logo canson
logo canson

Tutorials and artistic advices

Learn watercolors in 6 steps

Twitter icon

Rate this article

Whether you're doing a landscape, a still life or a portrait… more than technique, it's your interpretation, through your choice of colors and composition, which makes the difference. 5 key steps to help you create a watercolor.

 

1.

Choosing a subject

  • Are you just getting started? Go for simple subjects so you don't get lost in the details: a glass, fruit, a bouquet of daisies, etc. There's no point in starting out with an abstract…
  • Work from a photograph rather than a live model. That way, you can always go back to your work anytime, without having to bother about time or weather. To make things easier, use an enlarged photocopy of your photo. 
  •  Want to get outdoors? Watercolor is one of the best techniques for the artist on the go! Outdoors, a distant horizon or a reflection detail is all you need to bring your painting to life. But be careful not to paint just what is in your line of vision without turning your head right and left.

 

Tip: In the summer, set up in the shade to keep white paper from blinding you!

 

2. Observing the subject

 

Take time to think and observe, asking yourself as many questions as possible.

  • Stimulate your creativity by focusing on the interplay of colors, various tones and variations: what is the general tone of the subject?

  • Observe the shadows and distribution of the light.

 

Aquarelle - la composition du tableau

3. Composition of the painting 


  • Rely on your sense of balance more than the rules of geometry. Always look for the best layout possible, keeping in mind that a small subject in too large a format creates a sensation of emptiness and that the reverse creates a sensation of suffocation.

  • Remember to include cast shadows: position your subject so it livens up the painting without throwing the composition off balance.

  • Don't try to fill the surface area of the paper at any price: Your subject may be more elegant all alone on a white background. 

 

4. Preliminary drawing

 

Rare is the artist who can start right off without doing any preliminary sketch at all! First, lightly draw the broad lines with a pencil: you don't need to add details until you start adding color.

  • Draw very lightly: adding watercolors fixes your pencil marks so they can't be erased. Too thick a line will muddy your colors.

  • If you don't like your sketch, don't erase. Rework your lines or start over again.

 

Tip: Afraid to get your feet wet because you’ve never done a drawing before? Use tracing paper to transfer the contours of the subject to the paper.

 

Aquarelle - La mise en couleur

5. Adding color 


The wet technique requires a very sure hand on the brush because it is hard to fix mistakes.

  • Paint firmly, even if you go a little outside the various areas in the preliminary drawing.

  • Work fast, because watercolors dry very fast.

  • Practice over and over again to explore all the possibilities your palette has to offer!

 

6. Adding details

 

This final step has two purposes: bringing out certain features and adding body to your work.

  • Intensify the features in the foreground.

  • Work with slightly diluted colors.

 

Suggested products

Canson® Montval®


See also

Basic concepts for painting with watercolors
What is a wash? What are the "wet on wet" and "wet on dry" techniques? When should you use them? A quick tour of the major concepts you need to know before getting started.
Watercolor: colors and water dilution
Les couleurs aquarelle et la dilution de l’eau
Water is integral to watercolors: this is what gives pigments their lightness and luminosity. Mastering water dilution and its effects on colors is one of the major difficulties in watercolors.