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Watercolour, much like every medium has no ' proper ' way of use. It can be applied as transparent, delicate waterworks or as opaque as a gouache painting.
Some people mix it with acrylic and gouache, some use pastels or chalks underneath it. Some people ink their sketches, some erase their sketches.
Everything goes in art, a good example of this is our great master Leonardo Da Vinci who was notorious for mixing oils with acrylics. A couple hundred years after he died his pieces started disintegrating into nothing.

Back to our subject, there is no 'right' way of working with watercolour, but here are some tips that might be of help or give you new ideas of tools you haven't even thought of. Either way, I hope it inspires you to create more and perhaps even ease your way around it until you feel familiar with it enough to start painting.

Here is a basic list of tools (and a picture, for your convenience :D ) you will need to start painting with watercolours.



I use five different brushes (and own some more I can't find anywhere :O_o: )
000 - Daler Rowney
6 - Philo (least happy with this brush)
King - 8, 2 number 12 - pointed and rectangular.

I collected these brushes over the year and mostly use the number 8 and rectangular 12. The 000 brush is a MUST for details.
Whatever brushes you have around home are good to start with, even the little crappy ones you get with kids' watercolours, so long as the strands are still toeg

Canson watercolour paper (although any brand is good), 300 g/m, cold pressed, acid free, 24x32.
Now this part is important. If you like to work big - buy bigger papers. If you like to work small, buy smaller sized pages. Personally this size suits me perfectly.

Lukas brand (never heard of them before I bought this set) watercolour set, 24 colours + white in a bottle.

Now, to the meat and bones of the article.
Please take into consideration that everyone works differently, I'm just giving my views from my experience and trying to stick to more general outlines of watercolouring than to a specific style.

a. Put some kind of a scrap paper of any kind (I always have a bunch of papers lying around with random doodles/notes, use those or any other inexpensive/hopefully recycleable paper) next to you. Use this to test out the colours, their transparency and hue and to see how certain colours react when they're around each other. This is especially useful to plan out a colour palette before you start.

b. Watercolour is well known for its transparency. If you are looking for that quality, keep in mind that you need to work in layers. There is a white watercolour but every layer of it makes it an opaque white, rather than giving you more transparency (keep this in mind especially if you are used to working in digital media, where the white is used to give transparency/remove colour). So, in order to receive a real transparent result, work with really light base colour. To do that, dapple the brush in some water, pick some colour with the tip of it and dapple it again in water to thin the colour.
You can test out the result on your scrap paper.

c. Paper. Use at least 300 grams of paper. Less than that and the paper might not hold it through the painting. It will tear, grow creases and folds and will generally mess the painting up completely. Even 300gms can only absorb so much, as you will notice, but it is much more durable.

d. Use *real* watercolour and *real* brushes. I cannot stress this enough. Until today I had worked with the cheap kids' versions of watercolours and brushes (seriously, even though I had actual brushes). I can't even begin to describe the difference.

e. Layers, layers, layers. For maximal result, let the paper rest a little bit in between layers. It will give it more volume and help refine the details, since watercolour is so sensitive until it dries out. It's also easier to correct mistakes this way.

f. Always have a piece of tissue or toilet paper next to you. That's your watercolour eraser and life-saver. It fixes everything, so long as you spotted the mistake early enough.

g. Borders; while today it is easier to produce digital borders, I would urge you to give your actual paper the respect it deserves and if it suits your theme/mood/style and you want to produce a finished piece with a border, here's how.
Firstly, you take masking tape, the light beige type with the lowest glue quality on it. You want to find the cheapest, weakest glue so you don't tear the paper apart. Since th paper is texturised, it would be more difficult to pull this stunt off with regular masking tape/duct tape.
Then, you glue the masking tape to your paper (no need to sketch it out beforehand) in the shape and size you want your border, and start painting.
Once you are done you can remove it, although personally, I remove i right after I'm sure I'm done with the edges and voila! A clear, perfect border.
For an extra twist to your borders, you can paint over them once you are done with their edges, that way you can just put a semi-transparent layer on it so the colour of the page doesn't stick out too much, or continue your painting in one area so there's a feeling of 'breaking the limits'.

h. Highlights. White watercolour, as I already mentioned, has different qualities. If you ran out or don't feel like buying one, you can highlight your painting with gouache or acrylics. Remember to thin them out first though, otherwise they will cover your painting.
Try testing it out on a paper, acrylics actually make perfect watercolours since they're created on the same base, they're just a little less comfortable to work with.

i. Because we are working with layers, I find it very convenient to switch between the regular 8 brush and the detail 000 brush alternatively. That way if I work on one area with the big brush, while I wait for it to dry off I can work on another area with the detail brush. This makes the process much more efficient and less time consuming.

j. Last but definitely not least, this applies to nearly every kind of traditional painting; Try working your way down when using brushes: the thick, big brushes as the primary layer, to block out major shapes and colours and downwards all the way to your 000 brush, for the tiniest details. It will make your work much more fluent. It is important to realise what part of the painting you are working on and choose the brush accordingly.

