I am often asked for further resources when I teach watercolour classes, at sea and on land, so I have created this blog which covers many of the areas we explore.  I will add illustrations and further classes, in time.

11. Andalucian Landscape

An introduction to watercolour painting

Watercolour painting is great fun. Paints are relatively inexpensive and can be easily carried, allowing you to paint inside or outdoors. You can make good paintings with a few as six colours, two or three brushes some water and a decent paper. You may prefer watercolour pencils or crayons, or pen and wash. The choice is up to you. This guide sets out to get you started and help you on your way to becoming a watercolour artist. So let’s get started…….

P1070894 small


Paint and pigment
Watercolours come in various forms – tubes, half-pans, pencils and crayons are the main ones. Most beginners will start with (and I would recommend) a set of half-pans, which are probably the cheapest and easiest to carry and store. You don’t need lots of colours – go for a set with 8-16 colours.
Watercolour paints are a mixture of pigment (colour), gum and chalk – the quality and quantity of the pigment determines whether paints are student or artist quality and the cost.

Watercolour paint works best on good quality watercolour paper. This is paper with a textured surface which, as the water evaporates, allows the colour to soak into and stain the paper. The paper comes in various weights and textures and I would recommend a weight of 300g or above and a “not” texture.

You will need at least three brushes. I recommend a number 8 or 10 round brush, made from sable or mixed fibres, a 3 or 4 and a one inch flat brush, for washes. You may wish to augment these with a rigger, a fan brush, or any other brushes which work for you.

A HB, B and 2B

A putty rubber is best as it lifts the pencil marks off the paper, without damaging the surface. It can also be kneaded into shape for fine detail.

A set of half-pans normally has a palette in the lid. You may wish to add a small palette to allow you to mix more colours. These a available in plastic or ceramic, or you might prefer to use a white dinner plate.

Water containers
You should try to use two water pots – one for cleaning brushes and one for clean water to mix colours.
Other options
There are lots of crayons and pencils available, which are water soluble and very convenient, when travelling. Combine them with a brush pen, which carries a reservoir of water and a couple of ink pens for pen and wash.

Watercolour is painting with pigment suspended in water. It may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget that in order to make colours to paint with, you need to mix them with water. I would recommend that you add water to your palette and then add the pigment, when using half-pans. The ratio of water to pigment determines the strength of the colour – more water means weaker or paler colour and less water means stronger or deeper colour. You can mix different colours on your palette and create endless variations from your half-pans of tubes.
This technique allows you to mix colours, whist wet on the paper.
This technique allows you to change colours by painting another colour over the top of an area of dry colour.

Applying paint
This allows you to paint large areas with a colour mixed with a lot of water and should be applied using a large flat brush.
In this technique, paint is almost dry and when applied to the paper creates a dry, sometimes scratched or broken surface.
Lifting off
This means applying paint to the paper and lifting areas off, before they have time to dry. This can be very effective for creating cloud studies and involves the use of a paper towel, sponge or clean, dry brush.
Stopping out
Masking tape or fluid is applied to the paper for areas you wish to stop the paint from staining. You may then paint on top of these areas, allow the paint to dry and then remove the “block”, in order to reveal clean areas of paper, or painting beneath.
Different brushes have different qualities and how you hold it and move it changes the effect. When using a round brush, you may choose to paint with the side or the tip of the brush. Try holding the brush, in different ways and applying different amounts of pressure.
Other ways to apply paint
Artists often use natural sponges to apply paint. You might also pour, drip or spray the paint, or dip the paper in the paint.
Have some fun trying different methods. The best way to find out what watercolour can do is to have a play with it. Experiment, splash it about and watch it dry.
• Try mixing the paint with lots of water and putting it on the paper very thin.
• Try mixing the paint with little water and put it on very fat.
• Try all the thin and fat varieties in between
• Try mixing the paint on the paper
• Try wetting the paper and adding colour – watch it run
• Try tilting the paper
• Try blowing the paint
• Try scraping or scratching the paint as it dries – use whatever is to hand, the other end of your brush, a finger nail or credit card
• Try painting one colour over a colour that is dry
• Try painting one colour over a colour that is wet
• Try wetting dry paint and lifting it off
• Try making a number of the darkest colours you can


