Recently seen on a watercolour painting group on social media, the watercolourist K. Lee shared her advice for fellow beginners who have just begun painting with watercolour. With her permission we present her advice below. Do you agree, or have any other advice you would add to this list? Please comment with your suggestions below.
by K. Lee
After a year of watercolour painting – here are a couple of things I wish I had known from the beginning. Take this for what it’s worth!
- Buy the best paint/brushes/paper you can afford – I wasted so much time, money, and paper on cheap paint – my paintings never looked acceptable until I switched to the good stuff. If possible, stick with tubes – pans are okay but a tiny bit of tube paint will give you richer colours.
- Paint something every day. Doesn’t matter what – just try to paint on a regular basis. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube that will keep you busy.
- LID (Let it Dry!). It took me the longest time to figure out that walking away and letting a section dry was the key to bright, pure colours.
- Be kind to yourself – quit comparing your work to those painters on the internet – you know it took them 3-4 attempts to get a painting good enough to show.
I always recommend Daniel Smith tubes – even to beginners; it is the best paint ever. I have stacks of old pan set – expensive and cheap – that I never use.
I use Daniel Smith or Winsor and Newton tube paint, Arches Paper, and Princeton brushes almost exclusively. I’m still not a very good painter, but I have definitely improved from where I started a year ago.
More Articles about Watercolour Painting:
- Watercolour Painting for Beginners: What you Need to Get Started
- A Guide to Watercolour Mediums
- Making Handmade Watercolours with Jackson’s Artist Pigments
- Granulation in Watercolours: What is it and how to use it?
Wise words to anyone finding their way in
watercolour. Somebody once said
“comparison is the thief of joy”. Regarding
supplies, I underestimated the importance
of good paper. I’ve seen amazing finger-
painting with low-end pigments, but you
can’t fake quality paper.
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ is a very interesting saying! And yes, good paper is really important. Exactly why we put together this paper guide in fact! https://www.jacksonsart.com/jackson-s-paper-guide
I’ve been scared of watercolour paint for a
long time but have challenged myself to try
this beautiful medium in recent years. I
agree with K.Lee in using the best materials
you can afford but also exerimenting with
gouache (also called opaque watercolour) as
well. I dismissed it originally thinking it was
a cheap, horrid students medium but I was
very wrong. The colours, versatility and
results of this medium are amazing. I’ve also
tried mixing in watercolour and regular
coloured pencil into my work and have loved
seeing the additional depth and crispness
this brings to a piece. In another project I
tried working in both watercolour and oil
paint on the same project. I started off in
watercolour, fully sealed the work and then
painted in oil over the sealant, finally
finishing off with gold foil. Just play with
this medium and see what it does alongside
Thanks for your comment – you are absolutely right, I think gouache does often get bad press and it’s totally undeserved. I totally agree, adopting a playful attitude and trying things out in watercolour is the best way to work with it and discover how you can use it in the way that suits your personal painting approach. Your process sounds really exciting!
I agree completely, it’s as if we started together.
That’s so great Ann! Hope you are enjoying your journey with watercolour.
Thank you Lisa. I agree that initially
buying the best paints helps. I did buy
cheaper paints when I started out but
then went to Daniel smith, Winsor and
Newton and Schmincke and I’ve never
been happier with my paintings.
That’s great to hear, yes the vibrancy of good quality paint is really inspiring, and likely to increase the enjoyment of your painting session!
I agree the Daniel Smith paints are
wonderful, but so very expensive. I
have been using the Russian White
Knights watercolours for years and
am quite pleased with the results.
How do you rate them, Lisa?
Yes, White Nights are a good range, I use them often for my own painting. I find that some pans are softer than others, but I think the colours are very good for their price. They are definitely a brand I would recommend if someone was looking for something of great quality that wasn’t very expensive.
All the best
I agree the paper is crucial – in a way,
applying watercolour onto, say, Canson
XL, is not doing watercolour. Cotton
makes all the difference. But as for
paints? Certainly not the most important
thing to invest in at the beginning – fine
(not extra-fine) WC paint and even budget
ones perform very well on paper. And you
get to know what you like in WC paint: do
you want it to move more etc. Same goes
for brushes (to a certain extent) you need
to know what you like. And some synthetic
brushes are rather good. I actually had a
squirrel mop for years and only found out
recently I loved using it. But telling
beginners to invest in the best of
everything is a bit over the top in my
opinion. A tin of Cotman paints (so very
often on sales), cotton paper and two
brushes and you’re good to go.
