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Watercolor FAQ – The 10 Most Frequent Questions Beginners in Watercolor Have

Watercolor is an amazing medium, but it can be tricky. It is living a blossoming era, just take a look on the Facebook groups with massive amounts of members, the tons of resources, blogs, forums and Skillshare classes as well.

Even though there are so many resources for beginners where to start, I still had to find out in my own FB group that there are several questions that pop up regularly. Beginners tend to get intimidated and overwhelmed very quickly and the tons of resources, different opinions and options are giving them a rough time.

The reason is that most of these resources are written by intermediate or advanced artists who tend to forget the thoughts of the very beginners.

I am teaching for a decade now, more than a year online, I have a FB Group with a massive amount of members and I am daily exposed to the initial thoughts, problems and questions of very beginners.

Let’s make it clear: a very beginner is a person with no previous art education, nor experience in other medium, so you can tell them to mix all their colors from warm and cool blue, yellow and red, invest in artist grade paints, use a ceramic palette and all the fancy stuff, but it will not help them. They are at the initial stage. They need to focus on different things. Let me tell it with a different metaphor: you can have the most expensive yoga mat, practice fancy poses and stuff, but if you can’t breath properly to light up the “agni” you will not sweat yourself down to your purest form physically and spiritually.

So beginners in watercolor need to focus on painting itself, water and brush control, explore pigments, understand shapes, layers, overcome their inner fears, volume down the inner critique, level up their observational skills, be able to express themselves and create art. With watercolors.

We have an Ask Me Anything Thread every Friday in the FB Group where I try to answer all the questions and if I don’t know the answer, I do the research. There are these 10 questions that pop up regularly and I wanted to address them in this blog post and in a simple Skillshare class so that very beginners have a starting point. I am not really going into detail in all of the topics, just give short answers to give an idea how this all works. So let’s see:

1. What paints to use?

This is an ultimate question because nobody agrees. There is a tribe saying that you only need the warm and cool blue, yellow and red to mix all the other colors, but as there isn’t such a things as red, yellow and blue, but alzarine crimson, rose madder, cadmium red, indian yellow, new camboge, lemon yellow, pthalo blue, cobalt blue, celurean blue and I could go on… and all the combinations give different results… and I might like the greens that pthalo blue and cadmium yellow gives or the oranges that I can make with lemon yellow and rose madder and simply love an already made purple as my purple.

I recommend beginners to simply get a student grade halfpan set with lots of colors and explore the pigments. Later when they find the colors that fit their personality, upgrade them into professional grade tubes,then they will have their own signature palette which is a super amazing and awesome thing, but not the first step. I prefer halfpans over tubes for beginners because they get easily activated and one can start painting right away and doesn’t need to get frustrated by getting the right consistency of tube paints, wasting too much paint and even how to store them (not on open air in a palette because they get dusty). So yeah, get a students grade halfpan set for a start!

2. What brushes to use?

Round brushes. Any size, any brand, synthetic. They are cheap and durable. Cheap brushes with real fur tend to loose hair which is annoying. Good brushes with real fur are expensive. And they use real fur. From sable and squirrel. Poor sable and squirrel.

You can paint with flat brushes as well. Differently shaped brushes will give you different effects. Round brushes hold more water. But you can use a flat brush for washes. Actually there is a big flat brush called wash brush. You don’t need that at the beginning. If you get a cheap set you will have all the sizes you might need.

3. What paper to use?

As you can see I don’t recommend to spend too much money and thought on paints and brushes, but I recommend to save for good quality paper. Everything under 300 g /140 lb will buckle a lot. So get at least the 300g/140lb. Cold pressed. Hot pressed is smooth, doesn’t have that nice rough texture and is rather intended for illustrators. Any brand will work, they say Arches is the best, but I use Fabriano because it is reasonably priced and good quality. If you buy paper in pads, you eliminate the need for stretching or taping down the paper as the paper is glued together in all 4 sides, so I do recommend to buy pads. Any size. So you paint on the pad and when you are done you remove the paper. Practical.

4. Do You Pre-Draw?

Yes, but I recommend to follow these steps: PLAN, SKETCH, PRE-DRAW, PAINT.

You should eliminate the amount of pencil marks on the paper because if you paint over them, you cannot erase them. So plan what you are going to paint, sketch it down several times, pre-draw the most important parts, then paint. I personally use watercolor pencils to pre-draw because then I only need to blend it into my painting and I don’t really need to get rid of the pencil marks. Actually you don’t need to get rid of them in all cases. You can even embrace them with ink or white gel pen.

5. What Are The Best Subjects to Start With?

This is an easy one – start with easy subjects :) This means, objects that are simple, don’t require too much detail or demand high drawing skills and I would let realism go as well! You can create amazing illustrations with flat shapes, so you don’t need to paint fully realistic if you don’t want. Paint galaxies, easy landscapes, etc. You can find inspiration on Pinterest, Youtube, Blogs, Online Courses and Facebook Groups.

