Learn to Paint Watercolor: A Step-by-Step Painting for Beginners, Exploring Fun & Basic Techniques | Will Elliston | Skillshare

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Learn to Paint Watercolor: A Step-by-Step Painting for Beginners, Exploring Fun & Basic Techniques

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

12 Lessons (56m)
    • 1. Welcome to My Class!

    • 2. Your Project

    • 3. Materials & Supplies

    • 4. Quick Tips Before Starting

    • 5. Lightly Sketching the Basic Shapes

    • 6. Adding Details to the Drawing

    • 7. Starting the Painting

    • 8. Adding Texture & Grass

    • 9. Painting the Beaks

    • 10. Painting the Eyes

    • 11. Making it Pop with Highlights

    • 12. 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 Bensound.com

Meet Your Teacher

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Will Elliston

Award-Winning Watercolour Artist

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1. Welcome to My Class!: Hello everyone. My name is relaxed and welcome to my second Skillshare class. I've been a professional watercolor artist for many years now, exploring many different subjects, from wildlife paintings and portraits to cityscapes and countrysides scenes. I've been lucky enough to take part in many exhibitions around the world and then won awards from well respected organizations such as Winsor Newton, international watercolor masters, and the international watercolor society. For this class. I'll be guiding you through a complete beginners watercolor painting. Watercolor can be quite intimidating medium for beginners. So my aim is to allow you to relax and have fun while learning it's medium and hopefully ending up with your own painting. Today we'll be painting run a duck's. And I've purposely chosen this exercise because it's great for beginners. It's simple to draw and allows for experimentation and mistakes. Didn't you? Freedom to explore this medium without stress? And most importantly, it's been, in my other videos, I go over many different techniques of watercolor in this class intended for beginners. However, I'll try not to overwhelm you by going through all the different possibilities of techniques and effects. But rather, I'll give you a basic instruction throughout a complete painting in which you can learn at your own pace. You can return to redo this painting whenever you want to practice or explore a new technique that you've been wanting to try out, but are too intimidated to try it on a more ambitious painting. In this respect, not just beginners will find this worthwhile. Learning to incorporate techniques is a great way to build knowledge and comfort in this medium. And this exercise is a good opportunity to test out new things. This is a fun way to experiment and learn about watercolor. While still ending up with a nice painting you can hang up for yourself, will give us a present to someone. Also unexplained, which suppliers I use, including my color palette, paint brushes, and paper types. We'll start off with a light outline drawing to set up the composition before we put paint to paper. When you enroll in my class, I'll give you a variety of photo references, including a high resolution photo of the painting and painting today, which you can use as a guide when you're painting your own. I'll even include my colored charts, which are an invaluable tool when it comes to choosing and mixing colors. I'll be splitting everything up into short videos so that 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 down in the discussion thread. And 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 up top. This means you'll be the first to know when I launched a new class, post giveaways, or just have some cool announcements to share with my students. Also, to see my latest works. You can follow me on Instagram at reversed. And so do you want to create your own work of art or was having some fun learning about watercolor? Well, I'd love to have you in my class. So click Enroll, and let's begin. 2. Your Project: First of all, thank you so much for enrolling in my class. I really do appreciate it. And we're going to have a lot of fun. And we're going to learn a lot. As seen in the introduction video. We're going to paint some run a duck's today. It's a nice simple painting. Beginners. It gives you many options to play around with. And we're not going to do anything too detailed. The style we're painting in today doesn't really rely on technical drawing. Which means there's less stress. Which means there's more fun. And which ultimately means you'll learn more and end up with a better painting. It's almost close to painting a cartoon. But of course, you can choose to paint as loosely or as detailed as you wish. With this project, we're not going to rely heavily reference photos. I'm not going to be copying from one specific photo reference. I'm just going to look at a few reference photos of running ducks just to get a general idea of what they look like. And then I'll come up with my own composition. Welcome to copy my drawing and follow it exact or experiment with your own. I've included the reference photos that are gonna be using in the resource section, which you can find down below. You