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Watercolor Tutorial: The Basics of Watercolor

Today, there’s a booming demand for watercolor tutorial and how-to guides on trending watercolor techniques

Below, Hieu has prepared a ‘how to watercolor for beginners’ tutorial and great places to further your learning when you’re ready.

Let’s Begin with Watercolor Basics

Watercolor supplies used in this tutorial:

A few basic supplies will be necessary for beginners, here are our suggestions:

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Watercolor Paper

You can use a sketchbook or paper specific to water coloring such as watercolor canvas. For the sake of convenience, he has bought a basic sketchbook. This is 300 GSM Cold-Pressed Waterpaper, but there are many other variations.

Watercolor Paint

You can use disc cakes, watercolor tubes, or even watercolor pens and create a whole watercolor paint set. The choice is yours. As you grow into watercolor painting, you will pick up a preference, but now he will use Winsor and Newtons Cotton and Water-Based Pens watercolor set.

Note: Watercolor pencils, pastels, and Watercolor markers are also available, so this decision is largely up to your preference which you will gain with experience.

Watercolor Brushes

Different brushes have different effects and purposes. You’ll learn a lot about brushes just by reading more of our tutorials. We’ve gone over which brushes are suitable for certain types of works in another article. 

Watercolor artists use all kinds of brushes. In the beginning, any brush will work. Though, if you are using the best watercolor paints, you will soon figure out which brushes you prefer, as well.

Paper Towels

Next, grab some paper towels. You will see these come in handy later on. Even tissue paper or scrap paper works fine, though. Anything that can be used to dry brushes and wipe away excess water. Many artists even use paper towels to sample colors before adding it to their work.


Watercolor is a water-based medium so the dried pens and cakes need a touch of water in order to activate the paints. We recommend lightly misting the pens before use (maybe with a spray bottle).

However, a couple of jars filled with water will work just fine as well. Get two – one for dirty water and paint, the other for clean water.

Using clean water is crucial before applying color if you want the color to come out brighter, stronger, and more vivid on your work. Using dirty water will mean your colors come out murky and muddy.

Get in the habit of using clean water before adding new colors and your journey to becoming a watercolor artist will become much easier.


Many artists prefer to tape their paper or canvas to the surface before beginning their work. This will hold their work steady when you otherwise can’t, and it will also allow you to paint easily to the edge.

For this, any tape will do, but we prefer masking tape or painter’s tape so that we can easily peel it from the paper at the end.

Beginner Watercolor Techniques

Before you go any further, let’s break down some of the simplest techniques you will need to learn as a watercolor painter.

Wet on wet

This technique, as you may have guessed, is when you are applying wet watercolor paints onto a wet surface. Here, we will breakdown the steps to get started.

1. Wet the surface of the paper

Don’t be shy about it. Dip your brush into your jar of clean clean water and begin generously coating a corner of your sheet of paper or canvas with water. It may seem strange at first, but don’t worry, it’s what you need to do for this technique.

2. Apply paint

With the paper still wet, apply a generous amount of paint to your canvas. Make a quarter-sized dot on your sheet (remember, we are just experimenting). You should see the paint bleed and expand further than your initial dab. 

You can do it a few times and watch as the outer edges of the color become softer. This is the desired effect.

While the paint is still wet, you can continue to work the paint to create different shapes and effects. This brings us to our first artistic technique: fanning.

Clean the brush and use it to fan the color as far as it will let you take it. Once it becomes light at the edge, consider using another color for our second technique: blending. 

You’ll see the paint is much easier to work and create gradients while the paper is also wet. This becomes a bit different when the paper is dry.

Wet on dry

Wet on dry requires different techniques than the wet on wet style. The advantage is the dry canvas or paper allows you to create bold shapes and paint defining colors unlike on a wet surface.

This style is great for outlining your work and creating detail within it. See how the paint doesn’t run away from you like it did on the wet surface?

These are only three techniques you can use to paint for starts.

Eventually, you will be able to seamlessly combine the two – once you understand how they can work together to create wonderful effects that will advantage you.


Lastly, as mentioned above, you can combine the two techniques. This is called mixing. Though, you should wait until you’ve become comfortable with both the above techniques individually before combining them.

