Watercolor Basics | Supplies & Techniques | Samantha Nielsen | Skillshare

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Watercolor Basics | Supplies & Techniques

teacher avatar Samantha Nielsen, Watercolor Artist | Urban Sketcher

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

    • 1.

      Intro to Watercolor Basics | Supplies and Techniques


    • 2.

      Supplies for Success


    • 3.

      Brush Strokes


    • 4.

      Graded & Flat Wash


    • 5.

      Wet on Wet & Lifting


    • 6.

      Masking Fluid & Dry Brush


    • 7.

      Tape Technique


    • 8.



    • 9.

      Class Project


    • 10.

      BLOOPERS! See you next time!


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About This Class

Hello and welcome to my first Skillshare class! I am so excited to be able to share what I have learned on my artistic journey with you! Today we are starting from the beginning with watercolor basics. My goal with this class is to reach those who are at a beginner level and help minimize some of the fears of trying a new material!

In this class you will learn about:

  • Supplies (even down to brand name) that will help you be successful and what to look for when you go to an art store.
  • Different ways you can use one brush to make a variety of lines.
  • Watercolor techniques that will help bring your first painting to life such as: wash techniques, dry brush, masking fluid, tape techniques, lifting, and layering.

Lets dive in to the world of watercolor!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Samantha Nielsen

Watercolor Artist | Urban Sketcher


Hi there! My name is Samantha Nielsen and I'm a watercolor artist and urban sketcher based in northern Minnesota. I majored in art education in college, and taught high school art for 2 years before I transitioned to pursuing my dream of being a full time artist! I have spent the past 5 years sketching the world around me and bringing my sketchbook with me everywhere I go. I am so excited to share my knowledge of watercolor and urban sketching with YOU through Skillshare.