can also use your own if you find one you like. I'll also put two of my rubber duck paintings in the resource section, including the one I'm doing today. You can use that as reference throughout the process. If you're feeling confident, you can use it as an opportunity to practice techniques seen in my other videos or any other techniques you want to try. Such as using dry brush to create some small feather textures or even salt. To create interesting small details, you can explore what different textures you can do with the sponge. Well, if you've never used masking fluid and want to know how it works, you can test it out on this, or even simply if you've just bought a new tube of paint, I wanted an excuse to use it. Whichever way you use this class, I love to see your results and the paintings you have created in this class. I'd also love to give you feedback. So please take a photo after you've finished and uploaded into 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, 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 love to hear about your process and what you learned along the way. Once your project is uploaded, it will appear in the student projects gallery. You can view all the other students projects here. And I really encourage you to like and comment on the other student's work. And it was great to have a good support network. We spend so much time putting effort into the painting. Why not share it with the world and help each other out along the way? Now that you have a good idea of this class, Let's get stuck into it. Starting with what supplies and materials I'll be using. 3. Materials & Supplies: Let's go over the materials and supplies you'll need to follow along. We'll start with the paint and like most materials will be using today, it's a lot to do with preference. I don't use any particular brand. I have 12 stable colors in my palette. I fill them up with tubes. And they are cadmium yellow, yellow, ocher, burnt sienna, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, violet, radiant, neutral tint, which is basically black and white gouache. These colors you can get from almost any brand. I personally use, Daniel Smith, Winsor, Newton, and Holbein paints. But it's just a preference. So let's move on to brushes. To keep things simple. In this painting, I'm only going to use three brushes. First. Is this da Vinci mop brush, which I use for large brush strokes to fill up areas quickly. Next up is this size eight Skoda Perla brush. This brush allows for more precision because it has a finer tip. For even more precision. For final touches such as highlights, I use this green synthetic size 0 da Vinci brush. That's it for brushes. You're welcome to use your favorites or whatever you used to. Just to keep things simple for Beginners, I'm going to stick to those three 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, such as cotton base paper, not only allows you to rework mistakes over multiple times, but because the pigment react so much better on it, the chance of mistakes are a lot lower anyway. I use arches paper because it's what's available in my local art shop. Next, some various materials that will come in very handy. Of course, you'll need a pencil and I use a mechanical pencil. It always has a fine tip, which is perfect because we only need it for the outline. And I use potty rubbers rather than regular rapid because they don't leave residue that will stick to the painting. And hairdryer, of course, is very useful for speeding up the drying process, especially if you're painting in multiple layers. A water container, which is relatively large and it's either transparent or white. In order to distinguish how clean the water is. Also, the larger it is, the less often you have to replace the water. It's also useful to have an old t-shirt or an old rag, which you can use to clean your brushes before definitely in the water. The paint that I use is very thick and sticky and wet and it would contaminate the water. And by cleaning off beforehand, it means you have to replace the water less often. Also, sometimes you may have loaded your brush with water and despite tapping it on here, you can draw out some of that liquid so that when you touch the paper, it doesn't get overloaded. Reward and create horrible marks. Also, it's always useful to have a tissue and your hand whilst you paint, because you never know when an unwanted splash or drip might occur. You might need to quickly wipe it away in an instant. So it's always useful to have one in your hand. And lastly, masking tape, which of course is just to hold the paper down still on the surface so it doesn't move or slide whilst you're painting. And that's it. Everything ready to go onto the painting? 