Watercolor Introduction

O.k. so you decided that you want to do a Watercolor pic, right?. Well,I’m not going to lie to you. You have choosen one of the most difficult media to work with. But don’t be scared. Watercolor is not a vicious dog but only a technique, and like all things in the world you will need to be patience and practice it, until you have some control over it. Once you understand the basics, you will certainly start to have lots of fun. Sure, don’t expect your first illustration to be flawless, cause it won’t. It’s a fact that you’ll botch lots of pictures before you get one right, or at least, one that you feel satisfied with. I’m writting this not to discourage you but to make you fully aware of what’s going to happen in your first attempts. Sure tackling watercolor is not the same for everyonw. There are people who get the hang of it, in the very first try. But if you are not one of those people, then don’t dispair. Practice is the key to master something, anything and this saying very well applies to watercolor as well. So let’s go on with it, shall we?

*Please notice, this tutorial is heavy on images. Although I tried my very best to resize all images for fast downloading, if your internet data speed is not that good, it might take a while to load.

What you need before you start


When approaching watercolor, one starts to wonder what should be bought before one is set and ready to go. First, as this is your very first attempt in watercolor, I’ll advise you NOT TO buy expensive materials. Cheap watercolors are just the same as expensive ones. Sure the pigment and color lasts longer if you are using, let’s say… Windsor & Newton watercolors, but let’s be honest, when attempting to do something for the very first time, brands are not something to worry about. What you need to worry about is to have the materials you need to start off and once you start mastering the technique, THEN you can buy expensive materials, using the previous knowledge that practice will give you through painting.
The nice part of any art technique is that you can improvise. Sure, all the material listed below is mine and it’s not a cheap material, but at first when I was experimenting I really used basic brands and I improvised a lot with it. If I didn’t had money to buy, let’s say masking fluid, I learn to use masking tape instead to mask especific parts of the illustrations. If I didn’t had money to buy a porcelain container, I used to sneak in to my grandmother’s house and took one or two porcelain plates that I later promessed her to return (which I never did… naughty me ;)
The most important part is that you don’t feel overwhelmed with this list of materials. This are just examples of watercolors, papers and supplies that are sold nowadays in the market. A variety of brands that you can choose from. The important part is that you have fun! Fun, when buying the materials, and most of all when you are using them.. so… let’s start.


Which are the materials I’m gonna use anyway?

Ah! very well then, here are some samples of the various types of watercolors. In the first tutorial (applying color) we will be using watercolor half pans, and Concentrated watercolors, not the tube type, since I have never used them. So regarding watercolors….

 Concentrated watercolors


This are DR. Ph Martin’s Concentrated Watercolors. Usually this is what the Japanesse use for their illustrations. Ex.- CLAMP. This brand has the richests and the most vivid range of colors.
The bottles are sold separately and are a little bit expensive (over 4 or 5 Dls. apiece) but you can have (use) them for years as the color being a concentrated one, lasts you a lot, and also enables you to store the colour that you didn’t use and save it for next session!  Once you get the hang of them, they are really easy to use and can be mixed with other materials, like wax, or acrylics. The only flaw of this wonderful watercolors is that you will need an special container to mix them (keep on reading for further refference). Here’s are some illustrations I did with this.

Aphrodite was done entirely with PH martíns. DM bg was done with type of WC as well as the bg for Mu and Kiki.

Half Pans


Japanese Guitar Watercolors

This is a japanesse brand of Watercolors named Guitar. This were the first watercolours I bought in my life, and proved to be a great practice to move to other most expensive brands. The set costs 13 dls and offers the artist a range of soft colors. There is a smaller set with less colours that is, of course, cheaper, but I recommend you to buy this one. You can mix the colors and get incredible results with just this little box. And as long as you keep ’em on a fresh drawer they will last you for years!!.

I used this brand to create Hilda’s and Siegfried’s illustrations and Derrewyn’s Artemis. Also Mu and kiki. Notice the difference between the muted hues vs the vivid tones used in the bg.

Nowadays the japanese guitar watercolor set come in tubes instead of half pans, but the colors are still the same :D

Half pan Windsor and Newton Watercolor

Which is the difference between this set and the one listed above? Well, the first one as I already told you is a set that offers you soft, muted colors. And (most important part of it all) is that, the set is the cheapest and the best around that price, you can actually get.

This one over here is Windsor & Newton. A nice expensive brand that offers you vivid colors, on a nice set. This particular box, contains 45 colors, and comes with a nice brush. It costs like… 60 dls or more. I bought it, cause I was tired of colouring pics with soft tonal values. W & N is a good brand, and its easy to find a spare of a certain color (in case you run out). They can also be mixed with acrylics, wax and etc.I used this type of colors to paint the pic for the tutorial .



