So many fondly remember having the best time with watercolor paints growing up. It’s one of the most iconic symbols of grade school: cracking open that bright tray of colors and dabbing a wet brush into it. It can be cathartic, fun, and ultimately it can lead to what later becomes a budding artist. Maybe even a professional.
For those who are just getting started on taking watercolor art seriously, it can be helpful to go over the basics, and also to know what are the best watercolor paints to buy for wherever you are in your artistic journey. If you think on the other hand you’re interested in acrylics, you can check out our guide on acrylic painting.
How to Use Watercolor Paints
There are two main types of watercoloring to first practice and master, then there are a number of techniques to try in order to get more and more comfortable with them.
Wet on Wet
Using the wet on wet method of painting with watercolors is common with those who are interested in painting landscapes or “soft” images since it gives the art a nice flowing look. Bob Ross is probably the most famous example of using wet on wet techniques to great effect.
There are some common steps to painting watercolors wet on wet:
- Mark the space on paper that you plan on painting, usually with a pencil drawing a rectangle. Though as you practice maybe you are penciling in areas that are one color and other areas that are another. Since this technique results in less defined lines, this can be helpful in determining the area you’re going to get wet with a certain color of watercolor.
- Get that area of the paper wet. This is often done by lightly spraying it with water from a spritz bottle, and then lightly dabbing the area with a sponge to get a nice even coat in that defined area. This also is meant to get rid of any excess moisture.
- Plan what to paint first. Typically you want to think about starting with the background. You will often see an example of this with Bob Ross-style painting where you start with the sky, then maybe the trees in the background, until finally painting more of the forefront.
- Plan for wet and dryer strokes. The first strokes when you are doing wet-on-wet painting will disperse widely, since the paper is its most wet at the beginning. As the paper dries, the watercolor paint strokes will disperse less and less. Use this to plan what areas you want to look certain ways and not others.
- Mixing colors. When you add one color of wet paint to another color that is still wet, the colors will mix and create a certain look. While if you didn’t plan it, this could be a problem, if in fact it is planned you can create some distinct colors and looks that can add to the painting.
Here is a 20-minute tutorial specifically outlining the wet-on-wet watercolor technique.
Wet on Dry
Putting wet paint on dry surfaces (or wet paint on dry areas of paint) allows for more control of the watercolor paint. It is generally meant to get crisp and more defined edges of the paint. Although he uses a mix of both, Stephen Gammell and his art is primarily an example of wet on dry watercolor painting. You can see an example of him creating some of his art at that link.
This technique can be used by itself, especially for practice, but many of the best watercolor paint projects involve a combination of these techniques.
Wet on dry is fairly straightforward. Dip the brush into water. Dip it into the paint. Mix the water and color until you get the desired color. Apply it to the dry watercolor paper you have. You’ll notice that the paint is still relatively translucent, so continuing to apply paint with layers will instill the color onto the paper more and more with each layer.
Here is a helpful tutorial.
Best Watercolor Paints for Beginners
Keebor Watercolor Paint Set for Kids
Description: “Simple design, stable quality, supply for the world over 20 years. All colors for kids are washable and ASTM Non-Toxic, perfect for any kids age 3+, classroom, students, parties or adults painting. Each set of paint comes with a quality wooden brush. The moment you receive the item, you can begin to paint no waiting. Perfect watercolors for your art and craft projects, classroom needs, and party favors or gift bags.”
Arteza Portable Watercolor Set
Description: “Get ready for inspiration to strike with a Portable Watercolor Frame Set you can easily grab and take with you. This set, featuring a glue-bound pad of 9”x12” DIY watercolor frames, 12 quick-drying watercolors and a portable water brush pen, is the perfect size to bring with you anywhere. The small water brush pen allows you to paint without worrying about needing a cup of water. Simply squeeze the barrel to dampen the bristles, then dip into the color you need from your set of half-pans.”
MeiLiang Watercolor Paint Set
Description: “Suitable for artists and anyone who loves painting and wants to practice watercolor painting. This set offers you 36 vibrant colors and a watercolor brush, with the highly pigmented paints, your inspiration will be easier to displayed on the paper and performed better, it brings your inspiration into reality.”
Neliblu Washable 24 Watercolor Paint Set For Kids and Adults
Description: “This set of water colors provides an exquisite introduction into the wonderful world of art. Kids and adults favorite pastime! Its relaxing, fun, gets their creative juices flowing. This paint set allows them an opportunity to express themselves.”
Best Watercolor Paints for Professionals
Arteza Watercolor Premium Artist Paint
Description: “Arteza’s Watercolor Premium Artist Paint Half Pans Set of 36 is the perfect watercolor set for any painter. This set comes complete with 36 brilliantly beautiful and vibrant colors that are sure to impress any artist. The vibrant colors are incredibly pigmented, providing artists with rich color every time. The high pigmentations of our watercolors make a little go a long way, assuring this set of watercolors is a long-lived addition to your watercolor paint collection. The quick-drying watercolor paint eliminates the long wait time associated with letting your watercolor layers dry.”
Zenacolor Watercolor Paint Set of 80 Tubes
Description: “Zenacolor watercolor paints have a high concentration of pigment in each tube which gives them bright, intense color and also makes them more resistant to light. The Zenacolor watercolor set is the ideal kit for a beginner or a student, but also the perfect palette for a more experienced artist. This painting set works great on canvas, watercolor paper, paper, or board.”
Mozart Premium Japanese Watercolor Paint Set
Description: “Mozart’s water color paints set is of premium quality and is perfect for high-calibre artwork. With excellent blending performance you can go from light to darker shades with ease, enhancing both the delicate and the dramatic in your artwork. Each Komorebi watercolor palette set comes with a stunning sleeve with artwork created using the paints themselves. These travel watercolor set is enclosed within a sturdy metal case with a color swatch sheet, perfect for travel and on-the-go painting – the ideal gift for your creative loved ones.”
Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Tubes and Sets
For one of the more affordable options while still sticking with something professional level, check out Grumbacher Academy’s watercolor paint sets. The reviews are solid, with one saying: “It was recommended by the artist I was taking a watercolor class from. I have used liquid water color and another tube style watercolor but this one was so nice and creamy and easy to get my shading and values with. I was definitely impressed!”
Description: “Grumbacher Academy has been the best-selling brand of watercolors in the United States for years. Their palette of 60 colors features traditional ingredients, time-tested formulas, careful manufacturing, and attention to quality. Academy offers extravagant color at an affordable price.”
Last Updated on March 14, 2022.