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How to paint a watercolour , ten simple tips.

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

So in this blog I'm going to take you through ten simple tips to help you paint a watercolour and hopefully be pleased with the results of this more challenging of mediums. If you've never painted at all before then you might want to try a more forgiving medium first such as acrylics or gouache which are both also water soluble.

1. So where do you start when you want to paint a watercolour? Well before you put brush to paper, you need to decide on your composition. It's a good idea to make some thumbnail sketches of the subject you've chosen. Make such the focal point, which will be the area of your painting that your eye is naturally drawn to, is not right in the centre of your picture.

2. Once you're happy with your composition draw it out lightly on some watercolour paper, normal cartridge paper will not enable you to use techniques such as wet into wet and will set you up for disappointment before you've started. I like to use a heavy weight paper that doesn't need stretching. The quality of paper will make a huge difference to the quality of your painting.

3. The next tip in how to paint a watercolour is to preserve the areas you want to keep white. I like to use masking fluid, which is a latex solution that can be painted on with an old brush or a cocktail stick for finer details. In this painting of the Ufizzi courtyard in Florence, you can see the areas I've masked off as a dull yellow. this lets you put washes of colour all over your painting without having to paint round the bits you want to keep white. As you progress to more detail you can remove the masking fluid from dry paper by rubbing with a clean finger or kitchen roll.

4. The next step in how to paint a watercolour is to wet the paper and apply some loose washes. remember to work from lightest colours first to darker and more detailed.

5. To maintain harmony in your painting limit your palette. In this watercolour painting I have used ochres, pale pinks, greys and blues. Remember your washes will be lighter in colour once they've dried so be brave. Have some kitchen roll or tissue ready if you want to dab off areas your not happy with.

6. Don't overwork your watercolour painting , leave some areas simple and vague, especially around the edges and this will help draw your eye into and around your painting.

7. Make your darks either warm or cool, blues are cool colours and reds and yellows warm so if we add blue into our darks it will give us cool shadows, add red or yellow and it will warm those shadows up.

8. Use a piece of scrap watercolour paper to test your colours on. Rather than risk putting a wash on your watercolour painting you're not sure of.

9. Consider using one colour throughout your watercolour painting to tie all the areas together. In this case I've used paynes grey for all the details in the architecture and the figures.

Watercolour painting by Louise Connell of the Uffizi Gallery Courtyard in Florence
The Uffizi courtyard in Florence

10. Don't expect to produce a masterpiece. Painting in watercolour like anything else takes time and practice. If you enjoy the process and limit your expectations, you'll be more likely to keep having a go and therefore improve. A good drawing will always be a good start, so keep sketching.

So there you go! How to paint a watercolour, ten simple tips. I hope you find them helpful. If you'd like to see more of my watercolour paintings you can click through to my gallery. Please get in touch if you are interested in any of my paintings or metal fish or lobster sculptures.

Bye for now Louise

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Juliet Docherty
Juliet Docherty
Jan 31, 2023

Fantastic Louise, I enjoyed reading this and have good memories of your art from school. I teach colour at ARU and so lots of these tips really resonate, especially the warm and cool darks. x

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