Watercolor Painting for Noobs: Getting Started

Last week we set up our tool set. This week, we're jumping in to downright watercolor exploration!

1) Stretching Paper

Alright, so I may have overlooked something in your tool set last week. If you have a paper that is less than 300 lb weight, you're going to need to stretch it. Because I almost exclusively use 300 lb paper, I missed this.

To stretch your paper, you're going to need painters' tape. You can pick this up at any hardware store near you. I highly recommend Frog Tape. This is the only tape I'll use when stretching paper. It won't leak and it won't rip or tear your paper when you pick it up at the end of your work.

I also recommend using a T square ruler to make sure all of your borders are straight and even when taping. I just use a cheap, plastic whosit-whatsit and it works just fine.

1. Lay your paper flat on some paper towels. Sometimes dampening the painting side of the paper will buckle the surface. Paper towels will also absorb any excess water that seeps through the fibers.

2. Wet a broad brush and lightly wet the back of the paper. Flip it over and remove the paper towels.

3. Use your tape (Frog Tape!) and your T square to tape the paper down.

4. Wait for it to dry!

2) To Pencil Sketch or Not to Pencil Sketch

Yes, an age old question. Hm. Quite.

A traditionalist would tell you, "Why no! Of course you cannot! Harumph, harumph." (The harumphs are really important here.)

I'm going to tell you to do whatever you feel comfortable with. I always sketch out my work before I start painting. I plan out every last detail before I start working; the composition, the elements, the color palette I will be using. There's no shame in planning.

However, I will caution you. If you plan on sketching out your work first, make sure your pencil lines are nice and light and that they are clean before you start laying down pigment. Once that first wash of paint is down, you can't use a gummy eraser to pick up or erase any pencil lines.

Here is an example of one of my pieces stretched and penciled and nearly ready for paint. And, honestly, I did this one about two years ago now and the pencil lines should have been much lighter in the initial sketch.

If loosey goosey is your thing and you want to give it a go without sketching in your work first, go for it! It's your work, so you get to be the boss.

3) Wet on Wet vs. Wet on Dry Techniques

Wet on wet techniques versus wet on dry techniques give a very different look. You can use one or both in any work. I generally use wet on wet for laying in initial washes or for under painting and then move to wet on dry for detail work.

Steve Mitchell explains and demonstrates wet on wet techniques better than I can in the video below. Follow and subscribe to his channel, The Mind of Watercolor, for more awesome content. He is a talented artist and illustrator and his videos are powerful resources.

Kelogsloops. This guy's work is gorgeous. His tutorials are thorough and concise. I highly recommend subscribing to his channel and checking out his work. In the two videos below, he demonstrates both wet on wet and wet on dry techniques. Trying your hand at them before jumping into creating your first full watercolor painting might be wise.

4) Working Light to Dark

The last pointer I want to give you before you jump into your explorations is to work light to dark. This is critical because with watercolors, you can always go darker, you can never go lighter.

So, even if you are planning on painting by the seat of your pants, some planning is required due to identifying your lightest areas vs. your darkest areas and building up the values layer by layer. Patience is key here, Padawan.

My process for working light to dark is illustrated in my Instagram feed. This piece, for example, I worked up from the pencil sketch, laying in light initial washes and gradually darkening my values where necessary.

Artist Kirsty Partridge describes her process for working light to dark in the video below. Another talented artist you should follow. Subscribe to her channel, and study her work.

That's it, watercolor explorers! Put these pointers and resources to good use and embark on your journey!

What? You thought you were going to make it out of here without a LotR or XWP gif? You're funny.

As always, I'm available through Instagram direct messenger to answer any of your art-related questions!

#watercolorpainting #watercolor #watercolortutorial

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