5 Beginner Watercolor Techniques
Dear Wonderful, Creative You:
Over the last year I’ve been playing with 5 beginner watercolor techniques that are relatively simple, and yet they give me room for so much play and discovery. I’m excited to share them with you.
Step 1: Start with a simple shape.
I’m a big fan of what I call “flexible structure.” It’s something that helps to organize your efforts, but there’s enough wiggle room for you to play without feeling hemmed in. Within your shape, you can experiment and see what results you enjoy. My favorite shapes seem always to always be round ones – circles, eggs, ovals, or rice shapes. My watercolor explorations this year have mostly been in circles and it’s taken me in all sorts of directions.
Step 2: Let the colors bleed.
Bleeding is one of the most fun techniques in watercolor. Try to use at least student grade watercolor paper – since cheap paper will buckle excessively and frustrate you. To create a bleed, wet the entirety of your shape with plain water so that it’s shiny, but not a pool of water. Then, saturate your brush with a color you love and touch it to the wet part of the page. Watch it spread and bloom, or “bleed.” Play with doing this just once, or several times. This is one of my favorite mindful art activities. I touch the brush to the page and watch how water and paint interact. Take your time, and enjoy observing the paint move.
Step 3: Paint In Layers.
There’s so much you can do by layering watercolor, both when it’s wet, and when it’s dry. Experiment with several shapes at the same time so you can see the effects of different approaches. On your palette, try mixing your original color with some blue or red. You will now have a new color. Load your brush with this new color. Touch this deeper color to the wet shape without overlapping the first color. See how this new bleed of color impacts what is already on the page. Try this again later, but on one of your dry circles as well.
Step 4: Play With Concentric Shapes
Play with nesting your shape within itself. I’m using concentric circles, but you might use nested boxes, or triangles, or pumpkins. There’s no right or wrong, and the truth is that there’s an amazing piece of art waiting to be made from any variation you can invent. It’s a matter of you committing to give yourself the time, permission, and supplies to play and find joy in this adventure of creating.
Step 5: Make a lot of the same thing with tiny variations.
When I started these circles in March of this year, they were more amorphous circular shapes nested within each other. Then they turned into mussel shells, then back into nested circles, and then into magical little orbs. I’ve given myself complete permission to play, without needing to know what they are “for” or whether they are “good enough.” They just are. They are my art, and they deserve time and space to come into being and evolve.
I find it’s really important to give myself as much permission to play as possible. That’s how I develop my best skills and work, but it’s also how I find the most joy, and that’s what keeps me coming back to my art table again and again. And that’s the point after all, isn’t it? To find joy in this process of creativity?
If this sounds like a lot of fun and you’d like some more guidance in a class, you’ll love our upcoming live workshop: Magic + Mist, Thursday November 9th. You can learn more here:
I’d love to hear about the watercolor techniques you most enjoy. Tell us about it in the comments.
Join my newsletter for weekly inspiration, workshops, and ways to connect to nature through art.