Lesson 1 - Puddles of Paint

First Steps:

You have your paints, your palette, brushes, and if you are like I was you are probably itching to produce a masterpiece or at least a full painting.

I remember my first watercolour landscape paintings, very clearly like they were last year.

(One of the things i love about painting is you spend so long in that one spot that you never forget it.)

I Jumped in the car and drove to a local beauty spot: a forest, parked and sat in the car, with my paper in front of me looking out the windscreen.

I remember the overwhelming amount of detail, my god there were so many leaves on those trees, how could i paint all that? and i remember the terrible painting I produced ; so dissapointing! – and I knew not why!

Sure go ahead, do a few , as many as you like, but if it sucks don’t worry, there is a lot you can/need to learn.

At some point you will probably want to come back to the beginning and start from scratch.

You cannot run before you can walk, right?

Here I will explain the basics hopefully leaving nothing out.

Lancashire's Trough of Bowland

landscape watercolour
watercolour pots
brush in water
brush in palette
watercolour in well
watercolour paint on paper

Swatches of colour

This is a good place to start.


A swatch is a small test of colour on a scrap of watercolour paper to see how the pigments will look having been diluted with water or when two or three different colours are mixed together.

I could never understand why my swatches were always so beautiful, so bright and full of life and yet my paintings were not.

Then I realised this is how the paint should be applied in a painting –


  A painting should be built up of small or large, thin or thick swatches of colour  that allow the pigments to float together, producing a bright translucent swatch of colour in which you can see the pigment settle delicately within the texture of the paper .

When mixing watercolour pigment with water there are 4 main points to consider:

  1. The size of brush – As large as possible.
  2. Which colour/s you will mix.
  3. The consistency  of the mix – Thin or thick, creamy or watery, coffee or tea.
  4. The timing – To blend into an existing wet/damp wash or to glaze over o dry wash.

These 4 skills will become second nature as you practise.

Now Practise and practise and practise!

Making a Puddle of Creamy Coffee Consistency,

  1. Grap an A4 piece of 140lb paper there is no need to stretch it for this excersize.
  2. I always have two water pots, one for rinsing the brush and one for using to mix the paint.
  3. If your paints have been squeezed into your palette for a while or you are using ‘PANS’ they are probably hard, so give them a quick spray with water. If they are freshly out of the tube be carefull not to take too much paint with your brush, a tiny amount goes a long way.
  4. In Watercolour painting you should always use as few brush strokes as possible. Therefore always use the biggest brush you can get away with to avoid dabbing with the tip.
  5. Take a number 6 sable or similar and submerge the bristles in clean water.
  6. Now rub the brush gently in a pigment so that it becomes a creamy coffee consistency, transfer this creamy paint onto a ‘well’ of the palette,
  7. Its a good habit to always rinse your brush and then take clean water again, so as not to contaminate your mixing water.
  8. Take your clean brush laden with water and mix it with your creamy pigment in the ‘well’ so that it dilutes the cream to a ‘coffee’ like consistency.
  9. Now do not wash your brush in water but make sure it is completely loaded with paint.
  10. Put your brush to the paper and make a small puddle on the paper.
  11. Let it sit there until the paper absorbs it and begins to dry.

The Drying Stages

  1. The paper will begin to slowly absorb the pigment.
  2. You will notice that just before it dries, when it is almost dry, if you hold the paper up to the light you will see it still has a SHEEN this is very important in watercolour. At this stage with care it is still possible to manipulate the pigment.
  3.  You will probably notice that colour diminishes and becomes lighter as it dries. This is a factor that has to be taken into consideration during painting that you must always mix a stronger colour than you want for the end result.
watercolour sheen
half dry watercolour
fresh watercolour paint
half dry watercolour

Mix Two Swatches

I have made thousands of swatches i still make swatches everytime i paint. It’s like learning a language, the colour combinations, the drying stages the mixing, the consistency ; if you dont paint often you beging to forget it all. The more you do it the more you learn and the more fluent you become.

  1. This time make a swatch with one colour. (The one on the left I made with French Ultramarine Blue and Crimson Alizarin.)
  2. before it dries make a second puddle next to the first and allow them to blend together just in the middle.
  3. This is when the magical beauty of watercolour happens, watch them mix together and take on a life of their own.

Now Practise:

  1. Take a simple subject.
  2. sketch it out.
  3. fill out the various areas with swatches of colour.
  4. Keep Your Colours Clean!
  5. Keep washing your brush
  6. Don’t mix colour from one source of paint into another, only mix in the large palette wells or better still on the paper.