A Step-by-Step Painting for Absolute Beginners: Learn to Paint Expressive, Loose & Easy Watercolor | Will Elliston | Skillshare

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A Step-by-Step Painting for Absolute Beginners: Learn to Paint Expressive, Loose & Easy Watercolor

teacher avatar Will Elliston, Award-Winning Watercolour Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

11 Lessons (41m)
    • 1. Welcome To The Class!

    • 2. Your Class Project

    • 3. Materials & Supplies

    • 4. Sketching the Basic Shapes

    • 5. The First Brush Strokes

    • 6. Adding Water

    • 7. Painting the Second Hare

    • 8. Pulling Out Highlights

    • 9. A Few Details

    • 10. Finishing Touches

    • 11. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Join me on this beginner's step-by-step painting, learning basic watercolor techniques in a fun and relaxed style! This is a great exercise for beginners as it's a fun way to experiment and learn about watercolor, all whilst still ending up with a nice painting you can hang up or gift to someone. This style of painting doesn't require strong drawing skills either, it's all about having fun, you can paint as expressive or as detailed as you wish. 

I'm very grateful for you joining me here!

I’ve been painting for many years now, taken part in many exhibitions around the world and won awards from well respected organisations. As well as having my work feature in art magazines. After having success selling my originals and 1000s of prints around the world, I decided to start traveling with my brushes and paintings. My style is modern and attempts to grasp the essence of what I’m painting whilst allowing freedom and expression to come through. I simplify complicated subjects into easier shapes that encourages playfulness.


In my other classes I go over many different techniques of watercolour. However today I will keep it simple by giving you basic instruction which will allow you to experiment at your on pace.

You'll Learn:

  • What materials and equipment to need to painting along
  • How to sketch out outline for the painting
  • Basic technique to complete your first painting
  • How to avoid common mistakes
  • Choosing the right colors for your painting
  • How to blend colors and create textures for different effects
  • Making corrections and improvements
  • Finishing touches that make a big difference

When enrolled, I’ll include my complete ‘Watercolor Mixing Charts’. These are a huge aid for beginners and experts alike. They show what every color on the palette looks like when mixed with each other. Indispensable when it comes to choosing which color to mix.


Don’t forget to follow me on Skillshare. Click the “follow” button and you’ll be the first to know as soon as I launch a new course or have a big announcement to share with my students.

Additional Resources:

