Watercolour Paint – 

Is made up of very finely ground pigments bound with gum Arabic solution. The gum allows it to be heavily diluted with water to make thin, transparent washes without losing adhesion to the surface. 

Paint left in the palette or ‘pans’ will reactivate with water.

We’re using Winsor & Newton Cotmans tube watercolours in this workshop. Note that it is worth buying good quality materials even when learning!

Paper – 

There are three different textures of watercolour paper – Hot-pressed HP (smooth), Not or cold-pressed (medium grain), and rough – we are using Fabriano 280gsm Not/CP.

All watercolour paper is internally sized to varying degrees. This affects the absorbency and drying time of the paint.

Many papers are also surface sized reducing the absorbency and producing more vibrant washes. It also reduces the chance of tears and fibre loss when using masking fluid and lifting out colour.

Paper weight refers to the thickness of the paper and is referred to in grams per square metre (gsm). Light weight paper less than 300gsm is prone to buckling and generally requires stretching. 

Heavier papers don’t need stretching unless you intend to flood the paper with washes. 

Brushes – 

Using the correct brushes is an important element to watercolour painting. 

There are many brands and variations of watercolour brushes using different qualities of hairs and/or synthetic fibres. Sable and animal hair brushes are expensive but offer excellent capacity for holding paint, however they don’t always hold their shape well. Synthetic brushes hold slightly less paint but will maintain their shape and should their points well for details. 

There’s many different types of brushes too. Including flat, round, filbert, mop, fan and rigger brushes – all come in multiple sizes! 

I’d recommend starting out with a pack of different size synthetic brushes to see which brushes you use regularly before investing in higher quality versions. 

In this series of workshops we will be using synthetic fibre watercolour brushes – a size 6 round brush and a size 20 flat brush. 

Week 1: Set up 

Palette

  • For mixing paint and storing unused paint
  • In week 1 we used Winsor & Newton Cotmans watercolour 21ml tubes
  • We used their 3 colour system of Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine and Permanent Rose

Two pots of clean water – 

  • one for cleaning paint off and one for wetting painting. It is possible to use one pot once you are confident that you can avoid muddying your colours

Paper towel 

  • Useful for wiping of excess water and checking all paint is removed before moving onto another colour
  • Can be used to lift colour off your work

Note: It’s helpful to keep your materials on the side of your dominant hand and in easy reach so that you’re not reaching across work.

Part 1: Wet on dry technique 

Preparing the paint 

  • Use a large brush to add a clean water to the palette compartment of each colour, press the brush down against the palette and wipe against the edge to release the water from the brush. 
  • Repeat the process until you have a small puddle of water in each colour.
  • Gentle touch brush against the side of paint (you only need a small amount especially when using fresh wet paint from the tube) and mix the colour into the water
  • You can adjust the saturation and thickness of the paint by adding more water or more paint

Note: watercolour paint can be left to dry in the palette and will reactivate with water the next time you want to paint. Simply re-wet the paint and mix, some colours may granulate at first but keep mixing and they will return to normal. 

Exercise 1 – adjusting the wetness and saturation on the paint 

  • Using the round brush mix a small amount of paint into the water and paint a small circle or square shape in each colour. The paint will be pale and watery  
  • Rinse the brush between colours and wipe on paper towel to check brush is clean
  • Repeat this process 4 to 5 times adding more paint pigment to the water each time. You will gradually get a thicker consistency and more intense colour 

Exercise 2 – Dry brush technique

  • Using the thickest consistency of paint, take the dry flat brush and pick up the paint without using any water, brush it straight onto the paper. 
  • The paint will move less freely than wet paint and will show the brush marks 
  • Rinse the brush thoroughly between colours and use your paper towel to dry the brush

Note: if the brush is too damp or the paint is too wet the dry brush effect won’t work 

Part 2: colour mixing 

Each brand has differently named colours that make up their 3 colour system and 6 colour system. In week one we used Cotmans 3 colour system of Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine & Permanent Rose.  

Working with a limited palette and mixing your colours is a valuable skill and gives you more control over your painting. Limited palettes also bring a unifying quality to your work. 

