Watercolour paints are both rewarding and versatile. However, unlike some other mediums, they can be challenging to work with if you’re just starting out. The delicacy of watercolour paints will give your artworks a rare beauty – but that delicacy may test you at this stage of your painting career. Don’t let that put you off. Watercolours are worth persevering with and these hacks will smooth out any potential frustrations.
- Test your colours. Most paint mediums create an opaque layer on your painting surface, but watercolour is translucent. That can make it difficult to mix realistic colours on the palette so it’s always a good idea to keep a sheet of paper handy so you can test colours prior to committing to the finished piece.
- Use the best paper you can afford. Realism in watercolour pieces generally requires finely detailed work, and this is best done on smooth and high-quality paper stock. Meanwhile, thicker paper can better absorb paint and reduce warping. Many a watercolour artist will tell you that you can skimp a little on paints and brushes at this point in your painting career – but always invest in the best paper you can afford.
- Get perspectives and proportions right from the start by doing a preparatory drawing called an ‘underdrawing’. Don’t be too heavy-handed during this process; if you’ve finished your painting and still see marks showing through from your underdrawing, the realistic qualities of your artwork are undermined. So, when it comes to your underdrawing use a light touch as well as a light pencil.
- Get the water ratio right. Too much water may leave you with colours that are too light and it can also make the paint spread more, leading to colours mixing and becoming muddy. On the other hand, too little water results in thick colours that won’t flow or lay down properly, or will cause visibly streaky brush strokes. To a large degree, the amount of water you use depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Large washes require more water, while detailed areas need less.
- Make a colour swatch of each colour on a sheet of paper. This allows you to easily see just what you’re dealing with, making it much easier to select the most appropriate colour for the particular area you’re working on.
- Never use ‘straight’ black in realistic watercolours. This is a tip commonly shared by experienced watercolour painters. Straight black looks sterile and unrealistic and when you look at realistic works, you’ll see that details like shadows are not ‘straight’ black anyway. It’s always best to mix black with red, blue and green to give the tone the required warm and cool characteristics.
- Always mix more paint than you’ll think you’ll need. If you run out of a colour, it can be very difficult to mix the exact same shade again and that will be reflected in the inconsistency of your work, so it’s better to have too much paint than not enough.
- Work from light to dark. That means you lay down your light colours first and work through the spectrum towards the darker colours. Due to the transparency of watercolour paints, your light colours won’t show if they’re covered up by dark colours. Also, keep in mind the white and light areas of your painting are coming from the paper, so make a plan and work out which areas you want to keep white. Masking fluid is the best way to reserve areas of white on your painting.
- Wait until each layer is dry. If you want to add new layers of colour and details over the top of the base you’ve laid down, make sure the layer underneath is dry. If it isn’t, colours will run into one another and you won’t have defined edges and shapes. You need to be patient at this point however you can speed things up by using a hairdryer over the surface of the painting. Make sure it is at its lowest and coolest setting, and sweep it evenly over the surface of the painting from a distance of 25 to 30 centimetres. Having said all that, there’s nothing better than slow and natural drying, so your patience will be rewarded.
- Once you’ve finished a piece of work, you may notice that the paper has warped. In this case, VERY LIGHTLY spray the back of the painting with a spritz of water. Be very careful and make sure water doesn’t get to the front side. Place it on a flat surface between two sheets of white copy paper and put some large heavy books on top of it and leave for a few hours or overnight. If the painting is still a bit damp, replace the copy paper with dry sheets, and leave it under the books again for several hours. The better the paper you use, the less chance there is of warping.
These hacks will give you a great headstart as you embark into the wonderful world of watercolour. It really is worth following these tips and investing in the best materials from a reputable arts and craft supplier. You’ll be rewarded with works of delicate beauty that watercolour paints are renowned for.