Music by Audionautix.com

Meet Your Teacher

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Will Elliston

Award-Winning Watercolour Artist

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1. Welcome To The Class!: Hi, everyone. My name is Will Elliston. Welcome to my Skillshare class on watercolor for complete beginners. Just like you, I'd always wanted to learn how to create beautiful paintings. But when I started, I had no idea what supplies are needed, how to mix colors, or even how to start painting. For this class, I'll be taking you step-by-step through a complete painting of these boxing hares. I'll be breaking everything down into a very simple formula that will show how to use and manipulate watercolor. You'll be able to follow along at your own pace and watch every step of how to paint expressive, impactful paintings. Join me whilst we discover how easy it can be to paint these fun and simple techniques. I've been a professional watercolor artist for many years now, exploring many different subjects, from wildlife and portraits to cityscapes and countryside scenes. I've taken part in many worldwide exhibitions and been lucky enough to win awards from well-respected organizations such as Winsor and Newton, the International Watercolor Society, the Masters of Watercolor Alliance, and the SAA Artist of the Year Award. I also have collectors that by my paintings around the world. Watercolor can be intimidating for beginners. My aim is to allow you to relax and have fun learning this medium step-by-step. Hopefully, by the end, you'll surprise yourself with a nice painting. If this class feels too intimidating or too simple, please check my other classes as I have them available across all levels. My approach to watercolor starts off loose and expressive with no fear of making mistakes because we're just creating exciting textures for the underlayer. Then as the painting goes on, we'll add more details, bringing the painting to life and making it pop. I try to simplify complicated subjects into easier shapes that encourages playfulness. I've purposely chosen boxing hares for beginners because all the movement and character in them allows for loose and expressive brush marks with no fear of mistakes. It's even fine to paint outside the lines. For this painting, we'll be keeping things simple and only using a basic brush and four different colors. But even two colors will be good enough. With what you'll learn in this class, you can take forward into painting many other things. The same principles apply to any subject you want to paint. You're welcome to use this approach with any reference you have. When you enroll in my class, I'll give you the photo reference I used for this painting, as well as a high resolution image of my painting to use as a guide. Today's focus is about painting rather than drawing. I have included templates you can use to help you sketch out the drawing before you paint. I'll also include my color charts, which are an invaluable tool when it comes to choosing and mixing colors. Throughout this class, I'll be sharing plenty of tips and tricks, I'll show you how to use mistakes to your own advantage, taking the stress out of painting and having fun. I'll explain which supplies I'll be using so you can follow along exactly. I'll also cover how to choose and mix harmonious colors. I'll be splitting everything up into short videos, so it's easier to take in. You can also pause at any moment if you want to take more time. If you have any questions, you can post them in the discussion thread down below. I'll be sure to read and respond to everything you guys post. Don't forget to follow me on Skillshare by clicking the Follow button at the top. This means you'll be the first to know when I launch a new class, post giveaways or just have an interesting announcement to share with my students. You can also follow me on Instagram to see my latest works. If you'd like to create your own expressive work of art, all whilst learning fun and exciting watercolor techniques, please click Enroll as I'd love to have you in my class. Now let's begin. 2. Your Class Project: First of all, thank you so much for enrolling in this class. I'm very grateful. We're going to learn a lot about watercolor using a fun and easygoing approach that's free from stress. As seen in the introduction video, we'll be painting boxing ***. I think it's the perfect subject for beginners because they have so much movement and energy. Having that mentality as a beginner is very useful as opposed to being timid with the paint and lacking energy. You can always turn it down once you start learning how to control the medium more rather than overwhelm you with a multiple of techniques. This is going to be the basic process for which you can build upon in the future, integrating new techniques wherever you feel comfortable. The style we're painting in today doesn't rely on heavily detailed drawing, which means there's less stress and it gives us more freedom to express and explore new techniques. This means you'll learn more and end up with a better painting. You can choose to paint as loose or as realistic as you want, depending on your level. You're welcome to copy my drawing and follow it exact or experiment with your own. I will put my painting in the resource section so you can use it as a reference throughout the process. You can also find the reference photo that I'm going to use in the resource section. I use photos as a guide. However, I do deviate and stray from the reference when I think of all the different watercolor effects I can take advantage of. There's also a template you can use to trace and transfer it onto your paper. Don't feel guilty about tracing when using it as a guide for