Exercise 3 – colour wheel with petals 

  • Paint a petal in the three primary colours (lemon yellow, ultramarine & permanent rose) creating a ‘Y’ shape with a space in the centre
  • then mix lemon + ultramarine to make green, lemon + rose to make orange, and rose + ultramarine to make purple and paint a petal between the two corresponding colours
  • Take this a step further by mixing; 
  • yellow-orange & a red-orange by adjusting the amount of lemon and rose in the orange
  • yellow-green & a blue-green by adjusting the amount of lemon and ultramarine in the green
  • blue-purple & red-purple by dusting the amount of rose and ultramarine in the purple 
  • painting these additional petals between the two relating colours
  • Finally create black/grey by mixing the 3 primary colours together, adjusting the amounts of each until we found the darkest colour we could make, and painted this in the centre of the flower

Part 3: layering with wet on dry technique 

Mixing colour by layering of wet on dry colour, using thin glazes/washes of different  colours to create new colours on the paper 

Exercise 4 – layering colours in vector circles 

  • paint a circle in each primary colour down the centre of your paper, make sure that the paint is watery and transparent (test on a spare piece of paper)
  • Dry the circles using a hairdryer 
  • Using a different primary colour to paint a circle to the left that slightly overlaps the central ones 
  • While this dries, use another the other primary colour to paint a circle to right that slightly overlaps the central circle – be careful that it does not touch the drying circle on the left 
  • Use the hairdryer to dry 

 

 

 

Exercise 5 – flowers with layers wet on dry petals  

  • Using a thin transparent mix of colour, paint three separate semi-circle shapes on our paper. If preferred you can draw your shapes first as a guide
  • Use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process before 
  • Paint further semicircle petal shapes that overlapped the dry ones using the same consistency of paint (you should be able to see the layer beneath)
  • Dry with a hairdryer
  • Repeat 2 to 3 more layers of translucent petals creating a multi petal flowers 
  • To finish mix a green and paint a thin stem

Key points:

  • The paint needs to be reasonably watery on each layer so that each layer of petals can be seen. 
  • Each layer must be completely dry before being painted over, if not the paint below will mix with the new layer of paint and the layering effect will be lost 

Week 2 

Part 1 stretching paper

It is recommended to stretch watercolour paper to avoid buckling that will cause the paint to puddle on the surface. 

This is especially important when working on papers under 300gsm, and when using techniques that involve lots of water and washes.

In these workshops we used Fabriano 280gsm paper

Exercise 6 – stretching paper

  • materials needed; watercolour paper, board, gummed tape cut to size, bowl of water, sponge and/or paper towel
  • soak the paper in a bowl of clean; 20 mins for 300gsm, 8 mins for 140gsm, 3 mins for 90gsm
  • Lift the paper using out of the water picking up from the corner, take care not to touch the surface as oils from fingers will show on the painting, and allow excess water to drip off
  • Lay the paper flat on the board, avoiding air getting trapped underneath. Use a sponge for paper if needed
  •  Dip the gummed tape into the water, removing excess water by running between fingers. Lay tape down the edges of the paper (gum side down) and gently flatten with sponge/paper towel. Be careful not to get glue on the surface of the paper. 
  • Leave flat to dry naturally. I recommend leaving it overnight before painting. 

Part 2Wet-in-wet technique 

The wet in wet techniques refers to adding the watercolour paint to a wet surface and/or adding wet paint into wet paint on the surface so that colours mix together on the paper. 

Exercise 7 – painting on wet areas 

  • using clean water lay down three circles of water on to the surface using the flat brush
  • To each wet area add a single colour, using a medium wetness of paint, applied in short strokes and dots (created by touching brush to the wet surface). Allow the paint to move within the wet area, adding more if desired. 
  • Leave to dry naturally 
  • experiment with the wetness of paper and paint as desired 

Note: once dry the process can be repeated to increase colour saturation or create layers of different colours

 

 

 

Exercise 8 – mixing colour wet in wet 

  • Paint three circles, one red, one yellow and one blue using the a watery consistency
  • While wet add other colour(s) to each circle, using a medium wetness of paint, applied in short strokes and dots as above. Allow the colours to mix  on the surface, adding more colours or thicker consistency of paint if desired. 
  • Leave to dry naturally 
  • experiment with applying colours into paint that is at different stages of wetness, and using different consistency of paint to explore the variety of effects you can achieve

Note: as above once the paint is dry the process can be repeated to increase colour saturation or create layers of different colours

Exercise 9 – Wash gradient on wet paper

  • Using a flat brush wet the paper with with clean water
  • Select a colour and using a medium consistency of paint, brush from right to left across the wet area
  • Work down the wet area, wetting your brush slightly with clean water if it becomes dry, the aim is for the the paint gradually fade from top to bottom

Note: if your paint colour is too pale or watery, mix a thicker consistency on the palette and add to the area while it is still wet

 

 

 

Exercise 10 – Wash gradient wet in dry

 

  • Using a watery consistency of paint brush the paint onto dry paper in horizontal strokes 
  • Dip your brush into clean water, blot off excess water on paper towel and brush across bottom edge of the wet paint drawing into down the paper 
  • Repeat this process aiming to creating a fading gradient 

