by Brittany Greene
Somewhere in Manhattan - Art by Brittany M. Greene
Watercolors can be bright, soft, flowy and...really unpredictable. Nothing ever goes according to “plan.” But that’s what makes them beautiful.
If I can offer one piece of advice before we begin - embrace that unpredictability. With practice and patience, you’ll learn to use it to your advantage and almost look forward to the random twist and turns.
Protip: Remember to have fun and play with materials. There is no “wrong way.”
playing with watercolor, pastels, ink on mixed media paper
Now that we’ve got the right mindset - which is the biggest part of using watercolor in my opinion - let’s talk materials.
Plaza Art has included a detailed list of my favorite watercolor materials. If you’re just getting started, not ready to invest or are on a tight budget, I’m going to recommend investing in:
Quality watercolor paper : You want to be able to use as much water as necessary and layer as you want without worrying about the paper wilting or it just sitting on top. Quality paper makes a difference.
My pick: Fluid Cold Press Watercolor Block (careful, don’t confuse this with Fluid 100)
Common Question: Cold Press vs Hot Press - I enjoy the toothy texture of cold press. Hot press is much smoother and is usually better suited for fine detail. I use a block vs loose sheets so the paper stays put but you can also just tape the edges down with painter’s tape.
Paints: Pigment pigment pigment! The best watercolors allow you to take a color as soft and bright as you want it. I use a bunch of Daniel Smith and Winsor and Newton watercolors. If you’re hesitant on spending - start with a small color palette. Try purchasing the primary colors or complementary/tertiary colors. As you go on, you’ll acquire more colors.
My pick: Winsor and Newton Burnt Umber, Daniel Smith French Ultramarine Blue
Common Question: Tubes vs. Pans - I personally use tubes and think the colors tend to be more pigmented. I think pans work great for those who want to travel with their paint and don’t want to worry about paint going “to waste.” There is the dilemma with tubes and if you squeeze out too much on your palette, can you revive it? With the colors I use, yes. This however is not the case for all brands, so be mindful. Reviving colors is easier in a pan.
Brushes: If you’re going to buy just one, I’d go with something that’s a size 8-10, Round. Bigger brushes are better, especially when you’re just learning. It forces you to think big and stop yourself from looking at the details too soon, which is key.
My pick: Princeton Velvetouch, size 8, round
I like to work at my desk with a jar of water (I’m recommending you start with two. One to clean, One to use), my brushes, a palette with a few colors , paper towels and maybe my ipad.
Water control - when using watercolor, you can do:
Wet on Wet : wet paint applied onto wet paint/paper. It’ll spread like wildfire but that’s a good thing.
Wet on Dry : wet paint applied onto dry paint. I use this technique to build up a color.
One color - play with the concentration of pigment, varying it with how much water you use
Primary colors - this is useful when learning how to paint with any medium! By limiting your palette, it gives your brain less to worry about. I experimented with a blue/red/yellow combo in this mini series and love how it turned out.
Complimentary colors - Using colors that are next to each other in the color wheel can make a piece more vibrant. Play around with your mixes and see where it takes you.
A color study using a limited palette of Ultramarine Blue), Alizarin Crimson Red and Indian Yellow
Art by Brittany M. Greene
Layering watercolors - Art by Brittany M. Greene
In practice: Once you’ve got those two underwraps, try working on layering. You’re going to build your paintings layer by layer. The first/base layer WILL BE and SHOULD BE semi chaotic. Let the colors bleed into each other, it’s okay. By the third and fourth wash, it’ll come together. Try painting things that aren’t rigid, like flowers and sunsets.
Protip: Less can be more! Try not painting everything - see what that does.
Sometimes not painting everything can bring a pleasant surprise
Art by Brittany M. Greene
Food for thought and my favorite supplementary resources:
A few things to think about as you paint:
Inspiration: I pull inspiration from real life and use my imagination to push it further. I personally enjoy painting figures and places. It’s key that you paint what you enjoy! Yes, it’s nice to switch it up and try new things. You should as a painter want to expand your portfolio. However, what I’ve learned is that if you’re painting what you enjoy painting, you’ll be more likely to paint. The more you paint, the better you get. So start with something you enjoy. But, if you’re curious where I draw my inspiration, I’ve got a Pinterest board that hubs a lot of my ideas - https://www.pinterest.com/BrittanyMGreene/drawing-inspo/.
Sketching: I like a messier painting so I’ll sketch out my work, with a 6H pencil and sometimes follow-up with a pigment liner (especially with my fashion designs). Sketching out what you want to paint may help you as you’re learning but it’s a personal choice!
Practice: Painting from real life has been one of the greatest contributors to my growth as an artist. You’re teaching your brain how to paint what you see versus what you think you see. I definitely recommend you try it.
Complex Colors : We all know grass is green and you wouldn’t be “wrong” to paint it as green. But, what if you tried adding a few specs of yellow green to reflect sunlight? A dash of blue green to symbolize the shaded parts? In my experience, the more I challenge what colors are truly there, the more captivating the painting.
I love combining when it comes to my “browns” : Sepia, Burnt Umber, Quinacridone Burnt Orange are one of my favorite combinations and sometimes I’ll add a few drops of blue and purple.
Playing with colors. What appears as one color is rarely just that one color. Although her hair looks “brown,” it’s really a combination of brown, blues and a little purple
Art by Brittany M. Greene
I am a proud forever student. Picking up new books and trying new techniques are what make my paintings stand out. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger
Liron Yanconsky via Youtube
Pocket Color Wheel - My go-to!
Helpful Article on Watercolor Triads - https://www.janeblundellart.com/watercolour-triads.html
Quickposes.com and Line-of-action.com for timed/quick figure sketching practice
Hopefully this helps you get started! I’m happy to answer any questions you might have - feel free to reach out to me via Instagram (@britt_mgreene) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ve also got a few videos on my Instagram of my process when working with watercolors if you’d like to see a few of these things in practice.
Materials not listed:
Mason Jars (your local craft, home improvement or dollar store will have these)
Coming soon: Vol. 3: Listen (in print and online)
To submit art, writing or ads for consideration, please email us at email@example.com.