Hands off you SOB



The illustration above was entirely painted with windsor and newton watercolors. Notice the range of vivid hues. I have drawn other stuff using this materials, but they are NOT STS realted (like this one, and this one)




I do not like this type of watercolor as the strokes you get with this are for a more broad wash -and this is a problem for me, since I like heavy detail- . Also if you aren’t that skill with the technique the truth is you *will* spend heavy amounts of watercolor on your first attempts -mixing is indeed tricky-.   Anyway, this watercolors can be used the same way one would use acrylic paintings, and also you can apply it in thick or slim layers of paints. The nice part about this watercolors is that there are expensive and cheap brands. The cheapest (Pentel, or Vinci) costs you like 12 dls up to 20 (the set). Windsor and Newton are of course one of the most expensive brands, though of course the range of colors is to die for.

What else do I need?

Since this is not finger paint, you are certainly gonna need brushes, sponges and so on. Of course you DON’T need expensive brushes or all of the types of brushes listed below. There are set of brushes that are sold for less than 8 dls. Keep in mind that you will need 3 basic sizes of brushes (at least): 01 (for thin lines and details) 03, or 04 for larger areas and 06 or maybe a 07. Whatever fits you best.


The brushes shown here are not expensive and you can get them in any art store or school supply depot. There are round end brushes and square end brushes. As for the shape, it will depend of what you want to achive in the watercolor (texture, etc). I usually use the round ones, though if I’m applying color to a building I might use a square shaped one to prevent the color to bleed out beyond the art line.The big brush is used to cover large areas, like skies, and very useful when applying coats of color, as there are ilustrations where you will need to apply the color evenly and in one go.


This are other supplies you can use to do effects and such (this aren’t necessarily needed in your basic supply stock. Nevertheless, I though of making a list of them, in case you wanted to experiment more with them when applying WC.

  • 1.-This eyedropper is easy to get in any drug store. It is useful to pick the color to do the mix and why not? pick up the water of a container, in case you need just acouple of drops.


  • 2.-This syringe is as well, used to pick up mixed color, or water.Just In case you find it difficult to get your hands on an eyedropper.


  • 3.- Cutter. Used to scratch color off the paper for some effects, and also as a basic aid to mask your drawings in case you want to prevent some color from bleeding in, to some part of your drawing that you want it to remain, either untouched or white.


  • 4.-Tooth brush. It’s useful if you want to spatter some color over your drawing.

For example blood. I you want this gory ladscape all splattered in blood, you can dip the tooth brush in red paint and then scratch the tip of it with your fingers, so that the paint ttered


  • 5.-Palette Knife: this is used to scratch the color off the canvas or to mix color. Though this is more used with tube watercolors.


  • 6.- Watercolor Pencil: This pencil allows you to sketch directly on your canvas. Depending of the lead, the original trace won’t smudge once you apply watercolor. I used this pencil when doing the Artemis pic.
  • 7.- White gel pen. Used to create some effects (white ones) when the color has been applied.


  • 8.-Fancy sponge with a wood handle.- well this is used to achive an even color in wide areas. Let’s suppose you applied the base color for a sky. If you feel the color is uneven, this is the perfect tool to helpt you smooth things out. You dip the sponge in water and then use it as brush.


  • 9.-Candle: In watercolor you need to keep certain spaces untouched to preserve the whiteness of the paper you are working on. Most experimented WC artists use the wax of the candle to create textures, because the wax will always be wax and it will leave a thin coat of its material on top of the drawing. for this purpose people always use masking fluid to do the trick.Obviously this material IS more expensive, and if you don’t have the money, you can always use the wax.



    • 1.- The first one is a porcelain palette. There are of course some made out of plastic, which are fine and are, most important of it all, cheap. Now, the one shown in the photo is indeed a little expensive ( 20 dls each), but you will have to buy one if you want to use concentrated watercolors. You must know that the base pigment of the PH Martin’s are usually absorved by a plastic palette, thus the color will be gone in a couple of minutes (depending how large is your mix). However Porcelain palettes don’t do that to concentrated Watercolors. They keep the color fresh as ever, and if you are done with painting, you can let the color dry and keep it safe on a dark place until you are ready for the next session. If you still can’t afford this containers, you can always raid your grandma’s china cabinet. Any porcelain plate will do ;)


    • 2.- Water container: O.k this is a fancy water container. You can use whatever container you want. I usually use empty cups of yogurt and stuff. the one shown in the photo is actually both a water container and also a mixer for concentrated WC. I might add, porcelain containers, keep the mix free of hair and stuff (less static, I assume)


    • 3.-Masking tape: this is yet another way of masking the drawings. to use this tape to keep an area of your drawing safe from color, you will need a cutter.Just remember, before you put tape on your drawing, cut a piece and take off the glue by rubbing it several times face down to your pants, skirt or even your legs,. It’s recommended to rub the piece of tape in a surface that doesn’t has hair, or anything that will be attached to the little glue left on the tape, because of course if you stick it to your drawing, you’ll be sticking not only the masking tape, but anything that was glued to its surface. This can actually botch your drawing. Be very careful about this.


    • 4.-Masking fluid. Well, this is like the best thing to use if you want to mask. You just have to shake the bottle before oppening it and then you just apply it with a brush in even strokes. Remember to wash your brush with a lot of soap and water right after you are done masking, as this fluid is like glue.You will have to wait until it dries to apply the color. once the color is applied, you can remove it by rubbing the mask with your fingers (I explained how to do this in the third part of this tutorial. Click here). it will just peel off.The Masking fluid is about 5 dls each. So far the only brand I could find was Windsor & Newton… but it’s done the trick. At least for me.


    • 5.- Water Sponge.- It’s used mainly for effects, like clouds etc. keep it on a dust free drawer, or hair cause those things will be inevitable attached to it.



This is a large palette that I always recommend to use. As you can see it has a lot of spaces to mix the color and the nicest part is that it can be closed as a book when you finish, allowing any kind of watercolor to dry for next session. This container was designed to be used for outdoor painters. As you can see it has holes in the bottom to hold the brushes, and it can also be attached to a table, in case you don’t have a free space to put that on.
Best of it all, it’s not expensive. Of course this can’t be used to mix concentrated watercolors.


Now, this can be used to mix concentrated watercolors :D It’s made ofporcelain and it’s heavy as hell. It’s not cheap, of course (50 dls or 60 apiece. I assumed the price has risen significantly since I bought this a couple of years ago).

What papers can I use to apply watercolor?

What you need to consider when buying a paper is the amount of cotton it has within. Why? because cotton is the principal ingredient for a watercolor paper, as it allows it to absorb the colour and the water. If you apply watercolor in a regular paper, it would only crumple and sort of shirk. You won’t be able to apply layers of painting and so on. WC need a special paper!

With and special watercolor paper, it doesn’t matter how many layers of painting you add, as long as you have enough cotton on your paper to resist the process. Of course the prize of the paper varies according to the amount of cotton (300 gms being the more expensive) and the type of texture of the surface.

There will be papers with smooth surface while others will have a rougher more textured surfaces. The more textured the paper is, the better for your paiting because it will allow you not only to apply lots of layers, but to correct mistakes easily, as you will be able to scratch or to add bleach to the painting without damaging the surface.

In general there are Three kinds of watercolor paper:
Hot pressed (HP), Cold Pressed (CP) and Rough. (you will notice this especially if you buy the paper in blocks -see picture-)

(Watercolor Paper) - D'Arches 140 lb. Hot Press, Smooth Watercolor Paper

First one is smooth but not very good for buiding up layers, as it will get clogged very quiclky.

Cold press is slightly textured and is the most popular and suitable paper for broad washes and fine detail. (this is what I use).

Rough is as its name implies heavily textured and you need a lot of skill to know how to achive things in with this kind of paper, because spreading color is harder in this surface and you would not only need to be skilled, but also fast (which in WC I’m afraid are two skills that holds hands, so to speak). So what you need to look for is the grms of cotton that the paper has. A 300 g/m (140lb) won’t be the same as a 185 g/m (90lb) sheet of paper. What I use is Cold press paper with 300 g/m, which means the texture is smooth but not to much. It gives me the rooom to add detail and be able to laid lots of colors without risking damaging the surface.

Of course there are another type of papers, like hand made, but let’s not get too specifial with this, cause that won’t do any good.I cannot tell you which type of paper will suit you better cause you will have to find that yourself. Still if you want to start practicing, you can buy a block of nice watercolor sheets. One I do reccomend for begginers is Strathmore as it has not only a wide range of watercolor blocks which you can pick from, but also because these are like the cheapest of the market. Of course you can also, buy sheets of paper. I preffer watercolor blocks cause that way I won’t be cutting my fingers off to adapt the damned sheet to a size. But that’s up to you :) The block costs around 5 dls, and usually contains 12-20 sheets of paper.A single sheet costs around a dolar up to 2 or three dls each. If you want a fancier watercolor paper, you can use the Arches brand which is more expensive but also more effective. the block price varies from the type of paper you want (between 60-140 dls per block). If you are not acquainted with watercolor I highly reccommend you to buy a cheaper block. There’s no need to use fancy materials in the beginning.


This is a cold pressed block. the original color is light green (I took the picture at night, sorry about that). This paper has a light texture. Notice the weight of the paper. If you buy a block that’s what you have to look for, to get the one you need. If you read French is easier because right beside The Cold Pressed label, there is a GRain Fin, which basically means that the texture is hardly noticeable.


This is another cold pressed paper. But unlike the last one it has more cotton, hence more texture (like I said you have t be attentive to this two things when buying paper) It’s still cold pressed though. The weight of each branch of paper (cold pressed, hot pressed, or rough) can go up to 300 g/m (140 lbs).

Ah well, I almost forgot: I highly recommend you to buy the paper in blocks. Why? because once the watercolor paper is dirty or exposed to dust, you can’t use it, as the paint will “wash” out as soon as you apply it to the paper. If you must buy sheets of WC paper, keep them out of dust in a bag closed tight.

Once you have all your material, we are indeed ready to go! Oh and just a little thing. The prices listed above are based on what things costed me in the USA and in Mexico. I hope those won’t vary that much in your country. Now, that we have all what we need, let’s do our first excersise. To follow the next step of this tutorial, you will need to have a drawing ready (WITHOUT INKING, unless you have a proven waterproof ink). The next excersise will be done with half pan watercolors.I will of course upload a Concentrated Watercolor tutorial in the upcoming update.To go to next step click here.