I don't think there are enough words in the English language to express the joy I feel deep within my soul when I sit down in a coffee shop to sketch the scenes around me, or on a patch of grass outside a unique store front that needs to be painted. My sketchbook feels like it's another part of... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Intro to Watercolor Basics | Supplies and Techniques : Hello, and welcome to my very first Skillshare class. My name is Sam Nielsen and I am a watercolor artist and urban sketcher based in Northern Minnesota. We are in my studio, otherwise known as the corner of our living room. What we're going to focus on for this class is watercolor techniques and basics that I hope you'll be able to utilize in near future watercolor paintings or urban sketches. I am so glad you're here and I hope you enjoy what you learn today. 2. Supplies for Success: So before we get into any painting techniques, I first want to discuss supplies. I feel like the art world of supplies can be really daunting because there's so many varieties, so many options. So I just want to talk about some of the things that we're going use in this class. First, you'll need paper. There are two most common watercolor papers. One of them is called hot press, the other is cold press. You can find different brands of every paper. Fabriano and Strathmore will be brands that you'll find at your typical craft store and they're great for starting out. Now the difference between hot and cold press papers is the hot, which is over here, has no texture. It's very smooth. When you paint on it, the edges are going to be much harder, and because of that, it's hard starting out because you can't blend as much. It doesn't leave a lot of room for mistakes. Cold press has a little bit more texture and you can soften up your edges and blend a little bit more. Again, these are great beginner brands for this class. I'm going to be working on the Strathmore. If you dive into the world of watercolor and you really like it, and you want to spend some time using some more professional materials. I have a lot of experience with arches, watercolor paper. Now the difference between this is it's made out of a 100 percent pure cotton. So the paper can withstand so much more water and paint and it doesn't buckle as quickly and it's archival. So it won't yellow. It will basically withstand the test of time. Just like paper has a million brands, a million varieties, brushes come in all shapes and sizes. But what's most important for this class is that you have the right shape brush. So on the left, those are the brushes that would be called the round brush. They are different sizes. You can tell the size by a little number that will be written or printed on the side of each brush. The bigger the number, the bigger the head of the brush will be. In the middle, we have what's called a flat brush or sometimes a wash brush. This is going to be great for painting skies or water and we'll get into that a little bit later, but the tip is very flat and can really get some crisp edges. Lastly, on the very end is a fan brush. We'll talk about more techniques with that as we get into this class. Now before we completely move on from brushes, I do just want to mention that when you go to an art materials store to buy brushes for watercolor, makes sure you're in the section that's labeled watercolor. There are going to be brushes that are for oil paints that are much more course and brittle. They will not work well for you at all, you'll be frustrated the whole time. Watercolor brushes like this square wash are much softer. The hair can be real. If it's real hair, they're super expensive. You can also get synthetic. But if you feel in oil brush and watercolor brush back-to-back, there's a very obvious difference. So make sure you're getting the right brush. Now we get to get into some more exciting supplies paper and brushes, paint. I know I'm spending so much time on materials, but I just feel like I really want you to be set up for success. If I had no experience, I feel like walking into in art material store, would just be way overwhelming. There's way too much to look at. So with watercolor paints, again, there are brands such as Winsor & Newton Cotman, which are not professional watercolors, but they are way above a Crayola pack that you buy at perhaps Walmart. Just starting out, this is going to work so great for you. You can get a set like this which is more of a travel set minds a mess because I use it all the time. The paints are already set up for you. You don't have to worry about getting a certain number of colors or what to buy in a two. If you really just want stress-free and you want to be able to walk in and get your paints and go home and paint, I would recommend just getting a set that's already set up as such. If you want a little bit more choice and selection, you can get watercolor paints in a tube. After buying yourself a pallet, you would fill up each of the wells with a different color as much as you can. You let it drive for probably at least a day. They take awhile to dry, and then it's set up just like the pre-packaged set. It's just you got to select the colors. So again, Wins-or Newton cotton, great brand for starting out. Just like there's the fancy Archer's paper, you can get some fancier paint. Daniel Smith is a really great brand that I've had a fun time experimenting with. Maybe hold out for these until you know that you're going to be serious about watercolor because they are a little bit more expensive. We are almost to the painting, you guys just hang in there a little bit longer. I just wanted to talk about a few miscellaneous supplies and I'm going to tell you too much about what they do because we'll get into that in our actual techniques