Water colour tips for beginners

Water colour is one of the most challenging and exciting mediums. It is a highly transparent medium and can be used in many different styles, from super realism to extremely loose and everything in between. It can also be mixed with other media such as inks, pens, pastels, gesso, wax and pure alcohol. Water colour comes in the form of tubes, pans, pencils or sticks, all have their advantages and disadvantages and they can all be intermixed.

Two basic techniques

These include wet on wet and wet on dry. The first means painting on wet paper, which can be quite challenging and needs practice. The second is wet on dry. This has a more controlled quality to it and it basically means painting on dry paper which must always be stretched as wetness will make the paper buckle.

Water colour can be used in combination with watercolour pencils, pens of various sorts, wax and many other things. The first attempts at water colour will probably not be successful but that goes for any medium, the key word is perseverance. Don’t stop at the first hurdle! Start small at first until you have got the hang of it, then expand in size.

Water colour will always dry lighter than you think it will, so remember this when mixing your colours.

With water colour you paint from light to dark, not the other way around. There should be a gradual build-up of transparent colour on your paper.

There are many tricks that you can use with watercolour, using additives, or glue, sand, wax, ink and Gum Arabic, sponging, alcohol and scraping to name but a few. These are usually used done on dry paper. A spray bottle containing just plain water is another handy thing to have. Not only can you squirt your paints at the beginning of a painting, making them moist, but you can also create wonderful runs on your paper causing interesting effects. This works with all water colour and ink mediums.

Water colour paper

There are many different sorts of water colour paper to choose from. Read our article how to choose your water colour paper for more advice on which sort of paper to use.

Limited Palett

Before spending vast amounts of money on paint, try using a limited pallet first. Try the warm and cool blues – Ultramarine and Cerulean Blue, the warm and cool reds Cadmium and Alizarine Red and the warm and cool yellows Lemon and Cadmium Yellow.  With these six colours you can mix just about anything. Later, you can gradually add extra paint colours as you need them. See our tutorial on how to make a colour chart for watercolour and experiment with this.

Don’t buy a readymade filled box of paint, as it always contains colours that you seldom use. Always buy good quality paint as the cheap stuff does fade.


There was and still is the assumption that sable hair brushes are the very best you can buy. Sable hair brushes are extremely expensive. These days there are many different brush manufacturers that make amazingly good synthetic brushes that perform just as well if not better than sable.  Buy brushes that have a good thick “belly” which enables the brush to hold lots of paint. Always go to a specialist shop who can help you decide what you need to get started, wasting your money on cheap supermarket brushes is not a good idea. They don’t have the quality and the holding power and more often than not the hairs fall out!

Mixing Palette

An old porcelain plate can serve very well as a watercolour palette. This is very easily cleaned with a wet tissue. Always remember that a little bit of watercolour goes a long way, so squeezing a small amount on the edges of the plate is more than enough. Even though your squirted-out paint has dried up, you can still re-wet and re-use it. You also need a roll of paper towel, this not only helps you to clean your palette and absorb the excess paint on your brush but helps clean up the mess afterwards!

Hope you enjoyed the article and could use some of the information.