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It’s no secret that I love painting… especially watercolors. There is something so beautiful and unpredictable about watercolors that I love. I’ve spent a lot of time off and on over the past year and a half playing with watercolors, but recently I decided to spend more time learning watercolor basics and techniques. So I have been working through Yao Cheng’s watercolor series on Creativebug. If you’re not familiar with Creativebug, you’re totally missing out! It’s a website full of creative video tutorials… everything from calligraphy to printmaking to ceramics. If you’re anything like me, you love learning new things. And now, Creativebug is the first resource I turn to when I want to learn a new skill, or improve on an old one. The Creativebug videos are also so well done and fun to watch. You can even sign up for a free trial, and download one class to keep forever for free. And after that, it’s only $4.95 per month.
Now the beginner watercolor class covered so many aspects of learning to paint with watercolors. Plus, the exercises were so much fun. I’ve also put together some of my own personal tips and advice for someone first learning watercolor painting.
- Take a class – I can’t emphasize this enough. Listening to an experienced artist and instructor (like Yao) is such a great way to start learning watercolors. You can learn so many important things like which brushes to use, what types of paint are best, and some great excersizes to help you get started painting.
- Get quality supplies – Yao’s class actually convinced me to try more expensive paints, brushes, and paper. I was honestly surprised at how much of a difference artist quality paint made. The colors are just so vibrant and they blend and spread through the water with such ease. The watercolor blocks are also really amazing! Even if you use a lot of water while you’re painting, the paper doesn’t bend and curl.
- Cheaper supplies are ok too – So even though more expensive supplies will have better results, you can also create beautiful art with cheaper supplies. Yao uses tubes of watercolor paint in her class, and I used them too. However, I also think that a pan set of watercolors also performs really well and is a little easier for beginners to use. Winsor & Newton Cotman and Sakura Koi make a couple of great sets that will cost SO much less than buying a full set of professional watercolor paints. I also really love the Artist’s Loft watercolor brushes from Michael’s, and the 16 count Prang watercolor set.
- Know your palette – It’s so important to know the colors in your palette. A lot of the colors look a little different when they dry, so it’s important to make a color chart to have handy whenever you’re painting. I made a color chart with a highly pigmented brushstroke, and a much more watered down one for each color in my set. You can also play around with mixing colors, blending colors, and creating color palettes for different projects.
- Know your brushes – Yao shares a few great exercises in her class on learning the different strokes each brush can make. Using the right brush to create the right stroke at the right time is everything! (Dick Blick is my favorite place to find watercolor brushes. I especially love the Raphael Soft Aqua brushes. And probably my favorite brushes of all time are quill brushes. They hold a lot of water and are perfect for painting leaves.)
- Use more water, less paint – This is something I see a lot of beginner watercolor artists do, and something I find myself doing all the time. It’s really natural to get excited about a paint color and to use too much. It can also feel weird to use too much water, like you’re ruining your paper. However, when you use more water and less pigment, the color will still show up when it dries, and it will have a more subtle and beautiful look.
- Have lots of paper towels and Q-tips handy – Paper towels are so useful when you’re painting. You can use them to dry off your brushes or even to create texture on a painting. Q-tips are also super handy when you want to remove a little water or paint from just one small section of your painting.
- Cut cheaper paper into smaller sections – I don’t know about you, but somehow I get nervous painting on a large piece of expensive watercolor paper. And while the watercolor blocks are by far the best quality for finished works, I also like to cut cheaper watercolor paper into smaller pieces (like 5×7). It’s a great way to practice some different excersizes, play around with color palettes, and even sketch out an idea for a painting.
- Plates make great palettes – You’ll want a lot of area for mixing and blending colors together. You can buy paint palettes at the art store that work well (these porcelain palettes are my favorite), but you can also use cheap white plates from IKEA, sushi dishes from World Market, or even clear plastic plates as palettes.