portion. But some things you will need if you want to do every part of this class is masking fluid. Again, Windsor noon, you see that brand popup a lot. You can get white and pretty sure it comes in like a yellowish or green if you wanted to show up. So it's easier to peel off. That will all make sense in the future videos, masking fluid. You will need two cups of water, one for clean, one for dirty, and it's helpful you don't need it, a spray bottle. I'll explain why later on. Artist's tape, blue tape doesn't stick to the paper, doesn't rip the paper, but will block off edges, and there is some techniques that we'll learn with this as well. Lastly, a sponge or paper towel. Are you ready for this? I'm ready for this. Let's go. 3. Brush Strokes: The first thing that we're going to do is experiment with what type of line and brush strokes we can get with our different brushes. I had mentioned this water bottle as one of your supplies, and the reason for that is I like to usually wet down my paints with a spray bottle just because then I don't have to rinse out my brushes much.So for example, I have two things to clean water right now. Eventually one is going to become dirty rather than having to dunk in the water to then wet my green paint and then rinse off my brush and then dunk it into clean water to what my green paint. I can just use a spray bottle and get a little wet to start with and then I'm good to go. The first brush we will start with is our round. For the first stroke, I'm just going to use a fair amount of pressure. Just going to pull it straight across and then rinse my brush out. The second stroke, let's do purple this time, I'm going to start with just the tip of the brush on the paper and then I'm going to add more pressure so it can get thicker. Go in a squiggly line or releasing pressure just to see what different type of thick and thin line I can get with my round brush. I'm going to use a round brush still, but it's much smaller. This one I actually don't know what size it is because it got rubbed off. But to give you a comparison, this is five over zero. What is this guy? This is eight. So pretty extreme difference. I'm going to do the exact same thing or what my brush. This time maybe I'll use blue. Start on one end, give it even pressure. We'll talk about what's happening here in a little bit. I'm going to start my own lightly pressing down, add a little more pressure, lift it back up again. Now we'll move on to our flat brushes, our square wash brushes. This is my favorite, I use this brush a lot for water or like edges of buildings. This one I'll use if I want to cover a little bit more area. We'll do brown. Even pressure, pulling it across, lifting up, adding more pressure, and actually with the flat brushes, let's do one on the edge too. I'm going to turn the brush because you can also get pretty thin lines by using the edge. Now we will move on to our Square Wash Brush. Straight across, same pressure, press down hard, lift it up and let's do the side of this one too, we'll use the red. Super thin. This is the Fan Brush, I have found that it works best when you have a little bit more paint than water, so why don't I touched on that right now? One thing that's going to happen is you will need different amounts of saturation for different techniques. Some techniques you'll need more water than paint. Some it's equal, some you need 70 percent paint, 30 percent water. I find that when your brush is a little bit on the drier side for the Fan Brush and has a little bit more paint than water. I just think it works a little bit better for me and this one is awesome. If you want to do grass or anything, maybe the side of a barn where it would have something that looks like chipped paint. Because all those bristles are going to leave some really interesting texture. When you're done with this exercise, I would recommend labeling each of the brushes that you used, especially if this is brand new for you, so that when you are tackling your first watercolor painting, you can look back and see the different effects that we got with different brushes. 4. Graded & Flat Wash: Now that we have learned about what the different brushes are capable of in terms of brushstrokes, we get to get into our watercolor techniques. The first two watercolor techniques I'm going to teach you are probably the most basic of all that is the flat wash and graded wash. Let's start with the flat. The flat wash is just like it sounds. It's flat. We want the color to be even, we don't want any areas to be darker or lighter than the rest. I'm going to start with a moderately wet brush, my paper's going to be dry. I like to think of this as doing about 50-50 between water and paint. It's hard to describe, but once you start painting, you'll get kind of a sense for it. I don't want to see papers specs, if my colors too intense, I'll add a bit more water, and pulling across and down. Any areas that get darker, I'm just pushing the paint to a new space to try and get it as even as possible. Just as a reminder, for all of these techniques, we'll be using cold press, watercolor paper. As it dries there might be areas that I see start to get a little bit more saturated, but for the most part, it will dry as is, and it will be flat. Now the main difference between a graded wash and flat wash is that a graded has gradation, so this is great for water or Skies. For this graded wash, I'm going to have the top be darker and it's gradually going to get lighter. People might have different ways of doing this. I like to get the paper just a tiny bit wet, not much. But what's going to happen is I'm going to load my brush up with as much paint as possible, and I'm going to go over it once and I'm going to keep pulling down, and I'm not going to add paint to my brush, so sometimes