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Watercolor Crash Course

Starting watercolor can be intimidating! However, you're in luck because all you need is a few key pieces of information in order to really get you off and running!

1. Pre-wet your dried pans

If you're working with dried pans of watercolor and you tried to use a dry brush on them while they are dry, you'll get no pigment. If you take a damp brush and dip into the color as seen above you do get some pigment.

However, there's a better way! Notice that in the the picture below how much more vibrant and pigmented the color is. It's not a different color, it's the same one with a small difference.

In the image above before I filled my brush with pigment I pre-wet my pans and let them sit for about 30 seconds. I like to use a spray bottle to pre-wet the colors, but you can also use a pipette or even the brush. Pre-wetting the pans reactivates the watercolor and makes the pigment more accessible!

2. Wet-on-Wet vs. Wet-on-Dry

These two terms are going to pop up in all sorts of tutorials, so what do they mean? In the image below I made some marks on my paper while the paper was dry. Since it's watercolor, the paint is wet, meaning we put wet paint on to dry paper. When you do this, the pigment and strokes you place are going to stay where you put them!

I am sure you have an indication of where this is going now after seeing the first term described, but wet-on-wet will require you to pre-wet your paper so that its...wet. In the image below I am applying a coat of water to a portion of my page using the brush.

Then when I place brush strokes on that area that was already wet, you can see the edges of the strokes become fuzzy and some of the colors run together. Wet-on-wet is simply placing wet paint on wet paper. The more wet things are the less control you have.

Both the wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques have beautiful applications in watercolor. If you crave looseness in your work painting with more wet paper is going to help you achieve this! If you like precision, you'll likely work more on the dry side of things.

3. Lifting Color

Ooops you made a mistake, or things are too dark! Don't fear, in some ways watercolor is far more forgiving that it initially appears!

If you place color where you don't want it while it's still wet you can pick that color up either with a dried brush or something like a paper towel. Simply press on the area and it will pick up some of the pigment. Keep in mind that different colors stain more or less, so this will work to varying degrees depending on that.

Even if you paint is dry and you need to lift color, all is not lost. Simply take a damp brush and lightly scrub the area you want to remove. You want to be gentle as to not damage the paper.

As you can see in the image above, even though that stroke was dry, I was able to lift a lot of that color from the page with my damp brush! You can also see a fain amount of the color remaining, this is because this color was partially staining. Different colors will have different amounts of success with lifting.

4. Layering

One of the hardest things I had to learn with watercolor was patience, because you'll need it if you want to do layering effects. As you can see in the image below I placed down a blue stroke and then a pink stroke on top of it. Both of these were wet. When you swipe them together while wet, they combine and you can't entirely tell where one stops and the other begins. This doesn't make this wrong, it can be absolutely beautiful, but it won't get you distinct layers.

One of the beautiful things about watercolor is that it is transparent and so when you layer it, you can see the layers below. The main thing is you need to make sure the paper dries completely before you layer the second color or strokes on top. If you're impatient like me you can use a hair dryer to help speed this up once there's no more standing water on the page.

As you can see above I layered the pink color on top of the blue stroke once the blue stroke was completely dry. When you do this you can get two distinct shapes instead of one that mixes together.

5. Get to know your brush

In my opinion about 75% of learning to paint, draw, sculpt or do any other creative activity is getting to know your supplies. The brush is no exception to this rule. In watercolor, I find that brushes are even more important than other media, because typically you use few brushes and ask them to do a lot more. In watercolor the brush in many cases does the work for you. It's a good idea when you get a new brush to take a little time and get to know it.

As you can see in the image above this page is filled with all sorts of marks made by a single brush, and it can even make more types of marks than that!

6. Standing Water Can Be A Friend Or Foe

When you're painting with watercolor it's inevitable that at times you'll have a puddle of standing water left on your page after adding color and water to the page. That doesn't make it wrong, we just need to understand what happens, when you leave it, or remove it.

As you can see below I have two swatches I painted. In the one on the left I kept the standing water on page and the one on the right you can see me sucking up the extra water with a dry brush.

Here are the results after dried. The one of the left that had water left standing created a backrun. This happens when the paper dries faster in one area than the area left with the standing water. The pigments slightly separate and become attracted to that barrier. the one on the right where I removed the water does not have a backrun.

7. Stippling

Stippling is simply the action of tapping the brush lightly on the page. This can be used to create dots and texture. It also has another practical application in watercolor, applying more pigment or different pigment to a shape without completely disrupting the colors around it.

This is a really good way to shade objects or add more pigment to only one section of the object when the paint is still wet.

If you'd prefer to watch all of this demonstrated in video form, I've got you covered!

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