Watercolor is one of the most alluring media in the art field. It helps portray soft, spilling hues of the breathtaking paintings of the skies and seas, as well as dreamy, earthy shades of the portraits. However, they can be a tricky medium to get started with, especially when you have no idea where to begin. These instructions will walk you through the basics of watercolor painting, and everything you need to know before you get started.


Watercolors come in three different grades: children’s, student grade, and artist grade. They can come in a variety of ways such as small pans or cakes, tubes, and as a liquid in bottles, which can make it difficult which to choose when you are purchasing your material.

1. Quality: Like acrylics, you can buy watercolor paint in artists’ quality and student’s quality. Artists' watercolors have a higher concentration of finely ground pigment with high permanence ratings. Students' colors may contain cheaper pigments and more fillers and extenders.

2. Presentation: Watercolors can be bought in pans, tubes, bottles, as sticks and even pencils, but by far the most common way is to buy it in pans or tubes.

A. Watercolor pans/cakes: Made out of pigments, binders and different additives. Can be bought either in a set or individually. They usually come with a mixing palette and are ready to be use since they only require a little bit of water to be activated. While it can take some time to get the right colors and amount of paint desired, watercolors in pans are fast and easy to use and storage. They can also be easily taken anywhere you want are always ready to be used.

B. Watercolor tubes: Made out of pigments, binders and additives. Have a creamier texture and come in different sizes. They can be purchased in a set or individually, but they don’t come with a mixing palette. Tubes can be intimidating because of their price, but are actually more economical compared to the pans and a lot cheaper in the long run.

C. Watercolor Ink/Liquid watercolors: Made out of pigments, or dye-based. Can be purchased in individual bottles or as a set. The lids usually come with a pipe head to make the distribution of liquid easy. This presentation is ideal for illustrations and pen lettering, but is not really travel-friendly.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what you personally prefer but a recommendation would be to start with the pans and once you have become familiar with the upgrade to tubes. Liquid Watercolors are not really recommended for a beginner even if they are easier to handle. Whatever set you decide on, the first thing you should do upon receiving your watercolors is create a color chart.


Good brushes are indispensable for watercolor art, but they come in different shapes, sizes and materials brushes come in which can make it difficult which to choose when you are making your selection. Knowing a little more about the difference between them can help you determine which might fit you best.

1. Material: There are different types of materials in which brushes are made which can affect the way you paint. Usually, brushes made from natural materials will be more expensive, hold more water and have a better ability to retain their shape and last longer, although nowadays, synthetic brushes can approach the quality of those made from natural materials.

a. Kolinsky sable: These brushes are very absorbent and retain their shape very well. They're made from winter coat pelt of a male kolinsky.

b. Red sable: Red sable are good quality and a bit less expensive than kolinsky brushes. They have a natural spring and good color holding capacity. They are made from different species of marten.

c. Animal hair: Brushes made from squirrel are very soft; goat is still quite soft and more affordable; ox comes from the hairs of cattle and is a bit thicker than squirrel. All those brushes won't hold a point as well as the sable and kolinsky brushes.

d. Synthetic:Made from nylon or polyesters, synthetic brushes are less expensive and often their quality comes quite close to natural hair brushes, although they might wear a bit faster.

2. Shapes: Brushes come in several sizes and shapes, knowing their use can help you determine which brushes you might need to purchase to achieve what you want.

a. Round:The most popular for watercolor artists because of their versatility. They have a round ferrule and a rounded point when wet, which can create fine or thick lines, making round brushes good for painting wide areas as well as tiny details.

b. Flat: This brush has a flat ferrule and a straight edge and is usually square, but it can also be a rectangular shape. Most strokes done with a flat brush will have a straight edge. These are ideal for laying down large areas of even color and defining precise edges.

i. Bright: A bright brush is the same as a flat brush but is curved inward at the tip, so it's a bit shorter and springier.

ii. Angular: Depending on the angle you hold the brush it may work more like a round brush than a flat. Because they are so versatile.

iii. Filbert: These brushes have a flat ferrule and are oval shaped; they are often used to paint foliage.

c. Wash: These large, flat brushes can hold a lot of paint, allowing the artist to lay large washes and cover a lot of territory.