it helps if there's a little bit of saturation in the paper. I'm going to pull a cross at the top, and leave it. Now go down to the next and leave it, maybe I flip my brush, leave it. At this point, I might add just a tiny bit of water. No more paint though, and here I'm going to add rinse my brush out and get mostly just water. This happens all the time. I have a dirty and a dirty, I might as well start labeling my cups, that's okay, I'll change it up. I mostly water at this point, if it gets too dark, I can go back with a dry brush and just even that out, and the very last, just going to do pure water, if I pull that little bit down. While this is dry, undergo change out my water as these are drawing, just going to hold them up a little bit closer so you can see them clearly. Your flat wash that end up very even smooth. The graded you can see why this works great for Sky in water will get that depth. We'll put these to the other side, and move on to a technique called wet on wet. 5. Wet on Wet & Lifting: The next technique we are working on is called wet on wet. It's pretty much just how it sounds. We're going to wet the paper down first and add paint on top. We let the paint speak for itself. I really like doing this with floral pieces or skies, anything where you want it to be a little bit more free. My paper is wet. I got paint on my brush, and I just set the paint down. You can have colors that blend together with this technique. They can bleed into each other. You can find areas where you make it a little bit more intense, there we go. I wanted to be sure that I showed you a really clear example of what can happen with a wet on wet technique and the possibilities. With these flowers, you'll see that the flowers that are furthest away from us seem very light and delicate. There's really no definition. The background of this painting was done first with a wet on wet technique. You'll notice that certain areas of the purples and pinks blend with the green and it is a really soft effect. I'm also going to include lifting in this segment because I typically use a wet on wet technique before I do lifting. I'm going to get my paper wet again. This is great if you want to create clouds. I'm going to mix this blue just a tiny bit, the burnt sienna, and it's the wet on wet. I'm filling in this space. Then I'm going to take either a paper towel or a sponge, and I basically just soak up different areas. You can also use a brush to soak it up. Let's go back again, let's get more paint down there. I can dry off my brush and soak up different areas that way. But the key is to wipe your brush in between, just so you're keeping that paint away. Then usually with lifting, I come in and find a couple areas that I just want to build up a little bit more like that. Now, I'm going to take the sponge too. The spongy will pick it up, but it also creates its own texture. I will come back to the wet on wet. You can see how the paints are mixing. If you want it to get a little bit more interesting and you want to turn your paper to blend some of those together and we'll let them dry. As they are getting close to dry, see how the edges really softened up. It just creates a nice natural transition from dark to light, which lifting is so good for clouds. You can use these techniques all around. You could have a brick building and you want to lift up one edge because it got a little bit too dark as long as the paint is still somewhat wet, you can definitely do that. 6. Masking Fluid & Dry Brush : Next, we are going to move on to masking fluid and dry brush. We're going to start with the mask included because that need some dry time in-between. The purpose of masking fluid is to block off an area of paper that you want to remain white. For example, I'm going to do a really quick sketch of an orchid. I don't know. This will be super accurate. It's been a while since I've looked at an orchid so we'll see. My orchid is drawn. Now, I'm going to take a brush that is usually designated for masking fluid. Meaning it's cheap. It's crappy. I'm never going to use it for anything but masking fluid because no matter how much you clean your brush, it just gets really grimy. Let's see if I can open this. This is basically a glorified rubber cement. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to block off the orchid, because I want to be able to paint my background without having to carefully go around the plant. Masking fluid dries very quickly. You'll notice that I'm dabbing more than I'm painting. Because if I start doing brushstrokes, all that's going to happen is I'm going to start tearing up the masking fluid that I just put down because it dries very quickly. It's important to let the masking fluid dry before you apply any paint on the top of it. So we will come back to this piece shortly. I mentioned earlier that for the fan brush, I really like to have more paint than water, which essentially is what dry brush means. This is very good for creating texture and also for layering and glazing, which we'll talk about in a little bit. I've said that I thought this would be good for the side of a barn if you're doing an urban sketch of an old building. Look at all that texture. Dry brush doesn't have to necessarily involve texture. But what it's going to give you is a lot of control. The color is going to be intense because there's not a lot of water. Just for fun, I'm going to use a round brush to show you that you can still do dry brush with other materials. Let's do brown. Again, the paint is just what enough to saturate the brush. It's very intense, very bold. I can layer and it's not going to bleed like the wet on wet did. When I do my watercolor paintings, that's often a last step, dry brush because I want it on top of everything else. You can combine other