Watercolor Workshop: 4 Tips to Get Started

Let’s get started.

Taking a Leap

Watercolors are a dynamic medium filled with brightness and expression. They may seem daunting at first, but as a teaching tool (whether to children or in your own creative practice), watercolors present opportunities to practice short and long term planning, patience, and critical thinking. As we progress through the workshops, I will show you how to develop paintings using this expressive medium. These lessons are intended for beginning watercolorists and by parents and teachers with children in small groups.

Before you begin, you will need 3 things:

Brushes

You don’t need a million brushes to get started, just one. When playing and practicing, I use a small round brush. Play around with your brushes and recreate some of the art below. Different shapes and sizes will produce different results: play with the brushes you have.

Paints & Clear Water

Prep your paints. Whether using artist grade tubes or children’s flats, you will want all of your paints and fresh rinsing water prepared and at hand before you begin. Watercolor relies on wetness to move and control pigment; stopping mid-image to mix new paints will show as blotchy marks in the final image.

Paper

I prefer to use a heavy weight, watercolor paper. These papers are heavy enough not to curl when wet applications are laid down. For lightweight papers, prepare them by wetting both sides and stretching with a gum tape. Allow the paper to fully dry again.

With your brushes, paints and paper prepared, you are ready to begin.

1. Play

Art and creativity are about play. Allow the inner child to explore the new medium. Enjoy the freedom you have and start painting geometric shapes and figures. With just a few strokes, I made these alligators and this strange dodo-bird.

The point, especially when teaching children, is to explore and make mistakes. Limit yourself to a single color to avoid muddying the images and use scraps of paper cut into strips and squares.

This is practice. Let it be free and fun. Get to know the medium with an open heart and paint what pops into your head. There are no mistakes here.

gators
Just a few quick flips of the brush to make these little gators. You try it with a circle and a few quick swipes.
Dodo
Fill up a whole page. It doesn’t matter what you paint, just fill the whole thing. Try different amounts of paint to water and see what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Experiment

Try different types of applications. Apply colors to dry paper and to wet paper and see what happens. Try smudging wet paints or use varying amounts of pressure or paint on your brush. Mix colors!

There are many ways to have fun when experimenting with watercolor paints. A few key points: don’t over-mix your colors and always rinse and blot your brush between colors. A little blue in a lot of yellow still makes green.

IMG_9085
This paint was still wet when I painted the leaf.
This paint was dry before i painted the leaf.
This paint was dry before i painted the leaf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_9081
Paint a cloud and then swipe it away. Looks like rain to me.
IMG_9079
Change the color on your brush to create a rainbow effect. Remember to rinse and pat your brush before lifting a new color. Let the colors mix on the page rather than in the pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Practice

Set aside a few hours each week to practice (one hour a day is a good rule of thumb for beginners; one hour twice a week is a good amount for grades 3-8 in the US).

Talent isn’t innate; it comes from the application of knowledge and skill. An athlete does not gain the muscles of his sport by sitting around; the same is true for an artist. Spend time developing your craft. As you practice, you will gain confidence and proficiencies in hand and style.

IMG_9089
Vary the paint and wetness of your brush.
Mix the colors of your wash.
Mix the colors of your wash.
The top is a wet wash, allowing the colors to mix down the water naturally. The bottom is a dry wash, running the brush over a dry page. Skies and mountains are dark on top.
The top is a wet wash, allowing the colors to mix down the water naturally. The bottom is a dry wash, running the brush over a dry page. Skies and mountains are dark on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Celebrate

Praise your work. Whether you share it with a close friend, the world on social media, or hang it on the fridge for yourself, it is important that you celebrate your progress. When you have a next new favorite, share that.

Creativity is infinite. Believe in your ability to grasp it and it will fill your heart with boundless joy and energy.

Celebrate yourself with a big fat star!
Celebrate yourself with a big fat star!
Or mix a wash with some quick strokes to set the fireworks ablaze.
Or mix a wash with some quick strokes to set the fireworks ablaze.

 

 

 

 

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SS CoverDreamy Desert CoverExplore more of my watercolors and share them with the kids in Sleepy Safari and Dreamy Desert, for your e-reading devices. The land of dreams is filled with happy, restful creatures in these sleepy-time readers.

 

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