Maybe you’re like me: Obsessed with watercolor paintings and browsing the web for never-ending inspiration, but not quite confident in your execution. Sometimes we just need a little guidance because we’re not quite sure exactly where to start and that’s okay! That’s why we’ve asked some of the top watercolor artists from the Doodle Addicts art community to spill their secrets, share what they’ve learned, and what they wish they knew when they started.

The most common question I receive about watercolor is about how I get my colors to be so vibrant. A few tips that work for me are:

1. Choose quality paint. I love Winsor & Newton watercolors. They have been my go-to from the beginning. They have a huge range of colors to choose from and are very vibrant. I also stick primarily to tube paint. People assume that they are on the more expensive side, but they go a long way and are worth the extra cash. They also offer a Cotman Line which is very affordable. I recommend purchasing just a few colors to get started and as you get more comfortable add to your palette over time.

2. Don’t skimp on paper. Unfortunately, this is a really important factor that can be pricey. You want to look for cotton paper because the color doesn’t get soaked into the material causing it to look desaturated. For projects, I use Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper. For my sketchbooks, I use the Strathmore Mixed Media Journal which has been my favorite recent discovery (plus they are very fairly priced and often on sale).

3. Don’t muddy up your colors. I mix my colors on paper rather than on the palette. This is my biggest “secret.” Mixing on the palette and then applying the paint to paper often dulls the color or makes it appear muddy. While I may mix lightly on the palette, I usually grab a couple of colors on my brush, apply them to the paper, and let them do their thing. This is where the magic happens and the colors dance and vibrate together to create the most exciting results.

4. Keep practicing and experimenting. This is my biggest bit of advice to someone who is new to the medium. Keep at it! Watercolor is such a versatile medium but it does require that you learn how to flow with it. Try not to treat every piece as if it is so precious – one little surprise and you could get very frustrated. Embrace the imperfections and keep painting.

I did my first watercolor painting at the end of 2009. I immediately became addicted. Nowadays I actually use a combination of watercolor and gouache for all of my work. Adding in the gouache allows me to have some more opaque portions in my paintings. I am completely self-taught so my whole process has been a lot of trial and error and I have my own way of doing things. The way I paint is definitely not the traditional way.

When I first began with watercolor I made the mistake of using way too much water and I would also be impatient and not wait for the paint I laid down in one area to dry before painting next to it and this would cause my colors to bleed together and become muddy. Also, the quality of the paper you use is a huge factor in how your paintings will end up looking and how hard the paint is to use. It took me a while to figure this out and I can remember the first time I used some quality paper I was shocked at the difference. Good paper can be pricey but if you are serious about your work you should invest. 

With my style, I start with a light pencil sketch on the paper not too detailed and it must be very clean and crisp. Then I start laying down the colors working from the lightest colors first and the darks last. In my older work, I used to paint the whole illustration with watercolor and at the end-outline everything with sharpies and microns. I was really afraid to try to outline with a paintbrush because when I did try I often messed up the work. With the pens, I could get really crisp precise outlines. This effect can be nice but also takes away from the depth you get if you mix the colors and outline with a brush. It is like anything else just practice, practice, practice! If you put in the work the improvement will show!

Some of my favorite supplies are Arches watercolor paper I prefer 300g cold press. I use Blick red sable round brushes sizes 0, 3, and 5. For paints, I use Grumbacher deluxe transparent watercolor set, Winsor & Newton gouache, and Acryla gouache. Good luck and keep being creative!

When you start to dig deeper into ‘watercolor’ make sure you know one thing about it: Watercolor is about ‘magic’ because you cannot expect the finished result the look exactly like what you had in your mind. I started my watercolor drawing with students’ watercolors like Pentel then I upgraded to Daler Rowney and Daniel Smith. You will learn the difference from trial and error. The paper I used is Canson XL Aquarelle and Canson Montval. Watercolor paper has many variants like hot pressed, cold pressed, rough, etc. I prefer cold pressed because it’s a little more rough than hot pressed but smoother than rough paper. You can try many papers until you found the ‘one’. Taking care of brushes after use is important: clean them well and stand up the brush, making sure the part with the ‘hair’ is facing upward. If you want to scan the finished product, I recommend using the device with just the scanner only, not that one that combines a printer and scanner. Just the scanner will create a smoother picture, and the color results are more true to the original piece. I hope this helps!

Looking for even more tips? You’re in luck. Check out Part 1 of our Watercolor Tips for Beginners series for more insight from experienced members of our community to keep the ball rolling!