4. Quick Tips Before Starting: Before we start with the painting, I'll just go over some quick tips that can help you along the way. Of course, there are endless tips and tricks you'll pick up along the way on your watercolor journey. I still discover them to this day. However, there are a few important ones, but I think a beginner will find very useful. One of the things I see a lot that holds people back is simply that their paints or too dry in their palette. Ideally, the paint in your palate should be the same consistency as it is when it comes from the tube. Similar to acrylic or oil. Often people start painting watercolor the same way I did with buying or receiving a painting set with Pan Xin. Similar to this as the pigment in the pens are completely dry already. It's understandable to keep them that way. However, when they are dry like that, they're very difficult to activate and it's difficult to pick up sufficient paint on the brush to create vivid bold brushstrokes. Before painting. Whilst watching this, even, you could drip some water on each color in your palette to loosen up the pigment ready for the painting stage. As I paint most days, I actually have this water dropper, which I use to keep the paints moist enough. Here's another tip about paints, and this one can save your storage space and money. In the supplies video, I list all the colors that I use in my palette. Well, these colors match the colors that I use in my watercolor chart. They are available in the resource section, and I highly recommend you use them by mixing each color with every other color. These charts show you all the color combinations you can make with a basic palette. You will discover that although paint manufacturers have hundreds of pigments available, the majority of them can be mixed by yourself with just a few basic colors. Saving lots of money and storage space. Not only that, but using them as a reference can help you choose what color to use, where and how to mix it. In fact, just looking at all the different possibilities of color choices is very inspirational and can influence your future paintings. Another piece of advice that's important in watercolor is how to avoid back run marks or cauliflower marks, as they're sometimes known. Most importantly, don't overload the brush with water as excess water on the paper can lead to it drying unevenly. If an area starts to dry before you have finished filling it in, you could get unwanted uneven marks. The key is to apply the brush strokes quickly or at least as quick as you can while still being in control of the brush. Sometimes it can be difficult if the area is larger or intricate. Often you have to plan on which exact section you're going to paint and where you're going to finish before you even put your brush to the paper. Well, I'll be sharing more tips as we go through the painting. So without further ado, let's start. 5. Lightly Sketching the Basic Shapes: We're going to start off from scratch, breaking down the shapes into the simplest forms and then painting on top. So I'm just going to start doing these circles. I'm just going to use a mechanical pencil. Is if the base of the ducks, they're almost like ten-pin bowling pins. This can be very loose to begin with. Quite simple shapes. And it's fun because you can put a bit of variety in them. In fact, drawing them in perfect Lean, like having a few mistakes, makes it more interesting. So I'm doing the pencil markings quite likely to begin with, and then add a bit more detail. If you can see at this stage they just look like ten-pin bowling. Then we don't need to worry about detail at the bottom. We'll just kind of merge it with the grass. I'm holding my pencil not list, just because I find it easier to draw these rough shapes like this rather than like this. This is just for the precision later on. Draw some peaks is too, they're overlapping. One going in that direction. 6. Adding Details to the Drawing: Now I'm gonna go in with a bit more detail. Not too much detail. You don't have to worry. With this kind of painting I'm doing, we're doing today. It's not about details, more about bit more expression. And then getting the shapes right. Because it's gonna be quite obvious that they're ducts. Just not realistic ducks. Funny-looking ducks. This is a nice excuse to practice watercolor without having to worry about drawing things, right? And they tend to look quite happy ducts, especially when their heads have popped up like this and there waddling along. Of course, if you want to go straight to the painting, you can skip ahead. I decided to record the whole process for people who wanted to go through the whole drawing and painting with me. Like I said, there's no right or wrong. This is just about having a good time. I'm not putting these ducks in any search in position, just overlapping them, sometimes having some face that way, some face the other way. One more dark here. We just have this duck quacking, have his mouth moving a little bit. That's good enough. That side. It looks a bit funny chap here. So if you do see something that looks wrong, you can correct it if you want. But they all have their different characters. And that's what I like about this kind of painting style. Even the ones that look a bit funny, it just adds to that character. If they look a bit goofy. So be it. So in duck, so goofy. I think wildlife. It's probably the best subject to try and paint when you're learning watercolor because you can get away with more mistakes than if you were painting people. Marx heating the grass. I'm not even going to draw the feet. The next. When it comes to painting, we don't even need to keep to these lines. Okay. Wait, some of these loans soften them up. Now let's get onto the painting. 