Starting a new hobby in watercolor painting doesn’t need to be daunting; watercolor is a versatile painting medium that’s been around even before the invention of watercolor sets in the 18th century or the influence of the English school that helped popularize the craft in continental Europe. With just a few simple art supplies and techniques, you’ll be on your way to creating stunning watercolor paintings akin to Paul Cézanne in no time.
The great thing about watercolor painting is that there are several price points available as you’re learning. You can get a great 36 color watercolor set to get going and then expand your collection of colors easily by purchasing tubes, and drying them out in watercolor pan sets or other paint pans to create your own customized set. When making the jump into professional-grade tubes it’s a good idea to get a set with colors from a basic color wheel (look out for promo codes or free shipping sales online).
Winsor & Newton paints are great paint manufacturers to start with if you are looking for professional quality pigments. They are vibrant and bright, and worth the investment. My first picks are usually primary colors: Scarlet Lake, Lemon Yellow and Manganese Blue Hue. They work well for most people and are my most frequently used red, yellow, and blue. Building out from that set into some secondary colors, I love Sap Green, Winsor Orange (Red Shade), and Cobalt Violet. Prussian Blue and Opera Rose are also great colors to add to your art supplies. There is a handy color wheel printable available here that you can fill in and use as a reference when you are watercolor painting.
Creating a reference chart specific to your palette is always a good idea, and it’s a fun watercolor workout to get you started. Simply paint blobs onto a piece of watercolor paper to see what the watercolor colors from your palette actually look like on paper. Then keep it around while you are painting so it’s easy to remember exactly which color is which.
If you decide to purchase a budget-friendly watercolor set, you may be happier prewetting your colors with a spray bottle filled with water. Sometimes the less expensive colors need more water to get the colors flowing and give you a real watercolor consistency, so don’t be afraid to add lots of water at first if your paints appear opaque. Watercolors should have a transparent quality to them, so to make a lighter color all you need to do it add more water.
Paper towels or an old terry cloth rag are great for blotting wet brushes. And scraps of paper to test your colors on are always a good idea to have around while you are learning the ins and outs of mixing your colors with a new palette.
Taping down your paper is a good idea to keep it flat as the paint dries. Watercolor paper likes to curl up and contort when it’s introduced to water. Using painters tape or masking tape usually works well. Make sure to leave it taped down until all the paint is completely dry. Flat paintings are much easier to frame and look more professional than a painting that is buckled from the water.
Round brushes are pretty versatile, but there are some nice budget friendly kits out now that come with a variety of shapes like this one from Ranger which includes a set of both rounds and flats.
Setting up your workspace is another key to success. Please note that this is a left-handed arrangement. Set up the paint and water to the opposite side of you if you are right-handed. An “L” shape usually works best with your paper in front of you, palette to the side with a paper towel below, a scrap of paper for testing colors before placing them on your painting, and two cups of water above the palette. One for clean water and one for dirty water is a pretty standard arrangement.
Watercolor paper is another hugely important factor when it comes to watercolor. Arches cold press is an amazing surface to paint on; and an investment. Starting out with a pad of student grade paper to play around with and get comfortable painting on is a good idea at first. Strathmore makes a great student grade paper. Purchasing both is a great way to become familiar with the qualities of your paint, and how it reacts with the paper. If you are an intermediate painter, and had to choose between nicer pigments, or nicer paper, the paper would probably be the better investment.
Some great resources include Periscope (@nataliemalan), Snap Chat and Instagram for simple video watercolor tutorials and tips – nataliemalan.com and the Facebook page: Natalie Malan Studio are other great resources as well. With these tips, you’ll discover how to be a watercolor artist in no time at all!