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Painting with watercolours for beginners: applications, techniques and inspirations

The fascination of watercolour paints: delicate colour gradients, intense colour layers and great effects can be achieved with them. Even beginners can paint watercolour pictures in no time  once they learn the most important techniques of watercolour painting.

In this course on painting with watercolours, our artist Nadja will show you:
✔ What you need if you want to learn to paint with watercolours ✔ How to mix the watercolours correctly ✔ Which techniques you can use when painting with watercolours

A feature from Nadja

A little excursion before we start:

What are watercolours?

Watercolour paints are water-based, glazing paints. They essentially consist of high-quality, finely ground colour pigments, fillers, binders, preservatives and additives. If they are liquid watercolours, they also contain a proportion of water. Watercolour paints can be used to achieve colour-intense results with high luminosity and colour brilliance as well as creating translucent, delicate motifs. Watercolour paints cover the entire range of the colour wheel, enabling (hobby) artists to create realistic watercolour paintings and colourful works of art.

Painting with watercolours:

The materials

Painting with watercolours is not a form of witchcraft, even for beginners -  especially if you have the right materials at your disposal. These are the materials you will need:

Watercolour paper

Watercolour paper:

Be sure to use this special paper for painting with watercolours, as the grammage, composition and structure of the paper are crucial for achieving beautiful watercolour effects (for beginners, cold-pressed paper with a thickness of at least 300g/m² is suitable). Canvas or normal paper is not suitable for painting with watercolours.

STAEDTLER Watercolour pencil

Watercolour pencil:

With this you can make preliminary sketches and delicate contours. The lines melt when they come into contact with water and are therefore no longer visible on the finished picture.

STAEDTLER Watercolours

Watercolour paints:

The more watercolour paints you have at your disposal, the more ideas you can realise. It is best to make a colour chart with swatches of all your colours to get a good overview of how the dried colours look on paper.

STAEDTLER Watercolour brushes

Watercolour brushes:

Depending on the shapes you want to draw, round or flat brushes are best suited. For loose flower watercolours, for example, the round brush in size 8 is best. If you want to add fine details, you can use the round brush in size 2. The size 8 flat brush is good for backgrounds.

Water glass for watercolouring

Water glass:

Having a glass full of water nearby is necessary for painting with watercolours to wet your brushes. You should change the water regularly as soon as it becomes too discoloured.

Mixing palette

Mixing palette:

With a mixing palette you can mix different paint colours with each other or individual colours with water. If you don’t have a paint palette, you can use a plate or similar object.

Paper towel

Paper towel:

Paper towels are handy to have close by as you will occasionally use them to squeeze the brushes.

Painting with watercolours:

Mixing methods and painting techniques

In watercolour painting there are many techniques you can use: depending on which colour you choose or how you combine them, you can achieve different results, even with a single colour. In the following video, Nadja gives you an overview of the different possibilities. No matter which technique is your favourite, just try it out and experiment.

Nadjas Tip:
Don't be afraid of seemingly wasting colours or paper, because only through practice will you gradually develop a feeling for the interplay of colours and water.

Before we get started and Nadja explains the 12 individual watercolour techniques, you can learn below how to mix watercolours correctly.

Mix watercolour paints

Example Colour Mixing Chart - Watercolors

Since the watercolour paints in the tube looks much more intense than on paper, you should test your colours on a separate piece of paper before painting. You can make swatches of all the colours and to create a nice overview of your colours. You can also pre-mix different colours and test them on your colour chart. This self-made colour mixing chart helps you to decide which watercolour colours and tones you want to use for your motif or picture. You should consider the following in advance:

  • It is best to use a palette to mix the colours.
  • Always test directly how the mixed colour looks on the watercolour paper.
  • Note that the colour tone always becomes slightly lighter after drying.

How to mix watercolour paints with water:

  1. Put some paint from the tube into the cup of the palette or on a plate.
  2. Dip the brush in water.
  3. Let some of the water drip onto the blob of paint.
  4. Add a little more water if the colour is still too intense.
  5. Add a little colour from the tube if the tone is too light.
Colour Mixing process with watercolour paints

Nadja's Tip:
It is better to start with a lighter colour when painting with watercolours, as you often apply several layers. If the tone is too light, you can always paint over it afterwards. This procedure is easier than lightening too dark and dried paint afterwards.

On a kind of "colour recipe sheet" you can clearly see which different shades of watercolour you can create by mixing the individual colours. Below you can see an example of how a colour mixing card can look:

Colour palette with different tones Watercolour paints

Painting with watercolours: The 12 most important techniques

Download the exercise sheet below to try the painting with watercolour techniques and watch the video to get started:

Exercise sheet

Watercolour technique "Flat Wash": Blue colour gradient in white rectangle on paper

#1: Flat wash

The aim of flat wash is to create an even layer of colour over the entire surface. This can be a little difficult because watercolours dry quickly. If you are too slow and the edge of your brushstroke dries, you will get a hard line that you don't want in your painting. The trick is to paint quickly with the watercolours and have the right amount of water and paint on the brush. The brush should be completely wet with paint, but not dripping. A tip: wet the brush with clean water before dipping it into the paint.

Watercolour technique "Gradient Wash": Blue colour gradient from dark to light on white rectangle on paper

#2: Gradient wash

The aim of the gradient wash technique is to slowly fade the colour until it is completely transparent. You start with full and dark colour at one end and thin it out until the colour is almost or completely gone.

