Watercolours – that looks easy!

A day away from work relaxing with a set of watercolours sounded like a great idea for my feed. I had done a bit of acrylic painting but hadn't done any watercolour before, not that I can remember anyway.


Tools of the trade

Brushes – As it turned out you need a good selection of brushes if you want to do things properly, it’s quite daunting how many different types there are and each with their own use and merit.  When doing my research I noted a debate about whether natural brushes rule over synthetic brushes. As a beginner on a budget I went for the synthetic brushes buying a starter pack of basic brushes which as the pack told me was all I would need a beginner (at this stage that’s exactly what I was). As it turns out synthetic brushes tend to hold their shape better and don’t absorb as much water as a natural brush giving you more control (can’t be sure of that as I never used a natural brush though).


Paints – Just add water! There is the customary watercolour set that has the swatch circular colours that are dry and you just add water – pretty sure that everyone has had a go at one time or another during their childhood. Although I was a beginner I saw myself needing to step up a bit so I went for the tube water colours which I thought was a bit more exciting and also easier for mixing. At least I thought so. As for the colours it was recommended that as a beginner your palette should ‘balance warm colours with cool’. Some of the colours suggested for a beginner’s pallet had ridiculous names like Hooker’s Green and Vandyke Brown. In total it was suggested that I start with 10 colours each with unique names. I would say that as a beginner who is likely to carry on and do watercolours regularly, go for it. I however knew that I could make up any colour with red, blue, yellow. There I have revealed my secret which I have kept since I was 4! It might take you a while to get the colour right that you want but if your are stuck without the beginners pallet of 10, it’s not the end of the world. On my way out I spotted some watercolour pencils which I thought I would give a go as well. Not really used by purists and you don’t really get the same finish but I wanted to give them a go as well.


Paper – Being involved in print for more years than I can remember I know that the variety of paper stock on the market is phenomenal, there is a stock for every occasion. Not quite the same variety in watercolour paper and as I was still a beginner, for the rest of the day at least, I went for a watercolour pad containing cold press paper which has a slightly bumpy texture. I did read that if you are using loose sheets they should be at least 300gsm otherwise they will start to curl. This did happen on a few sheets where I applied too much water. Hardcore watercolour specialists will stretch their paper. This basically involves you soaking your sheet of paper in a bathtub for about 5 -10 minutes, placing it on a hard board and use the gum tape to stick it down. Leave it to dry and paint away. No need to worry about how wet your paints are then.

Other bits –  A waterpot, kitchen roll (great for spills, picking paint up off the page if you’re over zealous and can also create textures by dabbing onto the wet paint), a palette (I used a frisbee found at home, the joy of having children around) and a hairdryer, something I very rarely use! This isn’t essential but can speed things up! If you do use the hairdryer it does change the result, ideally you’ll have loads of time on your hands and allow the paint to dry on it’s own.


Preparation, preparation, preparation!

The first thing I thought I would do was to watch a few tutorials, it’s only watercolours after all and can’t be that hard. This is where I experienced my first decision for the day, which tutorial to watch. There were so many, each with their own style and technique and, depending on the chosen subject matter and nationality, they were different again. So, I decided I would spend the next couple of hours watching a variety of styles and techniques and give it a go as I went along.

WOW! Back to my comment about ‘how hard could it be?’… easy to slap paint on the paper not so easy to get a ‘watercolour’ result. Unlike other medium where you can change and redo things as you go along, basically with watercolours you need to plan it out and whatever marks you make are there for good.  There are ways of ‘removing’ mistakes but it needs to be done quickly and you can never really undo what you did totally. What I mean by that is you will never get back to the white paper look.


Choose your subject matter – This is kind of important. When embarking on doing a watercolour you need something to paint. To start with I just practiced brush strokes, with lots of water, with less water, with a dry brush, sponge, you name it I gave it a go and it was loads of fun. None of it looked like it did in the tutorials (apart from some of the colours) but hey ho it’s all about the experience.


I won’t go into all of the different techniques to use but basically each one gives you a different result. In summary you can use wet-on-wet which is what is says, applying wet paint to a wet background. You do lose a bit of control and you need to do things quickly using this technique but you can get some great results. Next one up is wet-on-dry which, yes you guessed it, is wet paint on dry paper. You have more control and are able to have a sharp edge. The last one is dry brush which is great for adding detail. Your brush needs to be just wet enough to take on the paint and gives you loads of control.


One thing I should point out is that if you are mixing your colours as you go, if you ever need to cover a large area of paper with a wash, it’s better to mix too much than too little. The last thing you want to do is run out and have to mix that crazy colour that you created. Guaranteed it won’t be the same second time round.


Right taking my ‘skills’ that I had picked up from the various tutorials I then did a few small scale ‘field studies’ (that’s painter speak for initial paintings before the main one is attempted). Apart from a few landscapes and some really random stuff I settled on fruit and chose to do an apple for my final piece. The one above was done with the watercolour pencil crayons and then you paint over it with a wet brush. Below is a step by step of my apple. This was done over the course of a few hours as this technique required you to let each colour or application onto the paper to dry before applying the next layer.

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So in summary you need all the gear, time, patience and somewhere to hang your masterpiece. I’m definitely going to give it another go but won’t be putting my hand up the next time we require a watercolour specialist. If you are one of those individuals drop us a line as it’s always good to have a wealth of talent on the books.


Venn Creative, 59-61 Killigrew Street, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 3PF

01326 377 105 | [email protected]