7. Starting the Painting: It's my palette. I rarely washed my palette because already I can tell that I'm going to use some of these colors, but they're not difficult colors to make. In fact, you can use whichever color you want for these, for these ducts. As long as it feels quite normal, you could use green. You can use, while we'll be using orange for the beaks. Blue. As long as it's muted, as long as you mix it with gray, it should be fine. So basically we're going to start here. We're not going to paint the bills yet. The beaks were just going to very casually. I'll mix some gray here for this first one. I'm just using this mop brush. I'm just going to fill in it, fill in what we just painted, simple as that. Go over the lines. I'm not being careful at all really. Bring it down. If it's too dark, you can add more water. And a little bit of another color, some blue there. Why not? Free flicks? Very simple. No pressure at all. I use a summer screen just because I have it there, but you can make my own green just to show you, obviously, blue and yellow, I use yellow ocher. You can use a bit of cobalt blue there. You picked greener. Bit brighter green. Flicker that green there. Good. And then we can move on to the next. Now for the next tech, I'm going to make it a bit careful with that gray. But instead of putting blue in this time, I'm going to add a warm color. Like a tiny bit of red or brown. Burnt sienna. Think it redder. I want a bit lighter now, if you want a bit lighter, just add a bit more water. Without having fun. Experimenting with watercolors can do benefit green. They're plotted, they're going to take this water by itself and flick it on that brown again. For this next stuck. When you can start learning about watercolors, you can start with one color. And then if you want, you can add another color into it like this, blue in it merges into it. You can start flicking. It can be quite messy. I'm implying some grass here. Now. There's two trucks here and the ducts that are a bit behind. I'm gonna go with cool colors. So I'm going to kind of put this blue horse, it can go in there, bleeding there. That need to be afraid of that. More blue. One thing that should be careful. I want that beak stand out there. But it's okay if you get a tissue and just very carefully, the habit, because we're going to paint the beak yellow and we want it to stand out. And they'll say, Hey, I'm going to keep a little bit of white there, barely noticeable. Click a bit more green in there. Okay, back to that brown. So like I said, you can paint along this complete composition just like me trying to do exactly as I'm doing it. Or if you're feeling a little bit more confident, you can paint these ducts with whatever way you want or whatever position you want. Brown, I think I think I'm gonna do this one. Last one. Blue again. But maybe not that kind of blue. Let me just fill it out. I'm going to go. But we're not gonna go. Might seem a bit weird, but I'm going to do this kind of greenish blue, this turquoise blue. You could use either, I'm using some blues, you could use orange. 8. Adding Texture & Grass: Flickers of green. They're not even worried about the green coming out here, in fact, might be quite nice. Flickers of green. Now I'm going to move to a bit of a thinner brush here. I can do just because I want to bring these shapes into thin pieces of grass here. Nice trick of avoiding to paint the legs and the feet. But I think it's still visually acceptable. Now I get some I'm just using this dark pigment. Pigment for any dark permanent, you can use some black, pure black. Getting it quite wet and just dabbing it at the bottom area of these pieces of grass where it's wet so it bleeds into where it's weighted. At the bottom. You can do a few flicks. Be careful and you don't make flicks. Go on to the main part of the image is at the bottom here. And just while it's still wet, I'm going to start separating these a bit. I'm going to add a bit more just to indicate that there's a separation between those ducts. The ducts. So very loose. Not much pressure or tool. How painting should be. Remove flickers of water. Some grasses the other way. Now we can let that dry. Before we go into the beaks. You can use a hairdryer. That's what I'm going to use. 9. Painting the Beaks: Now it's dry and we can start doing the beaks. Go from left to right because I'm right-handed. But if you're left-handed, you can always go the other way. Looking at my reference images, I can see that there's basically two types of beaks. You've got the yellow orange beaks or some brown beaks. I'm just going to where I've painted over. I'm just going to dab it reward here because I don't want there to be a hard line is not absolutely necessary. I'm just wetting it and softening. You don't want to spend too much time doing it, then this is not an essential tool. Okay? Now, I happened to have, because already mixed here that I think I'll use. Well, actually here, I'm not gonna use that. I'm just going to use this yellow, which is that yellow there. But I already have on my palette, even though it's pure pigment. I'm literally just going to fill in that shape. Coloring, coloring it in. And then if you want to save yourself