Watercolor painting is one of the most popular art forms because it’s fun, it’s affordable, and its techniques are accessible to beginners and experienced artists alike. 

If you’ve never used this medium, however, you may be wondering how to paint watercolor and where to find basic watercolor painting tips and ideas. We’ve compiled a guide to help you learn how to watercolor paint, along with some pro artist tips and watercolor ideas!

Watercolor painting can take you in almost any creative direction!
Watercolor painting can take you in almost any creative direction!

5 Steps to Watercolor Painting

Though it’s tempting to dig right in, there’s some prep work to complete before you begin watercolor painting. These steps will ensure that your journey of learning how to watercolor paint is smooth and successful!

Step 1: What You’ll Need to Start Watercoloring

One of the best things about learning how to use watercolor paint is that you don’t need many materials. In addition to plain water, you’ll need the following: 

  • Watercolor Paints
Popular art retailers such as Winsor & Newton offer watercolor sets to take the guesswork out of paint buying.
Popular art retailers such as Winsor & Newton offer watercolor sets to take the guesswork out of paint buying.

There are enumerable styles and brands of watercolor paints, and you can purchase them both in sets and as individual paint pots. To keep things simple for beginners, choose a comprehensive set. You can move on to building your own palette as your skills improve. 

  • Watercolor Brushes
Consider basic brush anatomy to help you understand the nuances of watercolor brushes and their uses.
Consider basic brush anatomy to help you understand the nuances of watercolor brushes and their uses.

Watercolor brushes are unique in that each brush creates a different effect. If you’re a beginner and still learning how to paint with watercolor, you won’t need an extensive set—the basics will do—but you may choose to expand your collection as you continue your creative work in watercolor. 

  • Watercolor Paper
Watercolor paper doesn’t need to be fancy to render a beautiful result.
Watercolor paper doesn’t need to be fancy to render a beautiful result.

Watercolor paint is, well, wet, so you need a specific type of paper to protect your work. When you’re just starting out, opt for basic watercolor painting paper. As you develop your watercolor technique, you may consider paper stretching to help your paint more cohesively adapt to the painting surface. 

  • Board and Tape (Optional)
Some watercolor artists tape their painting surface to a board or other flat surface to keep it from moving as they paint. 
Some watercolor artists tape their painting surface to a board or other flat surface to keep it from moving as they paint. 

Many artists like taping their watercolor paper to a board or other hard surfaces to keep it in place as they work. Your board doesn’t need to be anything special, just a flat surface, and you can use professional painters tape or masking tape to affix the edges of your watercolor paper to the board. 

Step 2: Set Up Your Watercolor Painting Workspace

However you choose to set up your watercolor work space, ensure that your surfaces are protected and you have plenty of space to create. 
However you choose to set up your watercolor work space, ensure that your surfaces are protected and you have plenty of space to create. 

Now that you have your watercolor painting materials on hand, you can set up your creative workspace! Find a space that can accommodate your materials and allows you to place your water someplace where it won’t accidentally be spilled on your work. 

If you don’t use a board, you may also consider putting newspaper or paper towels under your work area to protect any underlying surfaces. 

Step 3: Create Color References

Color references help watercolor artists gain familiarity with their paints and brushes, which is useful for understanding and planning!
Color references help watercolor artists gain familiarity with their paints and brushes, which is useful for understanding and planning!

One of the best ways to develop your color theory and mixing skills as well as your brush technique is to create color swatches (or even a color chart or wheel). You can lean on your chart when you are considering watercolor ideas or planning new projects. 

To set up a basic watercolor painting color chart, begin with water, a piece of watercolor paper, and your watercolor palette. On the left side of the paper, moving vertically, list the names of each color in your palette. Duplicate your list across the bottom of your paper, moving horizontally from left to right. Then, use your watercolor paints and brushes to fill in the “grid” by matching up the colors and mixing them together according to your labels. 

Step 4: Warm Up and Practice

Try something new, like resist technique, as a practice exercise for watercolor painting!
Try something new, like resist technique, as a practice exercise for watercolor painting!