That’s interesting Tim. I think curiosity is always your friend with all aspects of making art, and of course many of us have a budget to stick to. A Cotman set perhaps complimented with a few alluring professional quality paints wouldn’t be a bad place to start, in my opinion! But the most important thing really, is just to start painting and trying different materials out, that’s when the journey really starts, isn’t it?
Perhaps not initially. But at some point a
beginner needs to move on to quality tools.
Ask a music teacher. A student may do fine
with a student grade instrument and that’s
okay if they decide to quit in a year or two.
But if they pursue performing, they are going
to need a quality instrument or they will be
limited and become frustrated. I’m sure even
Itsak Perlman can make a cheap violin
sound good but even he will be limited. A
student in whatever endeavor, be it music,
sports or watercolor needs to move to better
“tools” before they become frustrated with
the limitations. A few tubes of paint, a brush
and some paper are pretty cheap
investments in quality materials compared
to a quality violin.
Interesting parallel made here! If purity of colour is what the painter aspires to in their work, then single pigment colours usually found in the highest quality paints will be worth investing in. If the artist mixes every tube in their paint box together simultaneously they are likely to mix muddy colours, whether they be the best paints or student grade. So I totally agree when you say compromising quality in your materials can compromise results, but just like the violin, knowing how to play it will also make a huge difference.
I have found that it is a good idea to put
your painting to one side when you have
reached a point where you feel it is
finished. Its funny that viewing it again
the following day often helps you see what
is missing or needs correcting.
This is such a good point! Thank you Andy.
In addition to all the comments about
materials for watercolour, I have found
that beginners understandably want to
get straight onto the paper with paint. A
basic suggestion for starting
watercolour is to be aware that there is
an order for doing things even before
the brush hits the paper. Thinking time
is really key to how your painting can
go. Lay out what you need, think why
this image caught your mind, and do a
quick sketch to show where lights and
darks are and big/little shapes.
Then…take a deep breath and have a go
I absolutely agree this is a great approach to beginning a painting. Thank you Ken!
I still forget to do this after
painting for a few years, and it’s
probably the most important point I
never learned as a beginner.
The drying process…especially if you’re
using a heavier paper can be tedious. I
have used a low powered hairdryer for
years and must have saved many days in
Also can’t agree more…quality paper is an
absolute must…the heavier the better. I
use the 640g Saunders NOT paper with
great effect and a long working time
before drying begins.This I think is
important for a beginner who might require
more time. Also little or no cockling!
I’ve always thought a poor brush,
especially for a beginner, is akin to a
motor mechanic attempting to repair an
engine with a rubber spanner!
As far a paints go, I’ve found Jackson’s
range to be excellent and very affordable.
Thank you Johan, this is full of great advice!
If anyone is struggling to decide on what watercolour paper to try, there’s a great watercolour paper comparison table here:
You will need to zoom in!
Mostly agree, some provisos. The materials that are most right for you depend on what you like to paint and your style – portraits, landscapes, botanicals and flowers, birds and animals, still lifes etc. The right paper for your subject(s) is the most critical so try to gradually hone down that choice and get to know it – it’s likely to be your most expensive element. There’s a lot of good watercolour paint nowadays, some relatively inexpensive, try some Jacksons and Ken Bromley own brands, Van Gogh, Turner; Daniel Smith is very expensive in UK but generally excellent, Schminke Horadam is often excellent too. Get to know the pigments so you don’t get seduced by pretty names and don’t buy duplicates or too many! Start with an appropriate 3 to 6 and expand to maybe 12 to 15 once you understand the gaps in your core palette. The Handprint and Jane Blundell websites are great resources for choosing paint, worthy of many hours of study.
Thank you Agric, I think this is really good advice!
Don’t buy too many paints at first – best
advice ever! I went mad, buying far too
many different paints, which was ever so
confusing. I think I’ve now got my pallet
ready down to 8 colours, plus a couple
of special extras that I really like. But 6
or so core colours is plenty to start with.
That is really true. I think the tricky bit is knowing which colours. Single pigment colours are worth looking out for, and perhaps one of each of the primary colours to start with, and then work with those for a while until you work out what shades you are craving. All a process of discovery I think!
