Free Just For You: HOW-TO Watercolour Painting Steps

Before we begin learning the basics of watercolour here is a BASIC supply list – enough to get you completely underway:


  • #6 and  #8 or #10 round soft (synthetic or natural) brush
  • 2 inch flat soft (synthetic or natural) wash brush for painting and creating wet surface for stretching paper
  • 3/4″ to 1″ flat soft (synthetic or natural) brush
  • #2 to #6 synthetic rigger brush


– large white surfaces such as old dinner plates or styrofoam trays are handy for big washes

– any professional watercolour palette is suitable providing it has large wells to hold a lot of paint

Paper: 100% Rag Cotton paper is highly recommended. Poor quality paper = poor quality results.

– approx. 12 x 16 or bigger watercolour sheets, blocks and tablets are suitable

Watercolour paint: Artist’s quality is recommended  – ALL YOU NEED IS 3 PRIMARIES
ie: French Ultramarine BLUE, Alizarin Crimson RED, “Winsor” or “Transparent” or “New Gamboge” YELLOW

The following list is generally demonstrated because of the handling qualities of the pigments:

– Winsor Blue or Prussian Blue or Antwerp Blue (all three are in the

“green shade” of blues); French Ultramarine Blue

– New Gamboge Yellow or Transparent Yellow or Winsor Yellow; Cadmium Yellow

– Alizarin Crimson; Cadmium Red

“Sometimes” list: Permanent RoseBurnt siennaRaw Sienna; white gouache (such as “Dr. Martin’s Bleed Proof White”)


– thin boards or supports suitable for “stretching” paper on and storing works in progress

– one or two spray bottles – one that can apply a fine mist, one that can create “droplets” as long as the drops

aren’t too large

– wide masking tape or bull-dog clips for securing paper to support

– 4B or 6B, HB graphite pencils

– sketch book

– salt (preferably fine sea salt)

– hair dryer

– vinyl & soft kneaded eraser

– low and wide water bucket

– paper towel

Let’s take a look at a demo:

We can break down the process by learning the basic drills or procedures. All of the drills are self-explanatory:
-“Wet in wet” is simply wet paint applied to wet paper
– Gradation is a colour wash starting at the top of the tilted paper. Working the “bead” of wash back and forth down the page creates a gradation of dark to light. This can be applied to a wet surface or dry.
– Lifting is simply lifting off wet or dry paint with a clean “thirsty” brush.
– Glazing is applying translucent washes on top of dry painted areas. Repeated glazes can be achieved by allowing each layer to dry first.
– Wet on dry or “drybrush” is paint applied to dry paper.
– Masking (Friskit, maskit, drawing gum) can be applied to unpainted areas with a synthetic brush to preserve areas as the white of the paper. These areas can then be painted in detail later or left white.
– Sponge effects and spattering can be achieved with a seas sponge, tapping the brush to release droplets, scraping areas with a palette knife, etc.

Through practice we can develop a sensitivity to the amount of pigment in the brush and the wetness of the paper. A helpful way is to think of the mixtures of paint in your palette like various consistencies of milk products ie: thin pale washes = 1% milk consistency; darker washes = milk and cream consistencies; almost opaque and dense washes = yogurt consistencies. The timing of when to apply the consistencies can create wonderful effects and leave you in more control of how they’ll turn out.

As we progress, we learn that some pigments spread quicker, some slower, some are more transparent and some are opaque. Generally it is a good idea to learn from the product colour charts what the characteristics are. It is advised not to mix more than 2 or 3 opaques together as they can become flat and mud-like. Limiting our palette yields remarkable results as well. Try working with only 3 primaries and discover the secrets to keeping your painting unified and “singing” with colour.

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