learning how to paint. It's important to have the underdrawing correct so that it doesn't inhibit your ability to practice and learn the watercolor medium itself. Whichever way you use this class, it would be great to see the outcome and the paintings you create in this class. I'd love to give you feedback. Please take a photo afterwards, and share it in the student project gallery. You can find the gallery under the same project and resources tab. On the right, you'll see a Green button that says "Create a project." Tap that. Once you're there, you'll have the option to upload a cover photo and a title and write a little description. I would love to hear about your process, and what you learned along the way. Once your project is uploaded, it will appear in the student's project gallery. You can view other projects here and I'd highly encourage you to like and comment on each other's work. We put so much time and effort into creating our paintings. Why not share it with the world and help support each other along the way? Now that you have a good idea of this class, let's get stuck into it, starting with the equipment and materials I generally use. 3. Materials & Supplies: To keep things simple, for this class, we'll only be using four different colors and the same type of brush. However, let me go through all the basic materials and supplies you need to start painting watercolor beyond this class. We'll start with the colors I use. Unlike most of the materials we'll be using today, is a lot to do with preference. I have 12 stable colors in my palette that I fill up from tubes. They are cadmium yellow, yellow ocher, burnt sienna, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, lavender, purple, viridian, black or neutral tint, and at the end of the painting, I often use white gouache for tiny highlights. I don't use any particular brand. These colors you can get from any brand. Although I personally use Daniel Smith, Winsor, and Newton or Holbein paints. Let's move on to brushes. In this painting, I'm only going to use Escoda Perla brushes like this one here. But first, I'll show you some other brushes that I use in painting in general. First is this mop brush. Mop brushes are good for broad brushstrokes and filling in larger areas or washers. But they also have a tip for some smaller details, so they are one of my favorite types of brushes. Next is this, Escoda Perla brush. I use various sizes. These brushes allow for more precision because they have a finer tip and last quite a long time. And for even more precision when painting final touches or highlights, for example, I use a synthetic size zero brush. All brands have them and they're super cheap. This here is a sword brush or a rigger brush. It's quite long but thin. It's only used for very small details, much like the size zero brushes, but it holds more water and pigment, saving time and effort refilling. The only drawback is it's more difficult to control as it's more flimsy. That's it for brushes. You're of course, welcome to use your own favorites as well. Onto paper. The better quality your paper is, the easier it will be to paint. Cheap paper crinkles easily and is very unforgiving, not allowing you to rework mistakes. Good quality paper, however, such as cotton base paper, not only allows you to rework mistakes over multiple times, but because the pigment reacts much better on it, the chances of mistakes are a lot lower and you're more likely create better paintings. I use Arches because it's what's available in my local art shop. Next to some various materials that will come in very handy. A water spray is absolutely essential. By using this, it gives you more time to paint the areas you want before it dries. Also, it allows you to reactivate the paint if you want to add smooth lines or remove some paint. Lastly is masking tape, which you can use just to stick the paper down to the surface to stop it sliding around whilst painting. That's it for materials. Let's get on with the drawing stage. 4. Sketching the Basic Shapes: For the drawing, one of the first things I do is just mark out how high how low I want the drawing to be, just so that I can make sure it's as central as possible. Usually I do this in my mind, but for this purpose it's just to demonstrate what I'm thinking. I don't want the drawing to go beyond these points. Then using very organic loose marks, I simply add simple shapes, mainly circular because I find circular shapes quite fluid and easy to do. It helps connect things in organic way. Keeping a very loose pencil mark the moment. You don't have to be detailed whatsoever. Just roughly figuring out the composition. Even if you're a beginner, you don't need to worry about putting in too much detail. I'll be doing as much detail as I can but it's not necessary. Just do the best you can do. This style is good for expressive styles that are a bit looser because they have a lot of energy. Boxing has or rabbits need that look of movement and that's where these loose lines come in. If it was too detailed it'd lose the element of magic and action. Now I've basically got everything blocked out. I'm going to start to go in a few more details. Of course, I've left resources, templates for you to trace. If you're really not comfortable, which is perfectly fine, I'd rather you learn more about painting and have the drawing absolutely correct. It's up to you. I'll be using a rubber later to rub out all these loose marks and just keep the outline. Learning to draw is entirely different thing that takes a bit of time. You don't learn overnight. This part of the class I'll speed over because it's usually the same concept, whatever you're drawing or painting. This class is mainly focusing on the painting aspect. For those of you that aren't going to trace it, hopefully this will be helpful but if you're going to trace it, it's perfectly fine to go straight to the painting stage. But it can be quite useful just to see how I go about drawing, how simple it can be if you find the basic shapes, mapping it all out and then once you've seen that's correct then moving on with more details, not adding any details until afterwards. It's actually quite quick in the end. Rub out some of the loose marks. Some whiskers. We're almost there. Now I'm just going tape it onto the painting board. Let's get on with the painting. 