Image result for Color Wheel Complementary Colors

The colour wheel
The principle that all colours – secondary and tertiary – can be mixed from the three primary colours of Red, Yellow and Blue, is a good rule of thumb, but paints do not always mix scientifically. Certain reds and blues for instance, when mixed will make a muddy brown, rather than the purple one had hoped for. Best practice is to try mixes out and see what works.

Complementary colours
In the colour wheel above, arrows link colours which are opposite in the spectrum and called complementary colours. These colours produce the strongest contrast and some will even appear to flicker, when placed side by side. The Impressionists recognised that an object will cast a shadow containing it’s complimentary colour and this can be useful for the artist.

Colour temperature
Some colours appear to be warm, such as reds and yellows, whist the other side of the spectrum – blues and greens appear cool.

Colour perspective
Hot colours appear to come to the front of a picture, whilst cooler colours appear to recede.

Aerial perspective
Colour appears to fade in the distance.

Black and White
Most watercolour paintings use the paper for white – the skill is to leave white areas free from any colour at all. Of course, we all make mistakes and a white paint should be used sparingly in such circumstances. You may prefer to carry a tube of white gouache, or a white pencil, pastel, or chalk and replace the white in your set with another colour, such as Paynes Grey or violet.
Black should not be a part of your kit. It is most useful for the artist to have a range of dark tones at his or her disposal. Shadows, dark tones and tints work best if they have colour – blues, greens, purples - and these may be used to contrast and compliment other colours in a painting.


Light and shade make objects appear solid. Controlling these elements makes paintings and drawings seem more realistic. The French artist Paul Cezanne believed that everything we see can be reduced to the simple forms of the cone, the sphere and the cylinder. Have a go at making these three forms appear solid in pencil and paint and then apply what you have learned to a still life painting. Interestingly the tradition of still life painting in western art, almost always has the light coming from the top left of the picture.

P1070891 2P1070892 2 smallP1070893 2 small


Good composition is about creating a pleasing balance in a picture. The Golden Ratio is a principle learned from nature and used by artists, designers and architects for many centuries. It gives proportions which are believed to be intrinsically pleasing, based on a ratio of 1:1.61. We all recognise proportions which seem right and the Acropolis, Georgian buildings and paper sizes, reflect this.



P1070889 2smallth

The rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is also useful in dividing paintings into areas of interest. When used both vertically and horizontally, it is best to place the interesting feature within a painting at one of the four points that the lines intersect, rather than in the middle of the composition.



Where to paint/what to paint

offset 434914

Watercolours are very portable and ideal for painting indoors or outside. It all depends on what you like to paint. If you love to paint landscapes, seascapes, or lovely gardens, you may prefer to make your paintings in situ. Artists often make quick sketches and take photographs and work from them, back at home, or in the studio, especially in poor weather.


The amount of drawing you do, before beginning to paint, is a very individual choice. Whatever suits you, you will need to look hard and measure accurately, in order to make convincing paintings. Try not to make your drawing too heavy, as you will not want pencil marks to be seen through the thinner parts of your painting.

Squaring up or using a grid

ms miller grid portrait by sxe kitty small

If you want to make a picture bigger, or indeed smaller, you can make a grid on the original image and use a different sized grid for your new picture. This is a tried and trusted method, used to create large paintings including frescos, wall paintings and alter-pieces. You may like to buy or make a grid on a clear plastic sheet, which you can lay on top of pictures or even your I pad.

The advantage of squaring up allows you to draw just what is in each square and to accurately transfer the image onto your painting. Remember to carefully rub out the grid lines before you start painting.