7 Watercolor Tips for Beginners

Watercolor is an expressive, translucent, and totally unique medium - completely different from other paints.  But there's this perception of watercolor as a difficult and unforgiving medium. A lot of people are reluctant to get started because they're intimidated and worried it will be too difficult to master. But watercolors don't have to be hard! I've put together a list of 7 tips for the budding watercolor artist to help jumpstart your watercolor journey: 

1. Warm Up
A blank sheet of paper can be pretty intimidating, even for the most seasoned painters.  It can help to start out with some warm up exercises or even just doodle. Start by painting some basic shapes. Experiment with different amounts of paint vs water, play around with different brush strokes, and test out a couple painting techniques.

Painting squiggles and shapes with watercolor paints

2. Work Light to Dark
Because watercolor is a transparent medium, it’s important to paint your lighter colors first, then move toward the darker colors. If you lay down your dark colors first, the lighter ones won’t show through. 
The white areas and highlights in your painting will come from the white paper, so remember to leave those areas blank so the paper shows.

watercolor paint pallet with small painting of pumpkins and pumpkin pie

3. Plan Ahead
Watercolor requires a bit of planning. As I mentioned above you’ll need to start with your lightest layers first and then work toward the darkest colors. Before you jump right into your painting, take a minute to think about this and form a loose plan. 

4. Take Care of Your Brushes
When you’re done painting, rinse your brushes with a small amount of mild soap and running water. Reshape the tip of the brush using your fingers, and lay them flat to dry. After they’re dry, you can store them flat or upright on their handles (not on their bristles). NEVER (I’m serious, never ever)  leave your brushes sitting in water. 

paint brush sitting in water with an "X" over it

5. Keep Your Paint Water Clean
Swap out the water in your water cup once it starts looking muddy. Dirty water can make your colors look dull. I recommend having a pretty big cup/jar/jug of water so that you don't have to swap out the water as often. 

6. Don’t Drink the Paint Water
While we're on the topic of paint water... don't drink it. I know this sounds pretty obvious (and silly) but keep your drinking cup and your paint water cup far away from each other. 

7. No Rules!
Experiment, practice, get to know your materials, and have fun - there are no rules! The more “mistakes” you make, the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll get. 

hand dipping paintbrush into watercolor paint pan