5. The First Brush Strokes: To keep things as simple as possible, I'll only be using one type of brush today, and that's this Escoda Perla brush. I'll be using three different sizes, though. We'll start off with this Size 8. Also, to keep things simple, we'll only be using three different colors; burnt sienna, yellow ocher, and cerulean blue. I've just recently squeezed fresh paint into these tubes, and it's like the consistency of Marmite or jam, really. I put some on my brush and I look at the reference image and using this thick consistency, I'm just putting it in the areas where it's most dark, darkest areas. I'm just generally putting it, I'm not being that neat about it. Just where the general area is, that's where I'm putting it in. Quite a simple process. Hopefully, there should be no stress involved. The plan is to fill these areas in with this dark pure pigment, starting off with this left hare. Then we'll use water to spread it out. That way, we'll have much more control. I'll show you what I'm talking about when it gets to that stage. But that's what a lot of watercolor techniques are based on, is using, of course, the interaction between pigment and water to create the effects that you want. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to do it. This left hare will be in burnt sienna. For the time being, that's fine. I'm going to clean my brush, make sure there's no pigment on it, and then I'll move to burnt sienna. I'll do the same thing on this side, putting down thick pigment. You can do it straight from the tube. No stress at all. At this stage, it's just as simple as this. No need to overthink it. I'm just looking at the picture to see where the darkest areas are. That could be down to judgment as well. Maybe that you see a different to the areas that I see. It doesn't need to be overthought. This can be the same principle to any subject, it doesn't have to be a hare. Any animal. You could start off with a basic outline drawing. Look for the darkest points. Thick, pure pigment on there. A bit of a crossover on that bit. That's the first step done. 6. Adding Water: Now I'm going to move over to my size 12 and scourge the brush, and with pure water, no other pigment. I'm just going to start wetting this area and gradually interact with what we already put down there. You don't need to go over it loads of times. Filling it out. You didn't even need to be that clear with the lines. One thing I will say with the eye, I'm keeping it a little bit lighter than the rest of the area. [NOISE] Letting the pigment and paint do its own thing. You don't need to keep on messing around with it. As it dries, it creates its own nice effects. [NOISE] Now, you can splatter as it's drying. That also does a nice effect. When it's about 50 percent to 70 percent dry, you can flick like that and you can see it adds a bit of texture. The closer it is to drying, the harsher the texture will be. Now a complimentary color, or the opposite color on the color wheel, to brown, or burnt sienna is blue. I'm going to take a little bit of cerulean blue here, and this one I am going to dilute with a bit of water. I'm just going to drop it in, to some shaded areas here. Again, the darkest parts. I'll just go over, interact with what's already there. [NOISE] In fact, I can do a splatter. So when I do splatters, I make sure my brush is completely absorbed as much as it can, with water before dripping and then tap. [NOISE] Splatter with just water. If there's not enough water on your brush when you splatter, it tends to go everywhere. But you can have a bit more control, if you fill up completely and only tap lightly. Now we can move on to this side. 7. Painting the Second Hare: Start interacting with this pigment. We can let the two merge together. Very quick exercise. This is, of course, the basic idea. The basic idea that has quite an impactful result. You can always take this further with more details but this is a good summary of ideas. Of course, the movement of the boxing hairs really helps with this expressive style. If it was a creature or animal that was just sitting still, it may not work as well. Now, I could do exactly the same as I did with the other side just using burnt sienna there. Just to make it a bit more exciting, I've chosen to do yellow ocher. Of course, the opposite of yellow ocher on the color wheel is more purple than blue. I'm just going to pick up a tiny bit of purple here and mix it with blue that I used on the other side and start dropping that in a bit. Only a small touch of purple. I don't want to overdo it. That goes well with the burnt sienna there. Most of the time, I'm only touching things once, unless I'm adding new colors. I don't mess around a bit because the magic happens when you leave it alone to do what it wants to do. Now, I'm going to flip this side, fill up my brush completely like last time, just tap, tap, tap. I think there were a bit too many spaces there. I'm just going to quickly, before it dries, use a tissue to pick up some of that splatter. Now, the splatter adds more movement. It could be seen as mist or due that's picked up by the boxing hairs and sprayed into