5 Important Watercolor Tips for Beginners
But don’t lose your inspiration. I have a few easy tips to help you become better at watercolor so you can create the paintings of your dreams. I’ll show you how to avoid common beginner mistakes, so if you follow these tips, you’ll instantly see improvement to your watercolor!
1. Buy watercolor paper
Does the paper you use for painting really matter all that much? The answer is definitely yes. No matter how talented you are, if you’re not using paper specifically designed for watercolor, you’re giving yourself a much harder task. Look at the differences between how watercolor paper handles watercolor (left) and how regular copy paper handles it (right):
As you can see, watercolor paper is the best choice. It’s strong enough to keep its shape when wet instead of buckling. It produces rich, vibrant colors and it keeps the paint on one side instead of letting it bleed through. So if you don’t already have high-quality watercolor paper, be sure to get some right away. If you’re stuck trying to figure out what paper to get, check out my video about watercolor paper and supplies for beginners.
2. Work in layers
One of the big secrets of watercolor is that it’s a medium that’s best used when you’re layering it. Many beginner watercolorists don’t realize this, and they try to paint everything on the same layer all at once. I used to make this mistake a lot too, and I kept wondering why my paintings lacked refinement and depth. When I started layering my colors, my work improved dramatically! I like to do all my background colors first, then wait for those to dry before going in with more detailed layers on top. I usually go from blurry to gradually to more detailed, and by the end of the painting, everything looks a lot more professional than if I had tried to get it all done in one go.
In this example, I painted the background color of the flower’s petals with a soft pink, and I didn’t worry about small details. After waiting for that layer to dry, I took a smaller brush and added fine lines on top, this time with a slightly darker color. The result is a multidimensional mix of shades of pink. Because I worked in layers, I was able to add more energy and life to my painting.
3. Use the right amount of water
I often see beginners struggle to control their watercolors on the paper. It’s often because they’re not using not enough water – or way too much.
If you try to paint with too little water, the paint will look rough and uneven, and you’ll have trouble spreading it to where it needs to go. But if you use too much water, the water will pile up and form a raised puddle or bubble on your paper. When you use just the right amount, you’ll have much more control over your paint. Here’s a basic rule of thumb: the larger the area you want to color, the more water you’ll need. If you’re doing a big background area like a sky, don’t be afraid to use a generous amount of water. But if you’re working on a small detail like an earring or a button, just a drop of water should suffice.
Bonus tip: Watercolor will only go where there is water. It won’t go anywhere on your paper where there isn’t water. See what happens when you put down some water first, then grab some paint and allow the paint to dissipate. This technique is called wet on wet, and it’s a surefire way to get truly gorgeous results with your watercolor!
4. Use less colors
5. Have fun and embrace your artistry
I know it sounds corny, but it’s actually very meaningful. In fact, this might just be the most important tip of the five. Many beginner artists lack confidence in their art because they struggle with the fear of failure. I’ve felt this way myself. I used to get so discouraged when my paintings didn’t look photorealistic or technically perfect. It hurt when I saw other artists creating amazing paintings that were so realistic they basically looked like photographs.
Then one day, I was admiring the works of some of my favorite painters and artists of the past. That’s when it hit me: Art doesn’t have to be photorealistic or technically perfect for it to be valuable and beautiful. Realizing this changed everything for me. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I learned not to put so much pressure on myself. Nothing takes the joy and fun out of the artistic process faster than putting stress and pressure on yourself to expect a certain outcome.
That’s why it’s crucial to shift your mindset on this. Instead of thinking of the result of your painting as the measure of success, give yourself a break and focus on enjoying the moment. Bring your personality and originality into your piece. You’re having fun, you're experimenting, you're growing as an artist – and that endeavor is success in itself.