6. How Much Water to Use?

There isn’t a golden rule. Don’t over wet the paper, so don’t have puddles on it and also don’t be afraid to use the water and the paints. The amount of water actually depends on lots of factors, like humidity and temperature in your room, if you are painting inside or outside, the quality of your materials. So I would say the golden rule is that you need to experiment that out for yourself! Just don’t be afraid to experiment!

7. What is Masking Fluid?

Masking fluid is Gum Arabic, which does exactly what it name says – it masks. If you are painting with watercolors, you need to work from light to dark, so you would want to keep the white of the paper as your highlight for example. Then it is a good idea to use masking fluid to protect those areas from water and paint. That said, it is not a “must have”. You can simply be careful or use gouache or acrylic on top to add highlights.

8. Can I use a hairdryer?

Watercolor painting is about patience, you simply need to be patient and wait until your layers dry. Beginners tend to be impatient and it is a good idea to use a hairdryer to dry your layers. BUT! You need to be patient with this as well! Some say, that if you use a hairdryer, you will end up with dull colors. This is just partially true, because only water vaporises from your paper. Pigments don’t vaporise, but can get damaged by heat. Simply just don’t put the hairdryer too close to the paper and don’t put it directly to your heat source!

9. Copyright – Do I Need To Give Credit?

Yes of course! I would name few cases here to give you an idea:

You follow a Youtube Tutorial – even though you painted the picture, you followed a step-by-step tutorial by an artist. You should give credit to the creator of the tutorial,  saying: “Followed the tutorial of….”. If you think that you did your own interpretation of it, you should say at least: “Inspired by the tutorial of…”

You copy a stock photo as a reference picture – if you copy a reference photo in a full extent, you should state that when you share your artwork. You need to keep in mind, that free stock photos can be used by anyone, so to be fair, you should state it in your picture description: “I painted this artwork by a reference photo.”

You use a reference photo – if you use a reference photo only to get an idea of color palettes, different compositions, anatomy, highlights and shadows, you don’t need to give credit to that reference photo.

You are inspired by an artist – if you are inspired by an artist and would love to create something similar, you should give credit again, saying “inspired by”. If you copy it to a full extent say: “It is a reproduction of this artwork by.” If you like an idea, subject and paint it in your own signature style, you don’t need to give credit – however this is a bit unclear. I would say, deep in your heart you always know if something isn’t your work. Listen to that sound.

Creating art is great. Copying  is a great way to learn. Giving credit is not a shame, it is respectful.

Remember! By not giving credit, you damage the whole artist society including yourself!

10. How to Finish a Watercolor Painting?

First of all, let’s explain why you should give your artwork finishing touches: because ultimately, you want to display your art, right? (Obviously, only if it is not a practice piece.)

Make sure everything is completely dry! If so, you should make your painting flat. Even if you stretch the paper before painting, it might have a little buckle in it. Place your artwork under weighty books for a few days! If there are lots of buckles, you should tape your artwork facing down to a clean surface and wet the back of it. Then let it dry, maybe again with the help of some books.

The pigments in your paints have different levels of lightfastness. This means, that if they are exposed to direct sunlight, they can fade. To avoid this, you can use products, like watercolor varnish, which comes in different finishes like glossy, matte, satin, which contains UV filter that protects your pigments.

You might want to frame your artwork. You can put your artwork behind glass, but make sure to use conservation glass which also has UV protection properties.

Even though you make these steps to protect your artwork, it is still not recommended to hang it to a place where they are exposed to direct sunlight too much.

A modern way to preserve your artwork – and this is what I do – is by digitizing it. By scanning and editing it, you can get rid of the pencil marks, mistakes and you can make as many prints as you want – and you can keep the precious originals! Practical.

Check out my “Photoshop for Artists” course, where I teach everything in detail about this process and more.

So, these were the 10 most frequent questions beginners in watercolors have. I hope that this article is useful for you! You can watch the whole class I made explaining all these in a little more detail on Skillshare. You will find a bonus video in the course with quick answers to 10 more questions – just to make sure I am covering everything! If you are not a member yet, join for 2 FREE MONTHS and watch all the amazing classes that are on the platform.

This class is a great addition to “The Watercolor Painting Series” I created specifically for very beginners – I try to fit in as much color theory and art theory as possible, into easy, doable but still eye catching projects. I would love to see you there!

Here are some more beginner classes on Skillshare that you could like (CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ACCESS THEM):

If you have any more questions, you are welcome to join the “Watercolor for Beginners FB group” and the “Ask Me Anything Friday” thread we have. Ask your questions there!

I wish you all HAPPY CREATING!

The Artmother

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