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Watercolour for beginners
Watercolour for beginners

Watercolour Landscapes for Beginners


Dave Pilgram and Liz Marsden-King - Posted on 02 Dec 2010

Watercolour is the most rewarding of media – and, although it can be difficult at times, it’s worth persevering with it. It’s essential to understand the basic principles, why mistakes happen, and how to avoid or correct them. We start at the absolute beginning this month, explaining essential materials and basic washes. Over the year you will build up your skills gradually and gain in confidence.

Your workspace

You will need a suitable working area that has plenty of light. The photograph (above) shows you the basic materials you’ll need and how to lay them out. We use a kitchen table with a daylight lamp. If you are right-handed, lay all your materials on the right of the paper – and on the left if you are left-handed.


We have designed this course so you won’t need to spend a lot of money on materials. Here is what you’ll need for a basic beginners’ set.

Small items
  • 4B pencil
  • Putty rubber
  • Sharpener
  • Palette
  • Kitchen paper Jam jar of water for cleaning brushes
  • Small container/clean yoghurt pot of clean water for painting
  • Small wooden block or glasses’ case.


Bockingford NOT paper, 140lb on a block (already stretched) or watercolour pad (not stretched).


Choose brushes that are pure sable or a sable/nylon mix. Sable brushes hold the paint better and are easier to work with. Pick the following:

Artist brushes


Before using new brushes place them into hot (but not boiling) water to remove the protective film. When the hairs of a used brush have become bent, dip them in hot water to straighten them.


First steps

For this month’s exercises, you will need the following colours:

Step 1 - Making up colour

Using a palette
Using the 1⁄2in. Square brush, put four brushfuls of water into a well. Squeeze a pea-size blob of alizarin crimson into a neighbouring well.

Mixing watercolours in a palette
Transfer some of the paint into the water using the No. 8 Round. Test the strength of the mix on a piece of scrap watercolour paper

Step 2 - How to lay a simple wash

A watercolour wash
Prop your watercolour block up on a small block to help the wash flow down the paper.
Load the No. 8 Round brush with paint and glide it gently across the paper.
Take the brush across again, touching into the pool of paint. Load your brush again and continue.

When you finish the area you are painting, gently squeeze your brush out over the water dish.

Take the brush along the pool at the bottom to suck up the excess.
You may need to do this a couple of times.
In this way, the wet area won’t run into the drying wash above and cause an unsightly watermark.


  • Always use clean water for mixing and change it frequently.
  • Always keep a pool of paint along the base of the wash, but don’t let it become too large or the paint will run down the paper
  • Never dry your brush on a tissue, as this will remove all the paint from the brush and you’ll end up with a dry, white finish at the base of the wash.
  • Don’t be tempted to dab at the puddle with a tissue, as you will make an unsightly patch.


Never go back into where you have painted, even to remove a hair or fleck. The paint will be drying and you will cause unsightly marks. Once the wash is dry, blow the hair or fleck off. It doesn’t matter if it leaves a tiny mark, as this is all part of watercolour.
Always keep the brush well loaded with paint and gently brush sideways (not using a jagged movement up and down).
Don’t let the brush become dry and don’t press too hard. This is the cause of unsightly streaks. (More about watermarks and how to avoid them next month.)

The full article can be found in the January 2011 issue of Leisure Painter. Dave and Liz continue this first part of their year long series by showing how to paint a simple wet-in-wet sky and how to paint simple landscape features.

<< Back to Landscapes

1 comments so far...


Barbara mcgovern

04 Jan 2011 09:42

The above is the best example of how to set up your equipment and do a wash I have seen! Other examples have been over complicated and lacked the tip about squeezing the brush out by hand. Will be having a go today! Watercolour painting can be very difficult I find and it is easy to become discouraged but I am now eager to keep going.

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