Here are some watercolor painting ideas for anyone who wants to learn more about watercolor painting. These watercolor painting tutorials are similar to those I use in my online watercolor classes. Each tutorial links to reference photos and instructions for a selection of watercolor painting tutorials and simple paintings. Easy watercolor painting is a relative term – frankly painting is hard. But hard doesn’t mean the learning process isn’t enjoyable, rewarding and interesting. Far from it. I’ve been painting for a while and each step has been as satisfying as the last. You won’t regret it!
The tutorials go through some simple watercolor techniques that will set you up for the full paintings. These include how to see and mix colors and how to mix the right values (lights and darks). Some tutorials include information on different methods like the wet in wet technique and washes. If you gain some of those skills you’ll be well on your way to create beautiful paintings with your watercolors.
I use the same materials in all demos and describe what I like to use on my materials page. All you really need is a brush, some watercolor paper and a few paint colors. And of course some water! Enough of the talk – let’s make some great watercolor art!
Step by step watercolor still life tutorial with bonus color matching exercise.
A step-by-step painting of a pink carnation watercolor with color matching and value tips.
A simple setup to practice identifying values and colors. Some tips and a method to see color more accurately.
Learning how paint consistency affects values and painting white cubes on a gray background.
Use color matching techniques to create a realistic watercolor apple and pear.
Instructions and video to paint this loose watercolor red cardinal
Another loose watercolor bird complete with video.
Using value scale and color isolator to paint a simple barn watercolor
Looks complicated but taking things step by step makes this fabulous painting achievable.
Watercolor Painting Tutorials: Getting Started – What You Need
You don’t need very much to get started in watercolor. You need some watercolor paint, watercolor paper and a brush and a palette. Oh and a pencil but I’m sure you have many of those around the house somewhere.
In my full materials list I strongly suggest you buy the good quality watercolor paper. The best stuff is 100% cotton and it’s not cheap. But for under $20 you can get one of these – the Fabriano Artistico watercolor ‘fat’ pad. It’s only 20% cotton but is fantastic value and will get you started. I always have one of these around the studio for sketches and studies and it lasts me a year.
As for watercolor paint there are a lot of options. I wouldn’t recommend starting with the kids cake colors like these. However, they’re not bad and you can produce some good work with them. If that’s all you have the budget for or you’re just trying watercolor out then go ahead.
If you’ve got a little more budget this Lukas Studio student set is the one I would go for. It’s under $25 and contains all the colors you need for pretty much any painting. You don’t need 50 colors, a set of 8 or 9 is plenty. I’ve road-tested these ones and they’re all good quality, mix well and look good on the paper.
Buying the right watercolor brush can be a minefield. The best ones are made of Kolinsky sable and are eye-wateringly expensive. Don’t go there until you’re sure you want to continue seriously (and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t 🙂
Very Cheap Brushes are Useless
The brushes that come with paint sets are generally useless. They are usually far too small, will just frustrate you and shed hairs everywhere. Also don’t be seduced by a ‘student’ set of 20 brushes costing $5 from Michaels or similar. I tried some of these once and never again. The hairs are all uneven and clump together, half the bristles will come out on the paper and the other half when you wash them out. It will make painting 10 times as hard as it needs to be.
And you don’t need a lot of brushes. I paint almost every day and 90% of the time I use one brush. If I’ve got 3 brushes on the go it’s unusual. Now that’s not to say I don’t possess a lot of brushes. I probably have a couple of hundred that I’ve amassed over the years. And I bought each and every one with the thought that ‘This time this is the brush will make me paint better’. It won’t. Save your money.
Which Watercolor Brush Should you Buy?
So which brush should you buy? It should be a size 10 or 12 round (nothing smaller – it just makes you dab, dab, dab which never makes a good painting). It should hold a good amount of water and come to a good point. If I were to suggest a single brush this is the one.
It’s called a Silver Black Velvet brush and is made from a combination of synthetic and squirrel hair. It’s not the cheapest one on the market but it handles well and I sometimes favor it over my more expensive sables.
If you absolutely can’t stretch to $20 for a brush then the most important thing is to not skimp on size. Those teeny tiny brushes with a few hairs in (they often come in painting sets) are useless. Don’t buy anything smaller than a 10. This Blick Golden Taklon round is a good budget buy.
My everyday palette is a hand-made enamelled brass palette that cost more than my first car. It’s a beautiful thing and I enjoy using it but does it make me paint better? No. I don’t ‘need’ it but I like it. Don’t buy one of these. The only thing you really need is a non-porous white surface where you can mix your colors. A white plate will do. The only essential properties are that it is white and has space to move your brush around. A lot of people use butcher trays which have a lot of room to mix and have a lip to stop the paint falling off. The one thing they don’t have is a set of wells to squeeze your paint into.
I like to squeeze a good amount of paint out and just top it up when I need to. I can keep it moist from one day to the next by putting a piece of damp paper towel on top and closing the lid. This stops the paint from drying out and there’s no waste. You can do this with the cheapest folding palette here. But a plate will do.