i. Mop: These brushes have lots of soft hair that will hold a large quantity of water and are good for painting washes in large areas or blotting or blending paint that is already applied; they are usually made from squirrel or goat hair.

ii. Hake: This wide, flat brush has a flat handle and is useful for laying down large washes. They are made by hand in Japan with goat hair and are very soft.

d. Detail Brushes: Like the name suggest, these are the brushes used for fine details.

i. Rigger: This brush has very long, thin hairs that come to a precise point and renders very fine, long lines.

ii. Spotter: Good for painting details, because they have a very short hair length, the brush won't bend when painting tiny dots or details.

iii. Liner: A small round brush with a pointed tip is good for making fine, thin lines and for signing a finished painting.

3. Sizes: The most common sizes of watercolor brushes range from #0000 to #24 which is about 3/4", but you can find sizes up to a #50. Something to keep in mind is that the smaller the number, the smaller the size of the brush.

4. Brush care: Watercolor brushes are considered to be low maintenance. With only a little care, they can last a long time, but negligence can quickly destroy them too. There are a few things one can do, and avoid doing, to greatly extend the life of a brush.

  • Only use brushes for its intended purpose.
  • Always pre-moisten pigments.
  • Learn to properly load and use a brush.
  • Protect the ferrule.
  • Don’t let brushes rest bristle-down in water for any length of time.
  • Rinse in cold water after use.
  • Clean the brushes well, but avoid over washing.
  • Shake out excess water and shape the tip with fingers.
  • Lay brushed flat to dry.
  • Store brushes bristles-up in a jar.
  • Give brushes breathing room. The slightest pressure can bend bristles, especially when they are wet, and this can’t always be corrected.

Ultimately, just like watercolors, it comes down to personal preference. Your choice rests on the watercolor techniques you like to use, how much you're willing to spend, and simply how certain brushes feel in your hand.


As a watercolor artist, your chosen watercolor paper must possess certain qualities that will enhance the artwork. The paper used will need to be able to withstand multiple washes, be non-yellowing, sufficient in weight and consistent in its texture. Using paper specifically meant for watercolors is recommended, because it is a lot more absorbent but mixed media paper can also work.

1. Quality: There are two main grades of watercolor paper: artist’s quality and students’ quality. Artists' quality, sometimes known as archival paper, is acid-free and designed to endure. Papers that aren't acid-free will become yellow and brittle over time. If you're a beginner or just practicing, students' quality paper is fine but the paint won't perform as well and don't expect your painting to stand up to the test of time.

2. Production: If you buy artists' quality paper it should be either handmade or mold-made. Students' quality paper is typically machine-made, which is cheaper, but prone to distortion and deterioration when wet.

a. Hand-made: These papers are made from textile fibers such as cotton, linen & hemp and the surface has been sized usually with gelatin. This is a joy to work on because it’s durable, won’t buckle and has a lovely irregular texture. Usually 100% cotton or linen or a mix of rags – hence the term ‘100% cotton rag’. It can be expensive but well worth it for a special piece. The quality, properties & prices of these papers depend on where they were made so some experimentation is advised.

b. Mold-made: These are often made with a mix of paper fibers and/or cotton rather than 100% cotton. The fibers are formed into sheets on cylinder-mold machines, these give the paper a more uniform structure than the handmade paper. However, in practice it can feel much more like handmade paper, it’s also durable extremely stable and doesn’t buckle if you put loads of washes on.

c. Machine-made: This will be more reasonably priced and extremely common; it can be made of more paper fibers and less cotton. Sometimes wood-pulp is used which is a cheaper raw material, this produces a less durable paper. Also, due to the Acidic lignin content in the wood-pulp, it can yellow over time.

3. Texture: Perhaps one of the first choices you will encounter when selecting a watercolor paper is choosing a surface type.

a. Hot-press paper: This type is run through hot rollers that flatten the surface and create a smooth, finely grained texture with almost no tooth. It’s less absorbent, so pigments look brighter on the surface.

b. Cold-press paper: This type is pressed flat between felt sheets and has a distinct texture or tooth; it’s the most versatile and popular paper.

c. Rough paper: This type is not pressed during manufacturing and has a prominent tooth that lets pigment particles settle in the indentations, creating a grainy texture.

d. Synthetic paper: This paper water-resistant, so it won’t buckle. Made of polypropylene, it has an extremely smooth surface.

