Beginner's Guide: Easy Watercolor Exercises to Build Confidence and Improve Techniques

Watercolor painting can be an intimidating medium for beginners, but with the right guidance and practice, it can also be incredibly rewarding. One of the biggest hurdles for beginners is building confidence in their technique and mastering the fundamental skills required for successful watercolor painting. 

Watercolor painting of Harry Potter, painted with Artistry by Altenew watercolor brush markers

In this beginner's guide, we will explore a series of easy watercolor exercises designed to help you build confidence and improve your technique.

Watercolor art featuring The Statue of Liberty

The Importance of Consistent Practice and Technique Development

Like any form of art, watercolor painting requires consistent practice and technique development. By dedicating time to regular practice and focusing on specific exercises, beginners can gradually build their skills and confidence. This guide will provide a structured approach to watercolor painting, offering exercises that focus on fundamental techniques such as wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry, color mixing, and brushwork.

Watercolor Painting Fundamentals

A wet on wet watercolor painting of a potted yellow flower, painted using Artistry by Altenew's Artists' Watercolor Pan SetArtistry by Altenew's Artists' Watercolor Pan Set

Understanding the Wet-on-Wet Technique

The wet-on-wet technique involves applying wet paint to a wet surface, allowing the colors to blend and create soft, diffused edges. This technique is perfect for creating smooth gradient washes, which are essential for many watercolor paintings. To practice this technique, start by wetting your paper evenly with clean water. Then, apply a wash of watercolor to the wet surface, allowing the paint to flow and blend naturally.

Experiment with Puddle Painting

Puddle painting is a fun and experimental technique that involves allowing puddles of paint to flow and merge on the paper. This technique can create organic shapes and textures that can be used as a base for more detailed elements in a painting. To practice puddle painting, apply generous amounts of wet paint to your paper and tilt it to encourage the colors to flow and blend.

Watercolor artwork featuring a stack of stones and an ocean sunset

Exploring the Wet-on-Dry Technique

In contrast to wet-on-wet, the wet-on-dry technique involves applying wet paint to a dry surface. This technique allows for more control and precision, making it ideal for detailed brushwork and layering colors.

A close-up shot of a watercolor painting of an apple in an apple tree, painted with Artistry's watercolor brush pens

Layering Colors for Depth and Texture

Layering colors is a key aspect of the wet-on-dry technique. By applying multiple layers of transparent color, artists can create depth and texture in their paintings. Practice layering colors by starting with a light wash as a base and gradually building up layers of color to achieve depth and richness.

A watercolor portrait painting of a woman with blue-ish hair tied up in a bun, painted with Artistry's watercolor tubes

Practicing Detailed Brushwork

Detailed brushwork is essential for adding fine details and textures to a watercolor painting. Experiment with different brushstrokes and techniques to create a variety of textures and patterns. Practice controlled paint application by varying the pressure and angle of your brush to achieve different effects.

Confidence-Building Watercolor Exercises

Watercolor gradient wash using Artistry by Altenew's watercolor tubes

Exercise 1: Gradient Wash Practice

To practice creating smooth gradient washes, start by wetting your paper evenly with clean water. Then, load your brush with a generous amount of paint and apply it to the wet surface. Use horizontal brushstrokes to create a smooth transition from dark to light or vice versa. Experiment with different color combinations and practice achieving seamless transitions between colors.

Exercise 2: Puddle Painting Exploration

For this exercise, allow yourself to let go of control and let the paint flow and blend naturally on the paper. Apply generous amounts of wet paint in various colors and tilt the paper to encourage the colors to merge and create interesting shapes and textures. Use this exercise as an opportunity to embrace spontaneity and explore the unpredictable nature of watercolor.

Watercolor art painting featuring pink anthurium and leaves, made with Artistry's watercolor tubes

Exercise 3: Layered Color Studies

Building up colors in layers is an essential skill for creating depth and richness in watercolor paintings. Practice layering colors by starting with a light wash as a base and gradually adding layers of transparent color. Experiment with different color combinations and pay attention to how each layer interacts with the ones beneath it.

Watercolor flower art painted on a book using Artistry's watercolor pans

Exercise 4: Detailed Brushwork Practice

Mastering different brushstrokes is crucial for adding fine details and textures to your paintings. Practice various brushstrokes such as dry brushing, stippling, and hatching to create a range of textures and patterns. Focus on controlling the pressure and angle of your brush to achieve precise and controlled paint application.

Mastering Color Mixing and Blending

Watercolor color swatches of Artistry's watercolor tubes

Creating Color Swatches for Reference

To improve your understanding of color mixing, create a set of color swatches using your watercolor paints. Mix primary colors together to create secondary colors and create swatches that demonstrate the range of tones you can achieve with each color. Use these swatches as a reference when planning your paintings and experimenting with different color combinations. 

Grab Artistry by Altenew’s FREE Color Swatches HERE.

Artistry by Altenew's essential watercolor pan set color swatches

Experimenting with Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are pairs of colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green or blue and orange. Experiment with mixing complementary colors to create vibrant contrasts in your paintings. By understanding how complementary colors interact with each other, you can add visual interest and depth to your work.

Building a Consistent Practice Routine

Set aside dedicated time for practicing watercolor painting on a regular basis. Whether it's a few hours each week or a daily practice session, establishing a consistent routine will help you make steady progress in developing your skills.

Freehand watercolor art featuring flowers and leaves, painted with Artistry by Altenew's watercolor tubes

Embracing Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process, especially when it comes to watercolor painting. Instead of becoming discouraged by mistakes, embrace them as valuable learning opportunities. Analyze what went wrong, make adjustments, and use each mistake as a stepping stone toward improvement. Read more on Embracing and Learning from Common Watercolor Blunders.

A simple watercolor painting of 2 circles, showing different shadows and dimensions

Tracking Progress and Celebrating Small Wins

Keep track of your progress by documenting your paintings and exercises. Take note of areas where you've improved and celebrate small victories along the way. By acknowledging your progress, you'll stay motivated and inspired to continue honing your skills.

In this beginner's guide, we've explored a series of easy watercolor exercises designed to help you build confidence and improve your technique. From mastering wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques to practicing color mixing and developing a consistent practice routine, these exercises provide a solid foundation for beginners to build upon.

Cute watercolor art featuring a white rabbit in a whimsical forest tree

Keep Practicing and Enjoying the Journey

Building confidence in watercolor painting takes time, patience, and dedication. Embrace the journey of learning and enjoy the process of experimenting with different techniques and discovering your own artistic style. Remember that every brushstroke is an opportunity for growth, so keep practicing and exploring the endless possibilities of watercolor painting. Read up on How to Overcome Fear of the Blank Page (Tips for New Watercolor Artists).

An image of a watercolor artist painting outside in nature
Source: Pixabay

Build Your Confidence with These Simple Beginner Watercolor Tips

Now that you've learned about these fundamental watercolor exercises, it's time to put them into practice. Gather your watercolor supplies, set aside some dedicated painting time, and start applying what you've learned. Whether you're working on exercises or creating your own original paintings, remember that every stroke brings you one step closer to becoming a more confident and skilled watercolor artist.

Watercolor art featuring a watering can with flowers inside it, painted with Artistry's watercolor brush pens

Building confidence in watercolor painting is achievable through consistent practice, experimentation, and a willingness to learn from both successes and mistakes. By incorporating these easy exercises into your practice routine, you'll gradually improve your technique and develop the skills needed to create beautiful watercolor paintings. 

Find more watercolor tips and tricks for beginners in The Creative Corner. See you there!


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