And that's all for today, I hoped this helped you in some way, or at least inspired you to pick up your brushes and start painting. You don't need to be very knowledgeable in traditional paintings, just go at it and you'll be surprised what you'll be able to achieve with just watercolours. Remember, watercolours are good for any painting, detailed or not and you will never know whether you are good at it unless you try.
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:iconembracedbydvorovoi:
EmbracedByDvorovoi Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Faved and bookmarked. Wonderful job, and thanks for the tips! :D
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:iconrenkram013:
RenKram013 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2008  Professional General Artist
Awesome. This is helpful.
Thanks a lot!:D
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:iconmiddernachtlopper:
Middernachtlopper Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2008  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I have bought new paper for drawing, and your advices were very useful :)

Thanks.
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:iconnico-olivia:
nico-olivia Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2008
Some great ideas here, I'll be sure to apply them to my workings next time.
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2008
If you remember me by then show me! I'd love to see :D

Thanks for reading!
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:iconrinaswan:
rinaswan Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2007  Professional Traditional Artist
I always think that a good watercolorist never uses real black and white colors at all. If you use watercolor along with gouache or acrylics, etc , it's actually a painting of mix-technique.
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2007
I don't believe in 'good' watercolourists and bad ones. If it serves the purpose of the painting, why not? I've seen very opaque watercolours with blacks and whites that came out just stunning.
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:iconrinaswan:
rinaswan Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2007  Professional Traditional Artist
"If it serves the purpose of the painting...." Yeah, I have no argument over this. It might be because of the influential Impressionism in my country. Most of the famous Thai watercolorists of opaque and watery type hardly use blacks and whites then.
I think that both colors are not necessary as we can mix blackish color from all colors in our palette and obtain white directly from original color of the paper.
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2007
I agree :)
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:iconaquilofolius:
Aquilofolius Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2007
^^ I have recently started working with watercolours and your tips are going to be very helpfull.

Thank you!!!!
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2007
Makes me really happy to hear that, thank you :D :hug:
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:iconnekogothicsporkie:
NekoGothicSporkie Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2007
These are useful tips :D Nice job and thanks for sharing ^^
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2007
Thanks for reading :D
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:iconnekogothicsporkie:
NekoGothicSporkie Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2007
You're welcome :D
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:iconslivers:
slivers Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2007
Excellent. I've been wondering how to do proper watercolor for ages. Thank you. :)
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2007
Thank you for reading, glad I could help :D
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:iconatrophy129:
atrophy129 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007  Hobbyist Artist
Thanks!

:gummybear:
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Thank you for reading :)
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:iconatrophy129:
atrophy129 Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2007  Hobbyist Artist
Yeah sure no problem!
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:iconrobertsloan2:
robertsloan2 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Pretty good article, plenty of tips. It really is that important using artist grade watercolor. I've got a set of 48 Lukas half pans that my daughter bought me last year for Yule and they are fantastic -- wonderful range of colors and the pigment saturation and clarity is so much better than any of the kid paints.

However, in a spirit of constructive critique, I do have to point out one inaccuracy: Leonardo da Vinci did not mix his oils with acrylics.

Acrylic paint wasn't invented until the 20th century, that jumped out and shocked me, he was a great inventor but he didn't come up with a time machine. However, I have an article on da Vinci in my Leonardo da Vinci Sketchbook, published by Derwent -- sixteen pages of biography and analysis of his technique, then the rest of the book is a good sketchbook with spiral binding hidden inside the hard binding so it lays flat when open.

His frescoes, not his oil paintings, were what deteriorated fast. He invented a new compound for them because his technique for creating smoky backgrounds, sfumato, was slow and time consuming but traditional fresco painting -- painting right into fresh wet plaster -- dried too quickly. So he invented a slow-dry compound, he was an inventor. Unfortunately it did not have the durability of the original plaster method, so his frescoes suffered.

Other than that, your tips are excellent. I'd add that since I work small, I prefer watercolor blocks to loose sheets. I like to use sizes that will fit on my scanner, 9" x 12" and smaller, and when blocks are bound on all four sides they don't need soaking and stretching. Full sheets of 300gsm paper (140lb paper) do.

This is to prevent bubbling. It may still bubble up while it's drying but on a watercolor block it will flatten out again as it dries.
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Thanks for correcting me, I guess my art history teachers weren't all that accurate, or misled themselves ;P
To my knowledge he did mix water-based colours (to which I mistakenly referred as acrylics) with oils in paintings like The Last Supper and others which is why they had to be reconstructed, but I'll take your word for it if it isn't mentioned in that magical book of yours :aww:.

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read, and to write all that up, very much appreciated :)
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:iconrobertsloan2:
robertsloan2 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2007
I can think of some other colors that are not oil based and might not mix well. Casein is an old medium, and it's essentially milk based binder. There were watercolors, gum arabic was well known long before Leonardo's time -- and using watercolors with oils might well have ruined some paintings.

I'm not sure what The Last Supper is, whether it's a fresco or a framed painting. Aha! It is a fresco. This is what the Leonardo da Vinci Sketchbook has to say on it:

"In 1490... (snipped)... At this time, Leonardo also began The Last Supper. His notebooks suggest he was seeking a model for Christ. Indeed, he was always searching for people he could use in his paintings:

'...troubled or serene, old or young, irate or quiet...he observed their manners, dresses and gestures, and when he found what fitted his purpose, he noted it in his little book, which he always carried at his belt.'

