How do I get started with watercolour?

Watercolour is a mesmerising, magical medium and you’d like to have a go. You feel the pull to be creative, but you just don’t know where to start. You feel overwhelmed and unsure, so you might just put it off.

Trust me, I’ve been there. And then I started painting one day, and I’ve never looked back! If you want to get started with painting watercolour, here are my top tips on watercolour basics to get going.

Get your supplies

It helps to get prepped! Here’s what you need:

If you already have these watercolour supplies then you’re all set! If not, you can pick these up at any art and craft store or online shop.

Don’t worry about having the ‘right’ supplies – just paint with whatever you’ve got! Lots of people put off starting because they don’t have the right paper/brush/exact paint colour someone else recommended. But the only way to start painting is to pick up a brush and give it a go!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the possible supplies and don’t know what to choose, download my free guide to watercolour supplies! It tells you what to look for, such as whether you’d prefer pans and tubes or what the difference is between hot and cold-pressed paper. Plus, I’ve included my full supply list covering everything I paint with every day.

best watercolor brushes

Paint what you fancy

Now’s the time to put paint to paper. The best way to start painting watercolour is to pick a subject you feel drawn to. If you want to paint flowers, paint flowers! If you’re drawn to sunsets or galaxies or unicorns or landscapes, paint those.

Some people feel they need to start with theory and colour wheels or practice painting human hands to learn how to sketch and shade – you don’t! Paint whatever tickles your fancy. It’s your creative time – spend it doing what you love.

Start small

My top tip for getting started with watercolour is to begin small! When I was learning to paint, I would start large paintings with multiple layers, lots of colour mixes and intricate details, and get stressed and overwhelmed two hours into the process, when it didn’t turn out like I wanted.

I found much more success with smaller pieces, doodles and five-minute paintings. Even just practising brush strokes is a good way to begin! I still use this to warm-up before launching into a bigger piece. If the empty white page has you paralysed, try cutting it into smaller pieces – it immediately seems less daunting.

Paint something abstract

A really easy exercise for watercolour beginners is to paint a bunch of shapes. Try painting a page full of circles, allowing them to touch and blend together. Or try squares, triangles, wavy lines – just make shapes and play around with the paints and the colours. Then you don’t need to worry about it resembling anything in particular.

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Paint what you see

If you want to get started with watercolour but find that your imagination doesn’t translate well to paper, it helps to stay grounded. Paint the objects around you – fruit, flowers, something in your home, a mug of coffee, your family members, the view from your window. Whatever you can see, just put that on the paper.

Use a tutorial

There are hundreds of watercolour tutorials online for you to learn to paint pretty much anything! Every subject, technique and style have plenty of tutorials to choose from. If you want free watercolour tutorials, look for step-by-step guides and video tutorials on YouTube, including my channel!

There are also hundreds of classes on Skillshare, which is an online learning platform that’s popular with artists. It has a fee, but you can get 2 months free with my affiliate link. If you don’t want to pay, do as many tutorials as you can in that time and then cancel the subscription.

Copy another artist

It is totally OK to copy work from another artist. It’s something that art students have been doing for centuries, and it’s a great way to learn exactly how the artist created a certain style or technique.

However, it’s important that you don’t copy work and post it online as your own creation, or try and sell it. Copying is for learning only. If you do want to post it online, make sure you clearly credit the artist who created it and make it clear that it’s a copy of their work.

painting-with-watercolours-getting-started-emily-wassell-artist

Keep an inspiration file

Does this sound familiar? Your head is full of ideas on what to paint. And then you sit down in front of the paper, and your mind goes totally blank! You can’t think of a single thing to paint. If you feel like that, you’re not alone.

Many artists keep an inspiration file for just this moment. It can be a physical file or online, and it just needs to contain anything and everything that you inspire. Save photos, leaves, scraps of paper, other artist’s work, feathers, scraps of coloured paper – anything that you like the look of. Make a mood board or Pinterest board to inspire you. I also write lists of things I want to paint, when I get a moment of inspiration but don’t have time to paint right there.

Let go of perfection

I hold my hands up to being a perfectionist, so I promise you I know exactly how you feel. Perfectionism is about placing unreasonable pressure on yourself. It means that you struggle to accept making mistakes, and put off doing anything that might be difficult or result in failure. It’s paralysing because it prevents you starting anything.

Watercolour isn’t the best medium for perfectionists and control-freaks! The unpredictable nature of working with water means that the results are not entirely under your control. It can actually really help you let go of expectations and take the pressure off yourself.

Remember that your painting doesn’t need to be perfect or a masterpiece – it just needs to be fun.

Making art is not about the finished piece, it’s about the process. Pick up your paintbrush and create something, without worrying about how it looks at the end.

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Stop comparing yourself!

Social media is full of people sharing their amazing work. And while this is inspiring, it can also be intimidating. But it’s so important not to compare yourself or feel discouraged. Remember that the work you see from others might be their hundredth painting, or their thousandth! It’s not fair to compare your first paintings to that. I promise you their first paintings looked just like yours!

Also, remember that people almost never post pictures of their failures or pieces that just didn’t work out. I have a MOUNTAIN of failed, ugly paintings that I never show on social media. Some days, I hate every single thing I paint. That is OK.

You should only compare your painting to a previous work from yesterday, last month, a year ago.

Just make a mess!

So many would-be painters feel paralysed, afraid to make a mistake, waste paper or create something ugly. But I have the perfect antidote for that – give yourself permission to make a mess! Splatter your paper, or get it wet and add blobs of paint at random.

Think like a child when they make art – they just make a mess and have fun. You can do that too, even as an adult. Then put your work on the fridge to display it, and come back tomorrow to paint again.

Get 2 FREE weeks of Skillshare access!

Want to try out Skillshare? Use my referral link to get your first 14 days for free, when you sign up! You can take any of the classes on the platform – there are hundreds available on any kind of watercolour topic or technique.

You simply need to click on the link below, make an account and start watching your first class! You have two months to try out the platform – if you don’t like it, you can cancel at any time during your trial period and you won’t be charged.