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. Watercolor is so much about freedom and play for me – and I love sharing with students and folks in my membership, about the key techniques that make all that freedom possible.

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, and while it takes a bit of practice, it’s definitely a beginner friendly watercolor technique. 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.

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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?

I’d love to hear about the watercolor techniques you most enjoy. Tell us about it in the comments.

Creatively Yours,

Amy

9 Comments

  1. Susan

    Thank you so much for this, Amy.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      I’m so glad it spoke to you, Susan! xo

      Reply
  2. Tracey Pate

    Excited to try some of these ideas. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      HI Tracey: Oh I’m so excited that you’ll be digging in! xo

      Reply
  3. Barbara

    Amy – thank you so much for sharing these techniques – they have been perfect for me right now as I was despairing about how to create art since I broke my right wrist (of dominant hand) four weeks ago and am now recovering from surgery. I was only able to paint/write with my left hand until about a week ago and your “simple” techniques were exactly the inspiration I needed to pick up a brush in my left hand and see where it would lead! I am now experimenting with painting with both hands and loving the different directions it’s taken me. Thank you for providing such food for positive thought in your art and all you do through your work!

    Reply
    • Amy Maricle

      Oh Barbara, this is so exciting to hear. Well done getting creative with different ways to make art. That’s the thing, when we don’t let anything stand in the way, there’s always a pathway for our creativity.
      Well done!

      Reply
  4. Catherine

    Amy, thank you so much for not only sharing your tips but showing your process and many examples. This is both helpful and inspiring. One of my current goals is to get past my fear of using watercolors and this is just what I need right now!

    Reply
  5. Ann

    I will soon be 81 and have developed a condition that sends me into dizzy spells and auras where I don’t know what is happening. Much like swinging from the ceiling with a rope. I think some of this art will relax me.

    Reply

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