercolors while learning along side them. Thank you so much for taking the time to put together these fabulous resources!

  3. Lol, ok, first I’m guilty of being bored after being laid up from back surgery so I read the comments before I tried the links…because I can’t bend down to get my paint box off the floor until my daughter finishes eating and can bend down and get it for me. Try that one…see thing you really want 2 foot away and you can’t get it if you need something to be frustrated with. Now for what relates to these posts.
    I have a bajillion (yes, that’s a word in my house!) things for hobbies in this house. Spent lots over long period of time, over 50 years of collecting (I have embroidery thread that is 45 years old). At some point, people need to realize that different people get into a hobby for different reasons. Some have the money to buy anything they want and toss things away if they don’t enjoy, others don’t. Some want to be artists, others want to just be able to keep up with their kids and have fun and paint at the same time. Some have talent from doing artsy stuff for years, others were busy and are just now trying art out. Guess my point is to just relax and try not to let it kill you that someone else is different or is looking for a different experience than you are. I started with acrylics after not painting for almost 30 years. Loved it and quickly started to upgrade supplies using coupons (craft stores are great if you buy just an item a week, you will soon have enough to try any hobby). Struggling with watercolor so using cheap stuff to see if I like the speed of it. Point being this is supposed to be fun. Ask for help finding links before complaining, use the library, use coupons, use a toddler to learn how to paint for fun! Life really is too short to not enjoy it.

  4. Great post! I started watercolor painting about a year and a half ago, and I’m having such fun with it. It may not be true for everyone, but I found that starting out with just a handful of decent, affordable, student-grade paints (Winsor & Newton Cotman series, 8 ml tubes) was a great way to start, learning from the get-go how to mix colors. With a cool red, a warm red, a cool yellow, a warm yellow, a cool blue and a warm blue, plus burnt sienna, you can make any color. Then as you develop and see what colors you use most in your style of painting, make your next tube of that color a professional- rather than student-grade.

  5. I must confess….I signed up for a watercolor class years ago… can’t
    possibly imagine how stupid I felt, sitting there with the recommended
    supplies….when I saw that all the other people in class had TUBES of
    watercolors…and there I was with my old Prang box that I was use to in grade school……………..I still find it hard to use tubes

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