from washing the brush each time, just use another brush. And I'm gonna do is I'm gonna just go a bit ahead of the beak with pure water and it will bleed into the rest of it smoothly. And then going to get a bit of red and put up on the bottom there. While it's still wet. Maybe a dab. That little hole on the peak. That's fine. We can move on to the next. I'm going to paint this one next. I'm going to do that. That one, yeah, that one brown coloring this one in. So this is a good exercise for a beginner. But I'm not so much talking about the materials I'm using all the brushes, I'm using all the colors. This is more about the technique itself to the exercise. Debra Brown that next, next week I'll do right here. Covered up behind the other ones. Just have to indicate the shape there. I use burnt sienna and a bit of red. You don't have to be as nice. I wouldn't say this is particularly neat, but if you're a beginner, I'm just getting used to them. The worker, although the manner of watercolor, any distress, wetting that bill, dabbing it with a bit of paper and filling it in March. We'll do that one last. I've got it loaded. Just nicking a bit. Burnt sienna from the other bill. Little dot there for the whole he's got his mouth open there. It is. There concern that middle middle beakers spilled too much. I'm just going to adapt it. You can always bring it out and go back over it again. Now I think I'm going to go and do the brown beaks. Beaks. I'm just going to use this burnt sienna. And I'm going to turn it down a little bit of black. What I'm gonna do here actually. So I've painted that billion. I'm going to let it bleed into the rest of the list. Not being afraid of any messiness. Do that again with that one. Diving. I think more pigment at one end. And then I can put pure water there and drag it out. I'm going to use the hairdryer again. Then all we've got left at the eyes. A bit more of this duck's mouth open there. 10. Painting the Eyes: Now for the ducks eyes, I'm just going to take pure black and just put dots. Thoughts like that. Starts in the general location of where eyes are meant to be. And once we've done that, we're just going to put some highlights on the eyes and just gives that extra feeling of eyes. Makes them look a bit more realistic. Even though it's not a realistic painting is just a little detail that we can add. No trouble at all. Couple of holes and the beak. You can rub out the pencil markings when everything is dry. I'm just going to pin it a bit more yellow here. Make it a bit, look a bit more like beaks. 11. Making it Pop with Highlights: Then going to put some dots. I've got some white here or you can, if you don't have that on your palette, you can just take it directly from the tube. And you want to put a white dot about two-thirds up on the top. So you have to be quite accurately going to take your time just to put a dab and make sure the paint is thick enough. Because white always looks stronger when it's wet and when it's dry. And they didn't need to be too big at all. When you any leftover white, you can always, in fact, I'm going to turn a bit of white just to separate one of these tucks here. And if you feel like you need to I didn't feel like it's necessary, but I'll do it just to show. You can add a few more darker leaves. Leaves, grass. I'll just take the tape off. 12. Final Thoughts: So I've taken the tape off. Let's have a closer look at the finished piece. I hope you have your own painting as well to look at. If this is one of your first time was painting and you're not happy with the result. Don't worry. Watercolor is a medium that takes a bit of trial and error to get to grips with. Sometimes it has a mind of its own, and even the best Masters make mistakes and create bad paintings every now and then. What's important is that you took the first step and gave it a shot. This is a great exercise for beginners because you can really practice and experiment with different mark makings without doing anything too technical or without much pressure. The goal ultimately at this beginning stage, is just to have a bit of fun exploring the medium and getting excited by all its different possibilities. It can be easy to feel a bit stressed if the paintings not going that way and there's a bit of a struggle, but ultimately, keeping safe and remaining happy really helps out in the long term. If you'd like some feedback on your painting or like any advice about the painting process in general, please share your paintings in the student projects gallery down below. Well, if you prefer, you can share it on Instagram, tagging me at will Ellison as I would love to see it. After all that effort we put into painting it. Why not show it off? Remember, please click the follow button up top so that you can follow me on Skillshare. This means that you'll get a notification as soon as I've published 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 for joining me in this class today. Please leave a comment below in the class discussion. If you have any question or comment about today's class. I hope you learned a lot and are inspired to paint more in this wonderful medium. Thanks a lot for joining me today. I hope it's been useful for you and see you next time.