The Basics - Go With The Flow

Watercolour origins....

If you could go back to East Kalimantan in Borneo 40-50.000 years ago you could find a caveman mixing his pigments with water; earth pigments, minerals – red ochre, yellow ochre and umber, charcoal, burnt bones and lime white.

The egyptians watercolours in their pyramids and on papyrus, the Chinese and Japanese also used  it on silk and paper.

In recent history we learnt to mix the pigment with gum arabic: the sap from the acacia/ mimosa tree.

Michalangelo and Leonardo da Vinci used watercolour on plaster known as ‘Fresco’ including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

And Britain’s most famous painter Joseph M.W. Turner was a watercolourist.

Now it’s your turn!

oldest watercolour painting
ancient egyptian watercolour
white paper

White from paper.

The big difference between watercolour painting and other mediums is its transparency, allowing the whiteness of the paper to show through. Whereas other mediums will use white paint for the whites in the painting, watercolour relies on reserving the whiteness of the paper itself. This transparancy gives watercolour a glowing effect.


Paint can be used straight from the tube for accents but in general it is thinned with water, the more water is used, the more  translucent the pigment and the more the paper shows through. This use of water gives the medium an unpredictability that the artist uses to his advantage to create textures and effects

bridge painting
Mr Bead

Gravity & 'Mr Bead'

The board is normally on an angle of around 20 degrees , so that gravity ensures a vertical downward flow of water and pigment, allowing beautiful subtle washes of colour, and also allowing a bead of colour to rest on the surface which the artist is able to manipulate, by adding more paint before the wash dries.

Watercolour painting is a juggling act with timing, colour, tone and consistency of water and pigment, not to mention weather, flies, people etc etc.

Normally one starts with the backround wash avoiding the areas to be kept white and builds up layers of paint as you paint towards the foreground.

Quality Materials

whenever possible use ‘Professional Materials’ don’t save them for later, watercolour painting is tricky enough, using cheap materials will make your learning process slower and more difficult :

  • Papers – good papers can be rubbed and scrubbed without destroying the surface, and the paper will warp less.
  • Pigments – good pigments produce brighter colours, mix and act differently.
  • Brushes – with fine points hold lots of water and pigment, they can be large but still good for detail.
fresh watercolour paint
water buckets

Clean Water/Clean palette

It is very important to keep your water clean when mixing your colours in order to produce bright colours.

Therefore have two buckets of water  handy and get into the habit of rinsing your brush in one and taking clean water from the other to mix your next colour.

Also keep your palette clean, try not to mix the pigments in their wells only in the mixing areas of your palette or on the paper.

Thinking time:

A wash of watercolour paint can be applied in seconds, but every wash must be calculated, for colour and consistency and applied at the right moment with the right action. Watercolour painting is 90% thought and 10% execution.

You must have a clear mind, apply concentration and patience.

Start small and simple and get bigger – It can be discouraging to produce a bad painting and watercolour is very tricky, start with small paper and small studies, smaller washes are in general easier to produce than big ones.

Learn about tone, colour and composition!

thinking time