the air. I'm going to take this mix of yellow ocher and burnt sienna. In fact, I am going to use a different brush for this. A slightly larger brush. A mop brush because I want to do a nice big splatter in this color. If your brush is too small, the splatters will be too small. I'm just increasing the brush size just so that splatters will be bigger. That's fine. Now, I'm just going to let it dry by itself for the time being because sometime the hairdryer can make these splatters run and I want them to stay as they are. I'll wait until it's just about dry and then a hair dryer to completely dry it altogether. I'll come back to you once it's dry. 8. Pulling Out Highlights: Now it's completely dry, and you can touch it without worrying about it getting smudged. The next step is to create some highlights. Do that, I'm going to use a brush that's wet but won't drip. I'm just going to look at the picture, and just go over some areas to activate the paint, and then I will just wipe away, and there'll be a little bit lighter , and that's all we need. Same way with the eye. Rub over a bit, wipe a bit, and pull away. Luckily with this painting, it's more of a silhouette. There's not actually many details we need to put in. Of course, that's why having a good photo reference is important. Having a good photo reference is important because, if it wasn't a silhouette, there'll be lots of details that you have to paint in in order to convey a convincing painting. But with this one, it's just the basic shape. Now that stage is done. 9. A Few Details: Now, I'm going to create a few whiskers using this burnt sienna liquid. Make sure it's the right consistency. That's not the right consistency. It needs to be a bit wetter. There we go. We want on the eye too. Darker. These little details are the nose here. Even though it's very abstract, just these little small details do a lot to make it a convincing painting. Now I'm going to use pure black and very carefully, I'm going to paint in eye eye, just the circle. Now, there are many photos of boxing hares online that you can find. You can use this reference image or any that you find online. I'd love to see your interpretations. You can experiment with different colors. It's a good way to experiment with different colors, see what works well together, what compliments each other. For a very quick exercise, you can learn a lot by redoing this exercise again and again. 10. Finishing Touches: I'm going to get a pure white straight from the tube. This is white gouache or white watercolor. Some are some areas where the silhouette or the outline is not clear. I'm just going to make it easier to read the eye. You can see there, we've gone outside of the lines. That's perfectly fine. It adds more character. Now, the smallest details of the most powerful impact is these two tiny dots there and there. That's done. Maybe when it comes to this part of the painting, take a step back, have a look, see if there's any obvious mistakes. You don't need to rush, you don't need to do it at the same time. Sometimes when it comes to the end of the painting like this, take a step back, maybe don't look at it for a couple of days and come back to it with a fresh eye to see if there's any obvious errors. I might just quickly add a little bit of a belly there, very subtle, not even necessary. This is actually one of the most dangerous parts of painting, is knowing when to finish. You can overdo it sometimes. Let's have a few close-ups and sum up the painting. 11. Final Thoughts: Welcome back. Now the painting is finished, let's have a close-up look at it. I hope you have a painting of your own to look at as well. You may have found painting these boxing has to be easier than you thought. But don't be disheartened if you found it challenging and aren't happy with the result. The good thing about this method of painting is that it's quite quick to do. You can try again, carrying forward what you've already learned. A lot of times, it can be hit or miss. The most vital aspect of learning watercolor is to have fun, be happy, and remain positive whilst painting. With watercolor being so unpredictable, it can be easy to lose faith. However, having a playful and bold attitude brings out the best qualities of watercolor and allows us to create better paintings. The goal, ultimately at this learning stage is just about having a bit of fun, exploring the possibilities of this exciting medium. It can be easy to feel a bit stressed during the painting if it gets challenging. But remaining positive and keeping faith really helps in the end. If you would like feedback on your painting, I'd love to give it. Or if you'd like any advice related to watercolor, please share your painting in the student projects gallery down below and I'll be sure to respond. If you prefer, you can share it on Instagram, tagging me @willelliston as I would love to see it. Skillshare also loves seeing my students' work. Tag them as well at Skillshare. After all that effort we put into it, why not show it off? Remember, please click the follow button up top so you can follow me on Skillshare. This means you'll get a notification as soon as I publish my next class or have important announcements like free giveaways or sharing some of my best student artwork uploaded to the project gallery. Thank you so much again for joining me in this class today. If you have any queries or questions, please reach out to me in the comment section down below and I'll be sure to get back to you. If you have any subject, wildlife or scene you'd like me to do a class on, by all means, let me know about it in the discussion section as well. I hope you've learned a lot and are inspired to paint more on this glorious medium until next time, goodbye.