Absolutely. When I started using Daniel
Smith I read through Jane’s blog and used it
as a guide to choose my own color palette.
Likewise, I also tried hot press, cold press
and rough Arches. I have tried other papers
but still return to Arches as my favorite. I
might add the same goes for brushes. I
bought some Connoisseur as my first set of
good brushes and still like them. I didn’t care
for Isabey or Princeton but really like
Rosemary. I now use a mix of brands
depending on the shape and size.
This is really interesting, thank you!
I started several years ago and made many watercolours with
student quality watercolour paint and brushes on student quality
paper and still now they look very fine, after 5 years ! So, you can
have excellent results with relatively cheap student quality paint
(i.e. Cotman, Van Gogh both very good !) on average quality / not
very expensive watercolour paper (i.e. Canson Montval,
Hahnemuehle cellulose paper) and with synthetic brushes (many
brands) or goat hair brushes (chinese brushes, Hake brushes). I
think it’s very discouraging when beginners are advised to buy
the most expensive cotton paper and extreme expensive
watercolour paint and kolinsky brushes with the idea that these
are required to make a nice and attractive watercolour. I object
with force to this idea that big spending makes nice
watercolours. That’s not true ! I bet that 99,8% of the people,
including many painters and reviewers can’t see the difference
between average priced materials and expensive materials when
framed and exposed in the gallery ! What’s true is that
watercolour is very direct and requires practise and effort, but
even an starter can make a nice painting after 3 lessons or so.
It’s great fun ! Try it !
Urban, I think this depends on how one paints. When I began following painters on youtube, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get my washes to blend, and my colours to swoosh like theirs, and I’ll never forget the first time I used Arches! It mad all the difference in allowing me to use lots of water with my paints and get the results I was after. Brushes, not so much. I spent a lot of money in the beginning on expensive large kolinsky brushes that I rarely use.
I agree 100% that one needs to use quality
materials from the start. For example many
people pick up a pencil and start drawing,
they are disappointed with the result, and
this can deter them from drawing thinking
that they are not any good. However, the
most probable reason is that they picked p
the general purpose HB, which has very little
tonal range, unaware that if they tried softer
blacker 4B,5B,6B and experience their vast
tonal range they would be much encouraged.
So it is with WC paint and paper, buy quality
and experiment. One only needs primary
colours to compare brands and techniques.
I like Daniel Smith for they unusual colours
and Daler Rowney for even blending of
washes. If they were good enough for Turner
they are certainly good enough for me.
Tubes 100%. Enjoy experimenting
watercolour has a life of it’s own.
Very true! Thank you Terry.
I agree with the advice and will take it a little further. When your children or grandchildren want to paint something too, don’t buy them cheap paints and basic paper from the supermarket or toy shop. Even a child of 7 who is actually interested in creating a picture will get far better results with decent paint and paper, and therefore be inspired to do more. It has certainly worked with mine. Even the best artist would struggle with paints, brushes and paper from the discount shops.
Thank you Eleanor! I agree, so long as the child is not of an age where they are tempted to eat the paints, artist colours are a joy to work with at any level of experience!
Took me a year to figure this out. After I
retired I decided to take watercolor seriously
and started attending a community college
emeritus watercolor class. I started with the
old Pelikan pan set my Grandpa gave me
when I was 12. I bought some “bee paper” on
Amazon and had a few cheap brushes. That
was fine to start but after a few months I
wasn’t really improving. But I learned more
about watercolor. I bought some Daniel
Smith, a pad of Arches and two sable
brushes. Boy, what a difference. I have a few
Winsor & Newton, Holbein, Schminke and M.
Graham paints but mostly Daniel Smith. I
have a lot more brushes as I discovered flats
and squirrel quills. I made sure I bought
quality brushes and not some cheap
unknown brand. I also added travel brushes
and sketchbooks to my “tools” as I wanted to
learn plein aire. I still use Arches and use it
to make my own sketch books but also use
Stillman & Birn.
One thing that was not mentioned. If you
have the opportunity to take a workshop or
class with a really good artist (such as Iain
Stewart or Thomas Schaller) pay the money
and do it. It is a great investment in learning
from an expert. Take notes.