And that’s it. Paper, paint, brush, palette. Oh and a pencil and a jar to put your water in.
Other Things You Don’t Need
If you browse around any online or physical art store you can see an endless range of ‘essential’ things that promise to make you paint better. Most of these aren’t any use. Doesn’t mean I haven’t bought most of them at some point though. These include:
- special palettes with folding wings
- oddly shaped brushes that will ‘transform your painting’
- fancy sketchbooks with little pockets for something or other
- viewfinders with slidey out bits
- colored bits of plastic to look through
- brush holders
- little things to hold pencils (actually they can be useful but certainly not essential)
- battery powered erasers and pencil sharpeners
- goo to add texture or granulation to your paint
- plastic tube wringers
- color wheels (again with slidey bits)
- color charts
- boxes to hold pencils that take up 100 times more room than a pencil
- miniature ‘travel’ palettes with no space to mix
- brush sets all made up of teeny tiny brushes with 3 hairs in
- wooden manikins that look nothing like the human body
- water pots with multiple divided sections
- porcelain doodads to rest your brushes on
- ‘how to paint’ DVDs by people who plainly can’t paint
Other Things you Might Need
- Masking tape for taping your paper down. Hardware store – the Art shop stuff costs 5 times as much and does the same job. I buy them in packs of 12.
- Mechanical pencil. I like these but they’re a convenience.
- Kneaded eraser. Not essential but some people say the normal ones can leave a residue. Haven’t noticed it myself though.
- Masking Fluid. My painting techniques almost never call for this and I don’t enjoy using it. But once in a blue moon it comes in useful.
- Value Scale. Now I use this a lot. Used to pooh-pooh these but they’re a great learning tool.
- Color isolator (5″x3″ piece of gray card with a 1/2″ square cut out). See the value scale comments.
- Paper towels. I suppose these are essential but I assume you have these anyway.
How Should I Start? Best Watercolor Tutorials for Beginners
Each of these free watercolor tutorials demonstrates a different subject using a variety of watercolor techniques. If you’re looking for tutorials in watercolor painting for beginners these four are the best place to start.
1. Value Scales and Mixing
If you’re an absolute beginner to painting watercolors the accurate value mixing tutorial is a great way to build your skills. Mixing value (light and dark) in watercolor is used all the time and is a skill often neglected in classes. And that’s a shame as it’s so useful and so easy to improve. I won’t go as far as to say it will make watercolor painting easy but it will definitely give you a big leg up. 10 minutes a day for a week can make a huge difference. Of all the different techniques used in watercolor painting this one is the most important.
2. Color Mixing and Matching
Building on the value matching tutorial is the color matching one. This takes us from value to color and uses the color isolator to really show us how badly we can perceive color. After the value tutorial this is the best watercolor tutorial for beginners. When you’re starting to paint watercolors it can be hard to know where you’re going wrong. This tutorial shows us exactly how our eyes deceive us and how to remedy it.
3. Simple Watercolor Painting Tutorials – Still Life
If you’re looking for easy watercolor still life I would suggest starting with the apple and pear. It’s a step by step tutorial and takes you through the drawing, identifying and mixing the colors, and building up the finished painting in layers. It’s a full tutorial in the fundamentals and, even though the subject isn’t complicated, really covers a lot of watercolor basics used in every other painting. And it’s fun! I often use a simple still life in my classes and everyone comes out with a really good painting at the end.
4. Simple Watercolor Tutorial – Landscape
For more practice in values the barn watercolor landscape tutorial is a good next step. This builds on both the value tutorial and the color tutorial. It combines both and leads you through a full barn painting.
Next Steps – Intermediate Painting in Watercolors
1. Flower Painting – Carnation
I’m not going to beat around the bush here – if you’re interested in painting watercolour flowers – they are hard! They’re great to paint but it’s easy to get lost and end up with a load of pink splodges. The carnation tutorial was designed to introduce people to an easy way to paint flowers.
2. Loose Watercolor Painting – Birds
Birds are a great subject to paint with watercolors. The cardinal and the toucan tutorials are both painted in a very loose style. It’s a fabulous technique and one of my favorites but, in my opinion, not difficult to learn and execute. If you’re looking for new ideas for painting a watercolor both of these are worth a look.
Watercolor Painting Tutorials – Final Thoughts
In addition to the tutorials on this page there are many more on my youtube channel which I would love you to subscribe to. These youtube watercolor tutorials are all full-length real-time painting sessions showing you warts and all how my paintings are put together. Please have a look and subscribe for updates.
And the main thing is that I really hope you have fun when you paint with watercolor. It’s constantly rewarding, frustrating, satisfying and absorbing. When you paint with watercolors it’s never dull and I’ve never regretted taking it up. And one day I might get good at it!
And if you try any of these tutorials please let me know. I’m constantly adding more and improving what’s there and I really want these to be useful.