Here, you can use the wet on wet style first to create a soft bleeding effect.

After that, you focus on a wet on dry approach (which means you must let your paper dry) to create the fine details.

Alternatively, you can apply the wet on dry first and, after, re-work the paint while it’s still wet with some of your clean water until it ultimately has the effect of a wet on wet piece of work. Many beginner artists find this to be easiest for more intricate designs. 

Ready to put your knowledge to practice on your first portrait? Follow our easy tutorial below!

Remember: Watercolor is a water-based medium, so it’s not only about how you apply the paint, but also about how you apply the water to create different effects by using different amounts of water.

Experiment, experiment, experiment!

Watercolor Tutorial Step-by-Step Experiment

Step 1: Sketch

Make a sketch of your design lightly in pencil.

Step 2: Paint light to dark

The first rule of watercolors you must remember is painting light to dark — especially if you plan on painting in layers like seen here in her hair.

Notice the use of both techniques (mixing) to create clear detail on the strands of hair and beautiful blends in the majority of the hair for variation.

As you can see, when trying to add some blemish to the cheeks, the paint bled too far. But, don’t worry, as Bob Ross famously says; in the world of watercolor, there are no mistakes, only ‘happy accidents’.

You can reverse whatever move you make while the paint is still wet with tissue. Simply tear off a small bit and wipe up / soak up the trouble area while the paint is still activated. 

Step 3: Practice wet on dry

You can use a wet on dry technique to add any intricate detail needed to your piece — as seen on the female’s lips in our example.

Step 4: Blend the colors

We are going to blend colors. In this example, we are blending the woman’s clothing colors. 

To do that, we have wet the paper for a wet on wet effect of red color while leaving the front part of the shirt dry and adding a detailed blue. See the difference?

Step 5: Drag paint

Create a nice blend of colors while it is still wet. Remember to drag all dark colors into light when possible. If your light colors have faded, don’t be afraid to add more paint to return it to a stronger tone.

Step 6: Finishing touches

Add some finishing touches with the wet on dry technique. Note that you must wait until the first layer dries to do this.

In this example, we’ve created fine detail in the strands of hair and re-worked the form of several key features of the face such as the eyes and lips. You can also do this on the piece you are working on.

That’s it for this portrait tutorial!

Remember, watercolor is a very experimental artistic medium. To get comfortable with your ability, you should explore and experiment with a variety of designs, colors, and tools. 

Try mixing up your own techniques and eventually you will find what works best for you. 

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Watercolor Tutorials for Advancing Your Craft

We offer a wide selection of watercolor painting tutorials and watercolor tips for beginners with our friends at Skillshare. You can sign-up using this link and receive two FREE months of Skillshare watercolor classes on us!

Here are some of our favorite watercolor tutorials to get you started.

Art Essentials: Learn Watercolor Painting Basics

Length: 44 minutes

Skill-Level: Beginner

In this easy watercolor tutorial, Katie goes over how each utensil works differently, how to mix different colors from the primaries, and how to create different textures on a variety of objects.

The course gets down to the basics and how to use watercolor paint and take a palette of color and create beautiful works of art. It is a wonderful introductory course for someone who is looking to involve themselves more in the world of watercolor.

Anyone Can Watercolor: The Basics for Creating Magical Pieces

Length: 24 minutes

Skill-Level: Beginner

Have you ever been discouraged by watercolors because you lacked the basic knowledge to get started? Then, this class is for you! It’s one of the most complete watercolor painting tutorial we offer.

Watercoloring is just like any other skill; it takes patience and practice to learn but once you have the hang of it, it will open up a world of opportunities!

Yasmina will cover all the basics for you to get started; what supplies she uses, 6 different wash techniques, blending, layering, masking, highlighting, and other beginner techniques that will get you going in the right direction in learning how to use watercolor paint.

Watercolor Paintings Easy Tutorials

Are you looking for other watercolor painting ideas? Check out our how-to tutorial on painting 12 flowers so you can create amazing flora in your work!

About the Author: Watercolor Classes

Hello, and welcome to our site. We've been passionate about watercolor for years and have learned a lot along the way. We hope our tutorials and tips will help you out on your watercolor journey. Let's make art together!

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