Consider joining your local watercolor
society. They have classes too and the local
artists are a great guide toward finding your
watercolor voice. It will also provide you with
a chance to display your work in the
Thank you so much for your thoughts. I agree, you can learn so much from other artists as well as share tips, and feel part of a community.
Siiii, recien llevo 6 meses y me siento
maravillada, estoy conociendo mis
materiales y tratando de pintar todos los
dias, gracias por tus consejos!! mi IG
gracias y buena suerte con tu pintura!
I agree with all your observations Lisa. Following Andy
Walford’s comment of putting your painting to one side
once you think it’s finished, my advice is to make sure
you keep a record of the colour mixes used. A year into
my painting journey has taught me that when revisiting
and tweaking a painting, knowing the original colour
mix is helpful.
Such good advice! So many times I’ve mixed a colour and then forgotten what with!
Daniel Smith has been lying about their lightfast ratings for years. It recently came out that they are also lying about the pigments in their primatek line.. the vast majority being made up of cheap common pigments that are not disclosed on the label…and then shortly after fugitive fluorescent additives were discovered. I will never buy paint from them again and highly suggest anyone using their products be aware you cannot trust them… especially if you are selling your work. There are plenty of professional trustworthy brands out there.
Hi, thanks for your comment. We will be reaching out to Daniel Smith for a response on these issues.
The information on the primatek line
isn’t entirely correct. They didn’t list
the binders and fillers because
primatek used natural minerals which
have to be changed up from one
batch to another to try and maintain
uniformity. I have found most people
who had a major issue with the
primatek line are those who had no
experience working with stone
watercolors and their HIGHLY
unpredictable nature. As for the
light fast, that had to do with some
of their brighter colors such as opera
pink, as their color array is so vast
and large they have a lot of specialty
colors. Again things that hugely
effect the colors are if they are
stored as suggested or left out on
display. (I’m not a huge daniel
smith fan, but I am a big fan of hand
made paints and a lot of the primatek
argument came down to people not
fully understanding how mineral
pigments vary in handing from
Thank you Autumn. Yes, having reached out to Daniel Smith, it does seem that the lack of information surrounding the Daniel Smith Primatek line may have something to do with a need to use materials for the sake of colour and performance consistency. It should also be noted that paint makers are not obliged to list the ingredients in their products, and indeed very few if any do.
I am working on an article to explain their position on the manufacture of the Primatek line of watercolours.
Many thanks again
Not sure I agree with Autumn here- I bought two of the shades that are supposed to be pure minerals.
At near $45 a tube even on sale I was dismayed to find out pure mineral fade was terrible (in one case to almost a different colour). On doing more research based on why Ms Blundell, a DS ambassador, didn’t recommend either tube I learned from a different resource that one tube was also noted cut with another pigment known to be toxic. I don’t use that pigment purely because I lick my brushes (yes it’s a bad habit but when distracted I don’t notice I’m doing it… you see now why I’m only using watercolours.) So either it’s not lightfast for a pure mineral product OR it’s now only lightfast because they’ve added a toxic pigment that is nothing to do with the pure mineral so why isn’t it on the label? Can we trust any of the other DS labels then? Ugh the mixing nightmare of unlisted pigments! Nope not for me.
I returned both tubes for a refund and the art shop were horrified that they’d not been aware either of the potential mislabeled pigment.
Bottom line, I avoid gimmick pigments (cough Primatek cough) and save my dosh for my preferred (known quantity) pigments, that are also considerably cheaper and have had other experienced users do their own lightfast tests on it.
I don’t buy DS full size tubes (2 exceptions being buff titanium and paynes blue grey). I’m also not a brand snob so will be switching away from DS when I run out…
Ilvr argued with so many new beginners
on FB about learning to paint. As a
beginner you should learn the basics
before running out and buying the
expensive Cotton papers and paints.
Also learning to stretch paper will save
many tears later when the paper
buckles. We all learnt somewhere and
mine was at school stretching Cartridge
paper however lm self taught as that
was about all that we learnt but 30 yrs
this year from leaving school lm
teaching myself all over again as there’s
a lot that l don’t know but this time l
have professional paints and paper (
although l will always use Cartridge to
test paint on) and my favourite
Rosemary and Co Brushes
Paper stretching is a useful skill to learn for sure..I’m not sure the topic of learning to paint is one to argue over as there are lots of ways to go about it, but I’m glad you found the way that works for you!
i find the van gogh paints are excellent
value for money. for rich and very vibrant
colour i prefer mission gold to daniel smith
although there are a few ds i do really like.
my advise would be to buy the colours you
like regardless of the brand.
