Watercolour Tutorial: Painting For Beginners

What is Water Colour Painting

Watercolor painting is also known as Aquarelle, is the process of mixing the paint with water to derive the dark and light effects. The pigment for the paint is water-based. The image below is a representation of water colour, a subset of Water Based Colours in general.

Chart for Breakdown of Water Based Colours
Breakdown of Water Based Colours

Watercolour is made of finely ground pigments and is more transparent.

Gouache is made of larger pigments, and is somewhere in between watercolour and poster colours.

Poster Colours pigments are even larger and is more opaque.

In terms of pigments size and opacity, Watercolour < Gouache < Poster Colours

Watercolour Painting for Beginners:Watercolour vs Gouache vs Poster Colours

Materials for watercolour painting

Brushes

The brushes that Artist Celine Chia usually use for water colours are sharp-tipped brushes. Watercolour brushes are usually softer and more delicate as compared to Acrylic brushes, so  the user can control the amount of force applied to the brush. Celine usually uses the fine tip brushes for backgrounds and flat tip brushes for skies and horizons.

Sharp tip Brush (Left) vs Flat Tip Brush (Right)
Sharp Tip Brush (Left) vs Flat Tip Brush (Right)

Paper

For the canvas (paper), beginners can use drawing blocks. (~160 gsm – 230 gsm)

If you are more particular and want more absorbent watercolour paper, Celine recommends using up to 300gsm paper as they are highly absorbent and the paper will not bend easily. You will not have to worry about the paper disintegrating as compared to using normal A4 paper. (~70gsm)

Cold pressed water colour Paper (300 gsm) – some people like to use this paper. Its texture is rough and bumpy and is manufactured with less heat. This paper allows better control of the colours and it is generally more absorbent.

Hot pressed water colour Paper (300gsm) – It has a smooth surface finishing. For gauche colours, artists usually prefer this paper as it gives a nicer effects. It is also usually used for inking like calligraphy to achieve the clean lines.

Hot pressed water colour paper (left) vs Cold pressed Water Colour Paper (Right)
Hot Pressed (Left) vs Cold Pressed (Right) Watercolour Paper

Watercolour Painting Tone

You do not need a lot of paint to derive the nice colours. The tones are dependent on the amount of water you mix the paint with. i.e. the more water lighter tone.

The greater the number of layers, the darker the tone.

Here comes the hard part of water colour. It is very difficult to remove the layer to get the desired tone. Unlike acrylic painting where you can apply a layer over to cover up the previous layer, for watercolor, the more layers you apply, the darker will be the end result.

So if you make a mistake (e.g. apply too much paint) , you will need to quickly use a tissue paper to absorb the paint followed by using water to blend the colours to fit your desired tone.

For blending the colours, you can add water between the two tones (colours) to blend them together and get a smooth gradient.

Watercolour Painting Techniques

There are 3 main watercolour painting techniques for beginners, namely Wet-on-wet, Wet-on-dry, and Dry-on-dry.

Wet-on-wet : Wet paint (brush) on wet paper.

Apply a generous amount of water on the water colour paper. It is usually used for background as it blends and smudges very nicely to produce a very soft look. 

Berry Cake background painted using wet-on-wet techniques
Berry Cake Background Using Wet-on-wet Techniques

Wet-on-dry: Wet paint (brush) on dry surface.

It is usually used to apply colours onto the object. It requires more control over the brush, the strength of the brush stroke matters. If you press the brush harder (wet brush), a lighter tone will appear towards the end of the brush.

Dry-on-dry: Slightly moist brush on dry surface.

It is a technique that is seldom used for the whole portrait. It’s often used when you require a dark solid colour on a small area (e.g. eyeball) and you do not want the water to smudge the colour to the other surfaces. It’s usually the last step as it might smudge if you use it as the first few layers.

Watercolour Painting Techniques for Beginners

If you cannot control your brushes, Celine recommends beginners to get water colour pencils for the base first before using the watercolour brushes to paint over.

Watercolour painting may not be the easiest to control, but at the same time it’s definitely one of the most rewarding techniques to learn. In fact, Celine finds it a therapeutic way to relieve stress. If you’re a beginner and just starting off, you can practice using poster colour or watercolour pencils to start off, since they do not require as much blending, before getting your hands on the water colour painting.

Artist Celine Chia conducts watercolour painting workshops in her art studio in Potong Pasir, Singapore. Contact us for more information!

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