Starting a new hobby in watercolor doesn’t need to be daunting. A few simple supplies and techniques are all you need to get started. The great thing about watercolor is that there are several price points available as you’re learning. You can get a great 36 color kit to get going and then expand your collection of colors easily by purchasing tubes, and drying them out into pans and creating your own customized set. When making the jump into professional grade tubes it’s a good idea to get a set with colors from a basic color wheel.
Windsor and Newton paints are a great place to start if you are looking for professional quality pigments. They are vibrant and bright, and worth the investment. My first picks are usually primary colors: Scarlet Lake, Lemon Yellow and Manganese Blue Hue. They work well for most people and are my most frequently used red, yellow, and blue. Building out from that set into some Secondary colors, I love Sap Green, Winsor Orange (Red Shade), and Cobalt Violet. Prussian Blue and Opera Rose are also great colors to add to your palette. There is a handy color wheel printable available here that you can fill in and use as a reference when you paint.
Creating a reference chart specific to your palette is always a good idea, and it’s a fun way to get started. Simply paint blobs onto a piece of watercolor paper to see what the colors from your palette actually look like on paper. Then keep it around while you are painting so it’s easy to remember exactly which color is which.
If you decide to purchase a budget friendly set, you may be happier prewetting your colors with a spray bottle filled with water. Sometimes the less expensive colors need more water to get the colors flowing and give you a real watercolor consistency, so don’t be afraid to add lots of water at first if your paints appear opaque. Watercolors should have a transparent quality to them, so to make a lighter color all you need to do it add more water.
Paper towels or an old terry cloth rag are great for blotting wet brushes. And scraps of paper to test your colors on are always a good idea to have around while you are learning the ins and outs of mixing your colors with a new palette.
Taping down your paper is a good idea to keep it flat as the paint dries. Watercolor paper likes to curl up and contort when it’s introduced to water. Using painters tape or masking tape usually works well. Make sure to leave it taped down until all the paint is completely dry. Flat paintings are much easier to frame and look more professional than a painting that is buckled from the water.
Round brushes are pretty versatile, but there are some nice budget friendly kits out now that come with a variety of shapes like this one from Ranger which includes both rounds and flats.
Setting up your workspace is another key to success. Please note that this is a left handed arrangement. Set up the paint and water to the opposite side of you are right handed. An “L” shape usually works best with your paper in front of you, palette to the side with a paper towel below, a scrap of paper for testing colors before placing them on your painting, and two cups of water above the palette. One for clean water and one for dirty water is a pretty standard arrangement.
Paper is another hugely important factor when it comes to watercolor. Arches cold press is an amazing surface to paint on; and an investment. Starting out with a pad of student grade paper to play around with and get comfortable painting on is a good idea at first. Strathmore makes a great student grade paper. Purchasing both is a great way to become familiar with the qualities of your paint, and how it reacts with the paper. If you are an intermediate painter, and had to choose between nicer pigments, or nicer paper, the paper would probably be the better investment.
Some great resources include Periscope (@nataliemalan), Snap Chat and Instagram for simple video tutorials and tips – nataliemalan.com and the Facebook page: Natalie Malan Studio are other great resources as well.
Master color principles and learn how to apply them with Mary Jane Begin.