- Make mistakes – Painting with watercolors is so different from painting with acrylics. If you make a mistake, you can’t always cover it up. However, it is also much quicker to create a beautiful painting with watercolors. So don’t worry about making mistakes. Sometimes you have to repaint the same general painting 4 or 5 times to get it to look like you want.
One of the first things you’ll do in Yao’s Beginning Watercolor class is learn more about your brushes, paint colors, and paper. I started by creating a color chart for this Japanese set of watercolors that I recently got.
You’ll then get to practice some basic principles of blending and shading. And what’s great is that the exercises Yao has you do also turn into frame worthy art.
I could seriously do this all day! I love the unexpected ways that the paints blend together.
Yao also teaches you some tricks for painting leaves and trees, and ends with a great tutorial on how to paint your own watercolor wreaths. I absolutely love how mine turned out, and I can’t wait to paint more in different color combinations.
I’ll be taking Yao’s Intermediate Watercolor class on Creativebug next. And don’t forget, you can sign up for a free trial and take these watercolor classes for free. If you do, I’d LOVE to see what you create. Tag me on Instagram or even send me an email (email@example.com).
katie smith says
I can’t believe I have just now discovered your work & your blog. I love it!
Amy Anderson says
I took that class and LOVED it!! Your work is so pretty!
Thanks Amy! I know wasn’t it so much fun? Even if you’re not quite a beginner at watercolors the exercises are really great!
I repeatedly watch Yao’s beginner classes and I love her instruction style. I am going to dive into her Intermediate videos next!
Thanks for sharing your tips, Rachel! This is great advice for beginners, and good reminders at any time 😉
Aren’t they great Emily!? And I love seeing your watercolor art! They’re definitely the kind of thing you can watch over and over again and learn something new or try something new each time.
Amy | Delineate Your Dwelling says
Love this post! SO much helpful information and gorgeous pictures… win win!
Thanks Amy! And I had a lot of fun painting and taking pictures 🙂
I feel that telling people in the first step to take a class on a “how to” in a blog is kind of a slap to the face. I mean no disrespect by this and I apologize if this comes off at all hostile, as that’s not my intention, but it is a little misleading. I now understand there is a nuance between “how to” and “tips to learning”, but just starting with watercolor and having limited resources, seeing the first step of instruction on the internet as “take a class” is really counter-intuitive. Again, I don’t mean for my comment to offend and I’m sure that other people seem to understand the difference between “how to do X” and “tips on learning how to do X”. Have a great day and I hope that many people benefit from your blog. 🙂
I completely understand what you mean. However as you said I did phrase this as 10 tips for learning watercolor and not a specific tutorial on a specific project. Also you can sign up for a free trial if you were interested and you can download the first class for free – it really is a great class. And if you don’t want to have to go through the process of signing up for an account, you can find a LOT of free classes and videos on You Tube. I really do think that one of the best ways to learn watercolors is to watch videos of other people painting, and then to practice painting yourself.
Thank you for this helpful post! What is the name of the brand of Japanese watercolors you use?
You’re welcome! And it’s the Kuretake Gansai Tambi set – it’s amazing and has a great color selection. I got mine on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2a4Uz0M
What paint set is this? The colors look great! Love your blog by the way!
Thanks so much Kellie. I love trying out different types of watercolors so I have a few different sets. The one at the very top is a palette I put together with tubes of Winsor & Newton watercolor paints. They are super high quality, but more complicated to set up and definitely more expensive. The second rectangular set is a Japanese watercolor set (Kuretake Gansai Tambi) that I got on Amazon http://amzn.to/2a4Uz0M It’s a great set and has a beautiful mint color and a shimmery gold that is amazing.
Tan of Squirrelly Minds says
I love this post so so much! Thank you for the tips. Much appreciated!
Thank You for such a wonderful & very helpful post on watercolors. I am lucky to stumble upon your post. Because I had never tried this medium before. I tried oils & acrylics but never watercolor. And I did take the Creativebug watercolor class and loved it.
Thanks! I’m so glad to hear that. I had only ever done acrylic and oil painting as well until a few years ago. But I think watercolor is my favorite!