Yes absolutely! I think trying out colours in a variety of brands when first starting out is a good tip for establishing preferences.
I agree with you all. My main advice would be the best proven
quality paper. Wether rough or smooth get good quality paper. I
use Arches or the new Baohong. You can even paint both sides as
a beginner. You can paint with a credit card or toothbrush if you
have good paper. Paint preference for me is also tubes of Daniel
Smith, Windsor and Newton, sennelier and Schminke. Probably
only need 6 colours!
Great advice on unusual painting tools, and being selective with colour! I think the tricky thing can be knowing which colours to buy when first starting out. There are some of my thoughts in this post Getting Started in Watercolour – do you have any thoughts on how to go about selecting colour?
I once did an amazing two day
watercolour course with Hazel Soan. The
best piece of advice we got from her,
especially for a beginner, was ‘lay it and
leave it’! This encompasses two
important properties of watercolour: 1.
the pigment has a life of its own once
mixed with water and laid on paper (of
whatever quality), which you kill if you
push it around; 2. It needs time for the
magic to happen, which is why a
hairdryer is not a good idea. I can’t be
the only person to have noticed that an
apparently dry wash on the day you laid
it changes subtly overnight and looks
somehow different the next day. The
pigment, water and paper work together
with time and atmospheric moisture to
become a whole new thing which even
the most skilled watercolourist can
never make happen. The skill lies in
observing what happened last time and
setting up the right conditions for it to
happen again, if you’re lucky.
Thank you Libby, this is so well articulated. I bet painting with Hazel Soan was a fantastic experience! Really great advice, thank you!
One of the best tips I was given: wet an area close to the wet colour which you wish to feather, then pull the paint to the water never the reverse. You don’t get cauliflowers that way.
As to paint, my good friend Wendy Tait, a very fine watercolourist, uses Maimeiri ( you have to get used to the bizarre names) For brushes, buy a good quality larger brush with a good point NOT a 1 or 0!
This is very good advice. I’m assuming you advise on a larger brush because a good one can keep a fine point, but have the added bonus of greater holding capacity?
I’m itching to get the paints out myself now!
Much great advice here, and it
goes without saying, that the
best quality materials and
equipment will give you the
best results, and thus will
Certainly help to inspire you.
But it’s not essential, the most
important ingredients are;
imagination, and to have a go.
Regular practice and
perseverance (an old Chinese
Proverb: “Persistence is the
mother of miricles”) are also
important, and don’t be afraid
to ask or seek help if you get
Additionally, keep things
simple, using a limited palette
of colours, namely the key
primaries of red, yellow and
blue, a couple of each in
different hues, plus a good
black, should be sufficient to
get you going, and enable you
to produce a whole raft of
secondary colours etc.
Windsor & Newton, Cotman
Range of student colours, or
similar, will surfice at the start
if you are restricted by budget,
but bear in mind that that
cheaper colours usually carry
more filler than pigment, and
produce a more milky effect
when mixing, and if not careful,
muddy results. Brush wise; 3
good quality synthetic
watercolour round brushes in
sizes: 2, 6 and 10, and a larger
flat wash brush should be
sufficient for most styles to
start with, and won’t break the
bank. Paper needs to be thick
to withstand the effects of
water being applied to the
surface. I tend to go for a
minimum of 300 gsm/140 lb
weight to resist buckling. You
can soak and mount onto board
using a brown gummed tape, to
stretch thinner papers, that will
keep the surface wonderfully
flat when working on it, but is
more messy to start with, then
you have to leave it to dry right
out before you commence
painting, and also, less portable
if you wish to work outdoors. If
you wish to use watercolour
sketch books head for the spiral
bound veriety, they’re much
more convenient to work with.
When I started painting
watercolours, I found some
excellent used books on the
subject (and for only a few
pounds) in local charity shops,
some even have dedicated book
Finally start by learning the
basic techniques, like planning
your painting, producing good
flat and graded washes,
principal brush strokes etc; and
form good habits from the start,
I think it was Benjamin Disraeli
who said; “We are what we do
most, therefore Excellence is a
habit!”. This is where a bit of
quality tuition comes in, like
those books, courses, and
online videos. Whatever, don’t
be too hard on yourself, Rome
wasn’t built in a day, and good
Wow, this is a great pep talk! Thank you Andrew, wise words.
I started watercolor three years ago and
went from absolute disaster with no color
theory to moderately competent portrait
artist. These would be my tips that if I
could go back and tell myself before I
started I would.
1. Paper Quality: – Don’t bother with low
grade, if you can only invest more in one
item upfront make it paper. Good cotton
rag will forgive, it will let you scrub it up, it
will let you work front and back if you
need to. It will actually grab the paint and
allow you to build colors even with the
lower grade paints. While I favor Arches
100% cotton is the way to go.
2. Paint- LESS IS MORE: I went through a
phase where I obtained a truly obscene
amount of paints, in part because I
understood nothing about color mixing
and also because I looked for anything
new to try. In truth after 3 years I have a
set of about 12 colors I use for 70% of
everything I do. If I had it to do all over I
would invest in one good high quality
paint company and buy a standard set 10
to 12 colors is most likely 5 more than you
need but will help you if your not sure
about color mixing.
3. Pans vs Tubes: In this I’ll break from
the pack, I use both but I think your
choice should depend on your life style.
with tubes I was washing away a lot of
paint because I didn’t have a lot of room
for palettes. I would have to clean them
often, I didn’t like folding palettes as I
found if everything was damp they
collected dust, cat hair,what have you as
they dried. If you closed them the colors
ran together. For my very condensed
space I really preferred pans, but in this I
recommend you go professional grade not
student or academic. You will get a lot of
use from the pans and they dry and store
4: Brushes: I likely own well over 100
brushes, like with paint I was always
thinking I’ll find the right brush. The truth
is I can do most of my paintings with four
brushes. I would recommend what ever
size you think you need, your not going
big enough. I thought a size 4 round was
huge when I started, now I routinely start
my paintings with a 5 quill which is about
three times the size. the reason, it
HOLDS WATER and HOLDS paint. You
don’t have to keep dipping in and
reloading your brush. The bigger the
brush, the more fluid your strokes will be,
the less stiff and rigid. I use a mix of
natural and synthetic but I would say get
one big soft synthetic squirrel and one
synthetic kolinski round.
Additional things I wish I had known.
DONT USE BLUE PAINTERS TAPE- it
totally changes the color value as you
perceive it. Masking tape, or Scotch tape
will work, if you are using a high grade
paper it should pull off with ease at a slow
pace, if not, stick it on your pants a few
times to make it less sticky first.
Ceramic vs Plastic vs Metal: your going to
have a preference. If you are a neat freak
don’t bother with plastic, you can get them
clean but its a total nightmare. If you
travel a lot enameled metal is your best
bet, once you use ceramic you won’t likely
want to use anything else. But its heavy
to carry around with you. (worth it to me)
Clean or dirty- Your paint set will be one
or the other, and it says nothing about the
skill of an artist. The best painters I know
look like someone just murdered a
gumball machine over their paint sets,
While others look like they are brand new
every time. You never know.
Quality over Quantity: Less but better will
always be the rule of thumb. If you
discover how to stick to this rule… tell me
Wow, Autumn, this is such great advice! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
Very best wishes
I have also been attempting to progress with
watercolours for the last year, and agree
with most of the above. The best paper I
have found is the St.Cuthbert Mill range. I
especially like Millford for wet into wet and
diffusion of colour, it’s like magic. Cheap
paper does not give good results. I also
bought lots of cheap secondhand books on
watercolour technique and watched U tube
videos for free. Grahame Booth, Michael
Solovyev are very good communicators and
easy to follow. It made me anxious making
so many mistakes on expensive paper, so it’s
helpful to work small and use both sides to
start with. Jacksons and other art suppliers
produce starter packs of watercolour paper,
containing a variety of different makes,
weights and surfaces which is a great way to
try out different papers and find what suits
you. I use a very few brushes and find a
synthetic/sable blend is best. To be honest I
have been in tears of frustration at times,
but it helps to know that other artists
struggled at first too – you just have to
persevere and try to paint as often as you
can. Looking at paintings again after a day
or two with a fresh eye, really does help.