techniques that you've learned too. Let's say I want some of this in the center to be very dry and bold, but maybe I want to pull out some of the edges and soften that up a bit. Because I'm a firm believer that variety in any piece is always good. I'm going to soften somebody's edges. If you remember at the beginning I talked about how hot pressing. Cold press are different in the sense that I'm able to move this paint around a lot. This edge here was very bold and I basically made it disappear. On hot press, that's going to be a little bit of a different story. We're going to find that is, you could blow this up and have a pretty awesome abstract painting. For masking fluids seems to be pretty dry. It's always going to stay a little bit tacky. That's just the way it is. But as long as it's not picking up on your finger, you're good to go. I'm working on the background right now, and I want it to be dark. While it looks like the paint is going through the masking fluid, I promise you it's not. We'll be able to see the effect once we tear the masking fluid off. Now that the watercolor has dried, it's time to peel off the masking fluid. Roll it up. Now that the masking fluid is removed, I'm going to come back in. Even if you're using pencil, you still might have to find some spaces where the masking fluid tore up a little bit of your graphite or ink. It just picks up some of that. This area, the paper did actually tear a little bit. So what that tells me is I probably put too much masking fluid. You don't want it to be too thick and you also don't want to let it sit for a very long time. If I were to put masking fluid on and then leave it for a full day, it probably wouldn't tear off quite as well. Other than that slight tear where I applied too much masking fluid, it did a pretty good job of keeping the background off of my subject matter. That's a great way to use the app material. 7. Tape Technique : The most self-explanatory and obvious of all the methods is tape, but I just thought I'd include it just in case this is all completely new. You do want to get a specific kind of tape, usually it's just called Artist's tape. It'll be at Michaels or I don't know, maybe Walmart and stuff carries it. But it's usually colored, I think sometimes it's green. I will also use this if I'm doing a painting and I want my edges to be nice and clean. The paint doesn't seep through and the tape doesn't tear up the paper. I'm using this for right now is to make a clean, crisp horizon line. I'm going to do some water down here, a sky up here and I'm also going to create a graded wash. I think I'll do a graded wash on the bottom, and then maybe I'll do some lifting on the top for the clouds just to recap some of the things we've learned. We'll let that dry before I peel the tape off. The watercolor has dried. So now it's time for the fun part, taking off the tape. You see what a nice crisp-line using tape for the horizon can create. We'll add some mountains in the background. The mountains are finished, mountain scene. 8. Layering : The last technique we are going to learn today is layering. I'm going to take a piece that's completely dry and show you how to layer on top. I'm just going to do some type of leaf or vine on top of this. The trick with layering is you want to put the paint down, but you don't want to keep scrubbing in. For example, I'm going to do this leaf shape here. I'm not going to keep going over and over and over. Because again, even though this paint is dry, if I were to just take pure water and scrub over the top of it, you can pick some of that color back up. If I want it to be intense, just think of it as placing it down and leaving it be. Now what you can do if you want to create some value is let's say I want this to be a little bit shaded, I can take my dry brush like we talked about earlier and lift some of that color out. If it's too wet, you'll find that you're lifting some of the color and the wet paint is just seeping back into it. So you have to time it right, where it's not too dry and not too wet. I'm going to keep going over with these leaves. Now you can start off with a softer color to, just dirtied my clean water again. Oh, well. Let's say I just want this to be subtle. That's still layering. But again, the trick is to not go over it multiple times. Basically, you don't want to scrub with your brush. Maybe you want to do a little wet on wet. Maybe I want some of this to bleed together a little bit. I started with a flat wash. Then I came in and showed you how to layer. Then when I got to this leaf, I incorporated some wet on wet, I did some dry brush. That's really a good example of what a full water color piece entails, even though this is mini, is you really don't use just one technique per watercolor piece. The goal is really trying to incorporate multiple water color techniques into each individual piece. 9. Class Project: Thank you so much for being a part from my very first skill share class. I hope what you learned today, was valuable to you. For your project, I challenge you to use three of the watercolor techniques that you'll learned in this class on your next watercolor painting. Feel free to post a picture of your finished watercolor painting below, so we can see the progress that each of us has made throughout this journey. I'm looking forward to having you in more of my classes, and happy painting. 10. BLOOPERS! See you next time!: Some of the basics of watercolor techniques that you can utilize those skills in your future watercolor paintings. Come on. Hello. Welcome to my first Skillshare class where I learn how to speak in front of a camera. Hope you enjoy. Watercolor painting. Feel free to post your finished product below so we can all see each other's progress, so I look forward to see you. Let's do this again.