Note: as above adjust the consistency of the paint and brush on more water as required 

 

 

 

Exercise 11 – Mixing colour gradients 

  • Using the two approaches above add another colour beneath the first this can be done by brush the new colour against the wet edge the first then repeat the gradient effect by using clean water 
  • An alternative approach is to add the second colour lower, then use clean water to draw it up towards the wet area of the first colour
  • Experiment with the consistency of the paint and wetness of paper and paint to discover a variety of effects that can be achieved 
  • Add more colours as desired 

Week 3salt effects and landscape painting 

Part 1 – salt effects

Salt creates interesting effects in watercolour paint. The following exercises explore a range of applications. 

In these exercises we are using table salt and sea salt flakes. You can experiment with a variety of salts such a Himalayan or iodized salt. 

Note – I recommend keeping a separate brush when using salt water washes as the salt is likely to damage the bristles of your watercolour brushes over time. 

Exercise 12 – Salt effects on various wetness of paint 

  • paint three squares using the same colour: we are aiming for one to be very wet paint (glossy), one to been slightly wet (sheen), and one to be be damp (slight sheen). 
  • Add extra paint/water if needed to the first square and leave the second two to begin dry (if there is too much water this can be lifted off with a dry brush to speed up the process)
  • As each square reaches the correct level of wetness sprinkle table salt on half and sea salt flakes on the other half 
  • Leave to dry naturally 

 

 

 

Exercise 12a – salt effect on layered paint comparison 

  • Paint a square using a pale colour such as yellow, pink or a light orange 
  • Dry with a hairdryer 
  • Paint over the first colour with a dark tone such as blue, green or purple 
  • While this layer is wet sprinkle with salt, one half table salt and one half sea salt flakes
  • Leave to dry naturally 

Exercise 13 – dropping/dotting paint onto salt water v tap water 

  • In an empty compartment place some table salt and clean water, mix gently 
  • Wet the paper with a square of salty water and square of clean water (use separate brushes)
  • Drop/dot a medium consistency of paint onto the wet surfaces by touching the tip of brush to the wet surface, observe how they react differently
  • Add more colours if desires 
  • Experiment with adding paint of different consistency to various levels of wetness, does this change how the paint behaves?

 

 

 

Exercise 13a – layering with salt water comparison 

  • Paint a square using a light colour and tap water
  • Leave to dry 
  • In the meantime put some of the salty water into another compartment on the palette and mix in the light colour used above
  • Paint a square using this mixture
  • Whilst wet drop/dot in another colour (or two)
  • Leave to dry 
  • Going back to first tap water square , if it is not dry use a hairdryer
  • Then paint a clear wash of salty water over the square 
  • While wet drop/dot in another colour(s) same as before 
  • Leave to dry. Once dried compare the results of the two approaches and consider how these might come in useful when creating a painting

Exercise 14 – comparing water splatter, salt water splatter and sprinkled table salt

  • Paint 3 squares using a deep hue such as blue or red
  • While the paint is wet but not puddling…
  • Use a short bristled brush to flick/spray clean water on to the first square
  • Use a short bristled brush to flick/spray salty water on to the second square
  • And sprinkle table salt on to the third square
  • Leave to dry naturally and compare the results, consider how the varying results may be useful when creating a painting

Part 2 – Painting a Landscape 

 

This exercise has been inspired by the landscape paintings by Robert Tilling. 

This is the example I painted inspired by one of his paintings 

 

 

Here is a video of me painting a simple version in the style of Robert Tilling demonstrating the following exercise:

Exercise 15 – Simple landscape using washes and layering

  • On our stretched paper use the flat brush to wet the surface with clean water 
  • Whilst wet add first light washes that will act as the underpainting, mix colours and use gradients to suit your own desire 
  • Leave to dry / use hairdryer to speed up process
  • Add a second wash layer using the wet on dry technique mixing colours again and adding vibrancy and deeper colours
  • Leave to dry / use a hairdryer 
  • Repeat until you are happy with the background colours
  • Then, using wet on dry paint in hills in the background and foreground, blend the foreground hills by using gradient technique of adding cleaning water to blend edge
  • Leave to dry / use a hairdryer 
  • Add another layer of to hills if required using the same process as above (this will enhanced the depth of colour gradually)
  • Leave to dry / use a hairdryer 
  • Add additional details or salt effects as desired 

Well done everyone! I hope you enjoyed the workshops and feel that you have learnt some new skills to take forward into your art practice. I created a small gallery to show some of the work produced during the sessions: