Watercolour Basics

Art subscription box. Art Scribe. Watercolour painting kit

Painting in watercolour for the first time may feel daunting, but like any art medium, it just takes practice, a few bits of knowledge and the right equipment.

Here are some basics on the best way to get equipped and ready to get started. Then follow the 5 step warm-up exercise that will help you to explore the fluid world of watercolour.

What you need


Watercolour Paint comes in tubes, pans and half pans which are used in travel sets. You will find that the quality of the colour pigment will vary between artist quality and student quality. The more expensive and higher quality artists paint contains more finely ground pigment. But there are still some perfectly adequate student quality paints, that contain extenders, at more affordable prices. Start with student quality from a brand you respect then slowly add to your palette with artist quality. Look for free-flowing and transparent colour.


We recommend starting with the colours illustrated as these will mix together well giving you a versatile palette.

colour swatches of Lemon Yellow, Cadmuim Red, Crimson Hue, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine, Hookers green.


The good all rounders for watercolour painting are size 4 round and size 8 round. A larger oval brush is good to have for washes. The difference between Natural & Synthetic brushes? A natural brush will hold more water, while a synthetic will hold its shape and so giving you more control. 


Watercolour paper is thicker, more durable and absorbs and holds water well, therefore avoiding curled edges and surface break up. Go for a good weight, 300gsm or above. Watercolour paper comes in Hot Press – smooth, Cold Press – slightly textured and Rough – a bumpier surface.


Ceramic palettes are a good choice as they allow the paint to spread on the surface making colour mixing easier. No need to buy one, as an old plate will do the job! However, plastic palettes are lighter and more travel friendly if you intend to go out and about. With a travel set you will use the lid of the box.

Three brush pens, blue , yellow and red on white paper. Their marks on paper have been blended to make green and purple watercolour marks.

Brush Pens

The range of Brush Pens that are now available are great for adding detail and more graphic style to your work. These water soluble pens blend beautifully with each other giving you the option to colour mix on the page. With a little water they will blend with watercolour paint too.


Jam jars are ideal and we would recommend using two. One for cleaning the paint off your brush, the second for filling your brush with clean water before dipping into a new colour. This way you will keep the colours on your page bright and clean. 

Paper Towel

Essential basics to have at hand! Paper towels are good for removing excess water from your brush. It also makes a good blotter to remove paint from the page or to create texture in your work.  

Check out the watercolour kit from Art Scribe which has everything you need to get you started: https://artscribe.uk/product/watercolour-set-brush-pens/

5 Step Warm-Up Exercise

Have fun exploring watercolour!

This exercise will help you get familiar with the qualities and potential of watercolour paint. By painting circles, you will be able to focus on techniques such as the effects of adding more or less water to the paint, brush control and composition. Most importantly, have fun and feel free to experiment while learning through any “mistakes”.

1.  Colour and composition.

Choose a limited colour palette of 2 to 4 cool or warm colours. Think about the composition and spacing on the page as you paint your circles different sizes.

a number of circles painted in warm tones of red, orange and yellow in  watercolour paint on white water colour paper.
Warm colour palette.

2. Blending and bleeding.

One of the joys of working with watercolour is the unpredictable nature of how the colours blend together on the page. Experiment with how the colours bleed into each other by painting the circles so they are touching.

Four circles painted in pink, red and yellow in watercolour paint. Their sides are touching so the colours are blending into each other.
Play around with how the paint blends and mixes on the paper.

3. Wet-on-wet.

Try adding a small amount of a different colour into a circle you have just painted. Or add clean water to a circle.
What happens when you “paint” a circle with clean water then drop some paint into it?

Eight circles painted in warm tones in watercolour paint. A hand holding a brush is dropping a darker tone into one of the circles and the paint is mixing on the paper.
Fluid watercolour paint will travel where the paper is wet.

4. Layering paint.

Build up from light to dark tones. The more water you add to the paint, the lighter the colour will be. Allow the paint to dry between adding the layers. This creates depth. 
Too much layering can stop the luminosity of the paper coming through leading to flat, dull colours.

This illustration starts with a watery lemon yellow. In the second layer a little red is added to the yellow in the palette to make a mid tone. In the third layer less water has been added to the colour to make a darker tone. Notice that an area has not been painted, allowing the white of the paper to shine through.

5. Adding detail.

When the paint is dry, work over the top with a fineliner pen and brush pens. The brush pens can be blended with each other. While the pen is still wet, use a wet brush to blend pen with paint. A water soluble fineliner pen gives both detail and, when water applied, a wash. 

A number of circles painted in warm tones in watercolour paint on white paper. There is red marks from a brush pen. A hand holding a brush is blending the pen with the paint. around the paper lies a red, yellow and blue brush pen.
Detail and depth can be added to your work with water soluble brush pens.
Line and washes can be added with water soluble fine liner pens.

Art Scribe have built the perfect Watercolour Set & Brush Pen kit to get beginners and the more experienced creatives equipped and ready to enjoy watercolour painting! Hover and click on the link below.


Here are some more tutorials you may find helpful and inspiring: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-5-simple-watercolor-techniques-beginners