Paintings I thought were rubbish at first I
have realised were not so bad after all. I use
mainly Winsor & Newton, and Daniel Smith
tube paints, I don’t think you can get the
intensity of colour for washes with pan
paints. I have a variety of colours because I
don’t like to spend much time mixing on the
palette, preferring colours to blend and
diffuse on the paper. I also get seduced by
exotic names and new products – but then
you end up spending more money than you
need to! Watercolour is the most wonderful,
satisfying medium when you get it right – so
keep going, remember to plan before you
start painting and DON’T FIDDLE – leave it,
put it away in another room and start
Thank you so much for putting your thoughts down – I can certainly relate! Very good wisdom here.
I really resonate with your first point. My
watercolour journey started a few months
ago. I love vibrant colours so when I was
confronted with the dullness of my student-
grade paints, I very quickly decided to
upgrade to artist-grade ones, one pan at a
time. It made the world of difference to me &
doing it this way was easier on the old wallet
than buying a whole set of them at once.
Regarding paper, I use a lot of water & the
buckling/cockling of some cheaper cellulose
papers was beyond frustrating. Personally,
I’d start off with a little Bockingford just to
work out what your painting style is (do you
feel happier using lots of water or not?)
If you find that you use a lot of water, opt
for a more affordable cotton paper like
Hahnemühle’s Expression if you want to
avoid having to take half a day to stretch it.
You do get less paper than you would do if
you bought a cellulose paper but it will give
you a far more pleasant painting experience.
If you find that you don’t use a lot of water &
don’t really suffer with buckling paper
Bockingford is a great choice.
Thanks for your comment. I agree, Bockingford is a great paper, I feel it’s sometimes underrated!
This is a really useful thread. Thank you. As
a complete beginner I find the range of brush
types a mystery. What would you advise in
terms of brush size and type eg fan, rigger,
round etc to get me started? I am worried I
will waste a lot of money buying brushes I
don’t need yet.
Thanks for your question. You might find this article of interest – https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2021/03/23/watercolour-painting-for-beginners-what-you-need-to-get-started/
The brushes you work with is very much dependent on your painting approach, and everyone is different and most painters change how they work with experience. As the article above says, a cost effective way to start is to invest in 2-3 brushes, following your gut about what shapes appeal to you, and then adding to your collection as you gain experience. Most painters start to crave additional brushes as they establish a way of working. These sets can be a great way to invest in a starter set of brushes to get you going.
I’d love to see some of K.Lee’s work. I
tried to look him/her up on the internet but
couldn’t find any K.Lee’s who’d painted
with watercolours. Do you have a link for
We did request but she was not ready to share her work…a name to look out for in time!
So much good and practical advice here, and my experiences in taking up watercolor again 2 years ago reflect a lot of these observations. My observations after this time are as follows:
1. Read all you can about color theory and mixing (or not mixing pigments),
2. A block of good cotton paper in a moderate size will help to gradually extend your efforts to extend your brushstroke and pigment application range without making mistakes on a larger format and feeling bad for wasting paper. I really like the Fluid 100 line of paper in both hot and cold press. I shudder at the idea of a “divided” painting across the seam of those painting sketchbooks, where the flow of paint is broken.
3. Use a very hard pencil to draw in an elaborate subject’s outline so the proportions can be corrected before laying in paint. Corrections can be erased with a white vinyl eraser. Brush all the crumbs
away thoroughly. (This may not apply when using paint to sketch something).
4. Learn to use frisket sparingly to really block out items to be painted in later.
5. In a dry climate like mine, paint can dry really quickly and that brown, gummed tape usually will NOT hold a heavy paper down when it is being stretched. It dries out while still in the roll. I’m still working on this problem.
I use a mixture of pans and tubes with good name brands. When I started up again I bought the W-N 24 color pan set, which gave me a a lot of confidence, then went back and sorted out all of my old tubes and discarded some.
6. Good brushes are essential. My current favorite is the #7 Da Vinci Kolinski round for details and a #10 sable round for larger areas of paint.
7. Contemplate your subject, but don’t obsess! Turn over that awful, failed painting and practice your mixes on the reverse side. and keep them as a reminder of what not to do. Happy painting!
Thanks for generously sharing all the great tips, Susan!