Leonardo toiled over The Last Supper in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Occasionally he would stop for a few days and visit it only to stand and look, perhaps climbing the scaffolding just to add one or two strokes of paint. His progress was necessarily slow, his style consisted of careful modulations of light and shade, known as sfumato. To use traditional methods of fresco painting would have required rapid paintwork on fresh, wet plaster. Instead, Leonardo had developed a new compound for priming the wall. Unfortunately, in the end it failed either to hold the paint in place or protect it from moisture.

What remains of the fresco demonstrates Leonardo's approach to composition..."

So The Last Supper is a fresco, and the example itself of what I was mentioning. Traditional fresco painting, painting directly on wet plaster, lasts for millennia. There are frescoes in Pompeii and Rome that are as bright and fresh as when they were first done, because as long as the plaster stays intact and isn't exposed to way too much direct sunlight to bleach the pigment, it'll remain. I think that's why it was so shocking that The Last Supper crumbled.

To me it's a shock that an art history teacher would make that kind of mistake! Yeah, they may have been misled themselves, or might have mentioned some other bad chemistry problem and gotten it confused with mixing acrylics and oils.

It is possible today to use acrylic gesso under oil painting with no problem, modern canvases and canvas boards are prepared with acrylic. You can even tone the ground with acrylics before applying oils. The problem I would think would be that if you put fast-drying acrylic over slow-drying oils, sealing it in, the oil would never dry and might when heated just slide right off the painting surface.
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2007
Indeed, thank you so much for the detailed info, it's been very educating :D
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:iconrobertsloan2:
robertsloan2 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2007
You're welcome. I love writing about art, art supplies and art history. It's become one of my main genres. :)
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2007
That's wonderful to hear, most people are losing that knowledge nowadays, or don't bother learning it.
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:iconrobertsloan2:
robertsloan2 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2007
Hmm... it's more easily available now than ever before though. That's the odd thing about it. There are plenty of people getting into digital art, but the same skills of seeing and drawing well apply to that medium too.
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2007
Indeed, but most times it is utterly more convenient to work with the 'clean' computer rather than to mess around with real colours. Not to mention there's no 'undo' button and people find it very hard to deal with that alone :P
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(1 Reply)
:icongenki-chu-hi:
Genki-Chu-Hi Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007  Student Traditional Artist
oooh that's really helpful! I only have acrylics though, and I'm not very much good at them ^^;
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
There's been a few requests for an acrylic article, so stay tuned :D
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:icongenki-chu-hi:
Genki-Chu-Hi Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2007  Student Traditional Artist
Really? Cool!! ^^
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2007
Here you go :D

[link]
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:icongenki-chu-hi:
Genki-Chu-Hi Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2007  Student Traditional Artist
thank you! :glomp:
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:iconmiddernachtlopper:
Middernachtlopper Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Really nice. Altough I use watercolour pencils I find it useful :)

:+fav:
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Yeah, I grew up on those, they're quite fun but very different to work with :)

Thank you :hug:
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:iconmiddernachtlopper:
Middernachtlopper Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
You're really welcome :hug:
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:iconmeghan749:
Meghan749 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Wow, I was thinking of using watercolors sometime, and this really helped me! :)
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
I'm happy to hear :D
Have fun with them :D
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:iconmidoriiblue:
MidoriiBlue Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007  Hobbyist Writer
Wow, this was a great practical overview. I am thinking of trying watercolors and this definetely helps me out - Thanks!! :)
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Absolutely :D So glad it helped you out :aww:
If you're looking for a specific advice, please don't hesitate to send me a note or drop me a comment, I'd be happy to help :aww:
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:iconkuraicho:
KuraiCho Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
This was inspiring. ^^
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Thank you :hug:
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:iconlechtonen:
Lechtonen Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
It was enjoyable to read this as I'm currently trying to get back into using water colours after years of 'dry' drawing.
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
That's great to hear :D
I hope you get into the swing of it, I'd love to see your works :D
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:iconlechtonen:
Lechtonen Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Thanks, I hope that too. Keep an eye on traditional art and horror movie competitions. Me and my water colours are already planning to take part :D
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:iconenricap:
enricap Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007  Professional Artisan Crafter
I don't think acrylic were available at Leonardo's time...
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Acrylics are water-based colours and while there may not have been those 'certain' acrylic brands, Leonardo did mix water-based colours (those days' acrylics) and oils.
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:iconnylvatheel:
nylvatheel Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
this is a really good one :heart: thanks for taking the time to write it, and for sharing (:
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
Thanks for taking the time to read it :hug:
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:iconlulupaints:
lulupaints Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2007
this is a great article. I adore watercolours! Have you tried Koi tube watercolours? They are brilliant and amazing. :)
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:iconbluem00n:
bluem00n Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2007
Sadly, no. We have little selection in Israel.
What's so special about them? I'm going to the US soon, so if they're something else I might get them ;)

Thank you :hug:
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