The characteristics of watercolor paper, such as whiteness and texture, differ by manufacturer; sampling the various watercolor papers and sketchbooks is highly recommended is order to learn and determine which paper is needed for the desired end result.


Set up your work space to have the paper taped directly in front of you. Washi tape and painter’s tape/masking tape usually work well because it won’t damage the surface, and having the paper taped down can help prevent wrinkles on the paper. One tip to avoid ripping the paper when removing it is to sticking the tape against clothes or skin before taping it to your paper to make it easier to remove. The watercolors on whichever side your dominant side is, and the rest of the materials should be between the first two in the following order from farther to closest: one water container for clean and another for dirty water, paper/towel to clean your brushes, and spare paper for testing colors. The location of these objects can be adjusted as needed.


Creating a reference chart specific to your palette is always a good idea, to help you see how the color looks in paper. Simply paint blobs onto a piece of watercolor paper and keep it around while you are painting so it’s easy to remember exactly which color is which.


One thing to note about watercolors is you don’t need to buy a set that features a lot of different colors since It’s easy to mix your own colors. The easiest way to mix paints is by using either a palette, plate or even in the lid of the pan of watercolors itself.

1. Watercolor Pans/Cakes: To activate the paint on the pans, add a little bit of water on top of the paint to pre-wet it. You can either start painting at this point using the paint directly from the pan or you can place the paint in the mixing palette to add water and manipulate the intensity or mix to a desire color.

While the mixing process can be extremely slow and tiring due to the need to go back and forth between the pan and palette to get the desired amount pigment of a certain color, it will also prevent you wasting unnecessary paint. Pans can also be extremely hard on the brushes so use caution when dipping the paint on the pans to load them with paint to avoid damaging the bristles.

Watercolor pan sets can get very dirty and the colors can get dirty and lose their purity due to the constant back and forth between the colors while mixing so it is important to keep the palette and the colors clean by cleaning them in an as-needed basis. Pans and cakes can run out of pain rather quickly since there is not really much paint in comparison to other presentations, but they can be easily replaceable with a new pan or squeeze paint from a tube and let it dry which makes it easy to create and customize watercolor palettes to your desire.

2. Watercolor Tubes: For tubes, you will need to first squeeze a small amount of paint into the mixing palette and add water as needed depending on the intensity of the color you wish. The more water you add, the lighter the color becomes. Since the paint is already rather liquid, it dissolves really easily in the water, and due to the strong pigmentation, the intensity can be adjusted with the right water-to-paint ratio a lot quicker. For maximum color intensity they can be used without adding any additional water to them.

Because of the presentation, it is easier to prepare a bigger amount of paint in the color of your choice which is ideal when you are working in a large piece. However, it can also be difficult to judge the amount of paint you actually need, but it can be easily reactivated by water.

Customizing color can be easily done by squeezing the tubes into a mixing palette or an empty case and letting them dry, they can later be used as normal watercolor pans. Using the paint directly from the tube when mixing can help keeping the paint pure.

Closing the lid properly on the tube is essential to avoid having the paint dry out inside the tube, the opening of the tube should also be clean in order to avoid having the paint dry around the lid and causing it to get stuck, making it difficult to remove later.

3. Ink Watercolor/Liquid Watercolors: To get started with them you will need to first squeeze a small amount of paint into the mixing palette to adjust the intensity of the color, or if you wish to mix a desired color while keeping the original color clean. Large amounts of paints are easy to use and adjusting the intensity of colors can be achieved by adding water as needed. Excess paint that is a clean, original color can easily be re-storage.

While the colors inside the bottles are very vibrant, when mixed with other colors they can become a lot duller than expected because liquid watercolors don’t reflect light the same way other watercolors do. Compared to other watercolors that are transparent, semi-transparent, and a little opaque, liquid watercolor are completely transparent, some special colors can be opaque though.

Liquid watercolors can sometimes not be considered real watercolors because a lot of them are dye-based which means that the color will fade over time. Dye-based watercolors also stain the papers which can prevent artists from using certain watercolor techniques such as lifting.