Watercolour technique "Creating colour gradients": Blue colour gradient towards pink in a rectangle on white paper

#3: Colour gradients

Gradients are very similar to a gradient wash. However, instead of diluting the colour until it is completely transparent, a gradient wash aims to gently blend two colours together. Before you begin, you should prepare your two colours seperately by mixing them with water. Remember that the key to beautiful gradients is to work quickly and apply the second colour to the paper before the first colour has dried.

Watercolour technique "wet-on-wet": Blue and pink dabs of colour run in a rectangle on white paper

#4: Wet-on-wet

The wet-on-wet technique shows off the colour pigments of the watercolours very well. First moisten the paper with water or a water-based paint. An then dab the concentrated paint onto the surface with a brush. This technique is one of the simplest and most fun there is. You can let off steam, play with the colours and create something completely unique and unexpected every time.

Watercolour technique "wet-on-dry": Blue gradient and purple drawing in a rectangle on white paper

#5: Wet-on-dry

The wet-on-dry technique is often used for small motifs. Here you work with wet paint on dry watercolour paper. Let the first layer dry, then intensify the colour with a second layer or paint over it with a different colour. With this technique you can create different mixtures. Make sure to use quick brush strokes so that the underlying layer of paint is not dissolved by the water.

Watercolour technique "dry-on-dry": Blue dry paint granulated in a rectangle painted on white paper

#6: Dry-on-dry

This dry-on-dry watercolour painting technique is done by applying a lot of paint colour with relatively little water. You apply the paint with as little pressure as possible so that only the highest areas of the watercolour paper take on colour, while the lower areas remain almost colourless. For this technique to be successful, you should choose a highly structured watercolour paper.

Watercolour technique "Colour Lifting": Blue colour gradient with lighter motif in the centre in a rectangle on white paper

#7: Colour Lifting

When painting with watercolours, you can also remove colour from the paper, this technique is called colour lifting. Here you "suck up" the colour again with the help of a brush. Use this technique to correct small mistakes or to set special accents in your painting. It is important that the brush is almost dry, not wet.


Create watercolour effects with additional materials

Watercolour technique with "Salt": Blue colour gradient with grains of salt in a rectangle on white paper

#8: Effects with salt

Paint any surface with watercolours and sprinkle the desired areas with fine rock salt or large sea salt. The decisive factors here are personal taste and the effect you want to achieve. Now let the paint dry completely and carefully remove the grains of salt. As salt binds moisture, crystal-like stains with pronounced water edges are created.

Watercolour technique with " Q-tips": Blue colour gradient with lighter and purple dots in a rectangle on white paper

#9: Effects with cotton swabs

You can also use Q-tips to create great effects in your watercolour painting. Simply dab the tip of the cotton bud onto the wet paint. The cotton wool will absorb it and create beautiful patterns that you can set however you like. You can also dip the cotton bud into a different shade and place individual dabs.

Watercolour technique with "foil": Pink gradient with angular patterns in a rectangle on white paper

#10: Effects with foil

With this technique, you place a sheet of foil (aluminium foil, plastic wrap or cling film) on the wet paint and press it lightly together. Leave the foil on the paint until it has dried before removing it and letting everything dry completely. You can use this to create completely random and beautiful patterns on the surface.

Watercolour technique with "paper towel": Pink gradient with lighter dots in a rectangle on white paper

#11: Effects with a paper towel

Use a dry paper towel and gently dab or smudge the wet paint. This way you can create delicate colours and soft colour gradients.

Watercolour technique with "masking fluid": Pink colour gradient with cut-outs in a rectangle on white paper

#12: Effects with masking fluid

With the help of masking fluid, you can leave areas on the paper blank, which gives the images contrast and creates accents.

It is usually made of latex and is also called scratch crepe. Masking fluid can be made into any shape and is both water and colour repellent. It can also be removed without leaving any residue when you have finished painting.

Watercolour drawing for beginners: get inspired with our ideas

Paint your first artwork with watercolours

Get your brushes ready - now you can start with your first watercolour painting and try out or apply what you have learned directly! In our inspiration tutorial, Nadja shows you how to create motifs such as flowers and leaves with simple basic shapes and dabs. We have also provided you with a free downloadable template.

You can find out how to transfer the template to the watercolour paper correctly in the video on our page on watercolour painting for beginners.

How much detail you add is entirely up to you - there are no limits to your imagination. In this video, Nadja shows you how to paint eight flowers with watercolours. You can combine them, for example, into a beautiful colourful bouquet or create a pattern with them.

Mixed Media Tutorial

In this video, Nadja shows you how you can combine the different watercolour products and techniques in a watercolour painting.
Download the motif template here.

Be inspired by the creations of other artists:

Once you've created your first watercolour painting, link to us on social media with the hashtag #myDesignJourney!

Painting with watercolours:

The products used in this course

STAEDTLER® 8880 STAEDTLER® 8880 Watercolour paint Cardboard box containing 24 watercolour paints in assorted colours
STAEDTLER® 146 10C STAEDTLER® 146 10C Watercolour pencil Cardboard box containing 48 watercolour pencils in assorted colours
STAEDTLER® 989 STAEDTLER® 989 Synthetic brush Blistercard containing 3 brushes: #2 round, #8 round, #8 flat
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Other materials needed:

  • Watercolour paper
  • Mixing palette
  • Water container with water
  • Paper towel

Instructions for watercolour painting: To the other courses