The next step in starting watercolor painting is to try warm-up methods and exercises to develop your painting skills. Practice exercises can include anything from sketching for your watercolor paintings to color mixing work or new brush techniques

There is no right or wrong answer for how to paint with watercolor when you’re just warming up. As long as what you’re doing is helping you to feel creative and connected to the process, you’re right on track. 

Step 5: Choose a Watercolor Project

Start with projects that cater to all skill levels and that offer guided instruction to help you follow along. 
Start with projects that cater to all skill levels and that offer guided instruction to help you follow along. 

Now for the real fun—it’s time to choose a watercolor painting project! Even if you’re still wading through the waters of watercolor for beginners, choose a project that’s in alignment with your interests or how you identify as a watercolor artist, which will only support your creative growth! Maybe you have a strength that you want to highlight or an area of opportunity that you can work on developing through your project. 

Pay special attention to classes and projects that are offered for all skill levels and that include guided instructions for how to use watercolor paint to help accelerate your skills. 

Watercolor Tips

Watercolor painting is heralded for being one of the most enjoyable types of art, but it can also be challenging. If you need some tips to tuck into your watercolor painting toolbox, look no further!

1. Dedicate Time for Watercolor Painting

Prioritize time for your watercolor art!
Prioritize time for your watercolor art!

First, ensure that you plan time to spend honing your craft. Whether you work creative time into your personal schedule or sign up classes to keep yourself accountable, practicing regularly will help you truly progress.

2. Measure Progress Regularly

A great way to measure your progress is by digitizing your art so that you can find time to assess your portfolio anywhere you go!
A great way to measure your progress is by digitizing your art so that you can find time to assess your portfolio anywhere you go!

In addition to making time to create your watercolor art, spend time assessing your completed work. Identify your own personal earmarks for success—mastering a new brush technique or creating more realistic paintings, for example—and review your work on a regular basis to help meet your goals. 

3. Be Patient

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Skillshare instructor and watercolor artist Anne Butera cites patience as the most important skill for any artist to have! Her advice is to be kind to yourself, especially while you are learning, and give yourself time and space to grow and improve in your art. 

Basic Watercolor Ideas for Beginners

1. Watercolor Sweets and Treats

This is a great choice for beginners who are looking for a fun watercolor project!
This is a great choice for beginners who are looking for a fun watercolor project!

In this fun watercolor for beginners class, taught by Skillshare instructor and watercolor artist Yasmina Creates, you’ll learn how to draw and paint adorable donuts, cookies, and more! 

2. Beautiful Autumn Trees

Autumn trees are great subjects if you want to practice your watercolor skills. 
Autumn trees are great subjects if you want to practice your watercolor skills. 

For something more outdoorsy, try painting autumn trees with Skillshare instructor Zaneena Nabeel. You’ll learn how to paint watercolor trees, step-by-step, and will end up with a beautiful homage to fall!

3. Paint Your Dream Travel Destination

Let your imagination dictate your creative watercolor work. 
Let your imagination dictate your creative watercolor work. 

If the monotony of day-to-day life has sucked your ideas well dry, daydream with Skillshare instructor Caitlin Sheffer and paint your dream travel destination with watercolors. Whether you’ve actually been to the destination doesn’t matter, as Caitlin will teach you how to use reference photos, and you’ll end up with a beautiful painting you can “escape” to. 

4. Paint Your Favorite Animals

Find inspiration for your watercolor work through foxes or another furry friend!
Find inspiration for your watercolor work through foxes or another furry friend!

Animals, especially those with fur, make great subjects when it comes to watercolor projects for beginners. Skillshare instructor Olga Bonitas teaches a wonderful step-by-step class on how to watercolor paint fluffy foxes

5. Go Abstract

Sometimes you need to get into a more abstract space to find new ideas.
Sometimes you need to get into a more abstract space to find new ideas.

If you’re not quite up for realistic watercolor paintings just yet, try working in the abstract space or even combining realism and abstract properties like Skillshare instructor Melissa Lee does with these watercolor portraits

Interested in the Latest Watercolor Techniques?

Modern Watercolor Techniques: Explore Skills to Create On-Trend Paintings.