It’s never easy, learning something new.
If one decides to take a class to learn watercolour painting, there is the usual stress of competition – is everyone else better at it than I am? The usual sizing up tinged by a bit of social anxiety, the approval-seeking...
And then, there’s the small matter of timing: what if you don’t have time for any classes?
For these reasons and more, many people intent on personal growth, those who hold firmly to the idea that learning new skills is an art form of itself have gotten into the habit of rooting out resources – online, at the library and through other like-minded people.
That’s probably how you ran across this article!
As it turns out, Superprof has dedicated itself to your pursuit of knowledge by providing tutors and informative articles on how to do/learn/master/achieve... in this case, how to paint with watercolours.
We now look at the best resources available to you in print and on television; in video format and online.
The Best Books to Learn Watercolour Painting
Books have long been our go-to source for new knowledge.
There is a good reason for that: they are a source of information that we can return to again and again. They provide us with an arc of understanding – from the inception of the subject in question to its current state.
Sometimes books draw on the past and then progress through to the present and project the future; other times they function as an instruction manual; the perfect ‘how-to’, complete with margins for you to make notes in.
Because watercolour painting relies so much on traditional techniques (as opposed to relying on digital art creation tools), it is important to master every step of the processes involved in painting with watercolours.
You can learn everything about watercolour painting from books, beginning with colour theory to mixing paints in the proper ratios to attain a specific shade or tone.
These are just a few of the best books for learning how to paint with watercolours.
The Watercolour Course You’ve Always Wanted
While some might believe that oil painting and acrylic painting are the more rigorous media, mastering watercolours is actually more difficult than either of those two.
That is why this talented watercolor artist/author has put this book together; it is a standout among ‘how to’ tomes because it touches equally on theory and on practice.
Among other aspects of the art, you will learn to interpret lines and shapes, work from photographs or a live model, and fundamental techniques often used in watercolour painting, such as the dry brush method, the wet-on-wet method and more.
Leslie Frontz has been painting for more than 40 years. In this book, she brings her considerable experience to bear on different theories and practices of painting with watercolours.
It is available at your favourite bookseller or on Amazon for just over £20.
Unlike van Gogh, not everyone has a deep, instinctual feel for painting.
For most of us, going from vision to conceptualising to completion is a journey fraught with equal parts of frustration and elation. In such cases, it is really helpful to have a way of balancing those two extremes.
Hazel Harrison, author and painter, firmly believes in planning: from laying out the necessary paints and supplies to initial sketching, and on to finished work.
What’s so great about this tome is that is consists of both theory and practice. Hazel packs the book full of exercises for you to do; they fairly demand that you learn proper watercolor techniques before you can move ahead.
But don’t worry; the tone this text takes is patient and supportive. Before you know it, you too will plan your work from start to finish in such a way that executing it will happen as if by magic.
This book is a bit dated but is still one of the best on the market (it is also available on Amazon for about £14).
If you know absolutely nothing about painting, even if you don’t know oil paints from acrylics – let alone water colors from gouache, this is the book for you.
Jenna Rainey takes you by the hand in this well-assembled manual which is divided into five different segments. Each one covers a specific area of painting: lighting, forms, complex shapes such as the human figure...
Towards the end, everything gets neatly connected through a series of exercises. You’ll be amazed to find yourself no longer struggling to paint credible-looking flowers; indeed, you’ll be onto landscape painting before you know it.
Ms Rainey is one of the freshest voices in watercolour. Not only does she write books but she teaches painting techniques in her native California city and hosts a tutorial channel on YouTube for those who want to learn to paint.
Other great books to learn watercolours from include:
- Modern Watercolor by Kristen van Leuven
- Ten Minute Watercolor by Hazel Soan (yes, the one that presents on the telly!)
- Watercolor 365: Daily Tips, Tricks and Techniques by Leslie Redhead
- World of Watercolor by Jean Haines
- The Tao of Watercolor by Jean Carbonetti
- Mastering Watercolors: a Practical Guide by Joe Cartwright
We would love to review them all but we still have to tell you about other resources available to aspiring painters.
Learn Painting from Television
Occasionally, a local television station will host a series of shows in which an artist demonstrates how to paint; the BBC did such a show a couple of years ago.
Although such a show may be on locally, none are currently available nationally but several online television channels are dedicated to helping you learn how to paint.
Watercolour.tv is a prime example of this type of offering.
Artist Matthew Palmer has organised his web page to make it easy for the absolute beginner at watercolor painting to find their way around: simply click on the ‘absolute beginner’ tab and enjoy the collection of videos meant especially for you.
You may also choose to mark your calendar for his real-time workshops and painting demonstrations or paint along with him as he instructs on how to perfectly depict a mountain sunset or a winter landscape.
Winter landscapes can be especially tricky because of all of the white involved – what a great opportunity to practise using masking fluid!
The best part of these on-demand video lessons is that you can pause them, rewind and rewatch as needed, something you can’t necessarily do with an ordinary broadcast from the telly.
Another great channel is SAA, formerly ‘the Painting and Drawing Channel’; their video-on-demand page lists more than 500 step-by-step instructional videos by member artists.
Whether you’re having trouble mixing the perfect blend of colours to achieve that burnt sienna for your autumn landscape or simply cannot get the hang of painting flowers, the artists at SAA will have you covered.
Both of these television sites charge a monthly membership fee but you may check them out for 30 days at no cost. For those serious about learning how to paint with watercolours, that would be a hard-to-beat offer!
Other Online Offerings to Learn How to Paint
Not surprisingly, online television channels are not the only way you enter the world of watercolour painting.
Besides viewing some artists’ Instagram pages and marvelling over their skills, you could listen in as watercolour painters discuss their favourite painting technique, join in discussions on select forums and boards and benefit from video tutorials.
Among the wealth of such we found are:
- I Like Your Work: conversations with artists, gallery owners and curators
- Colin Bradley Art Cast: a father-and-son team of watercolour artists answer your questions
- Sketching Stuff: watercolour artist Charlie O’Shields hosts a podcast and runs a message board
- The Left-Brain Artist: if you aspire to one day make your living as an artist, this podcast is the one to listen to!
You might find it odd to listen to podcasts when watercolour painting is obviously a visual art.
Think about this: all of the time you spend behind the wheel of your car, longing to hold a brush, you could be getting in touch with your inner artist.
You can even listen to podcasts as you paint.
Quite a few ‘how-to’ websites and art supplies sites have blogs attached; you might know of them if you’ve done any Internet searches for speciality supplies.
Other pages are by independent artists. The ones we liked the most are:
The Susan Branch blog takes a fireside chat tone: recalling what drew her to expressing herself through watercolor painting and how every stroke of her paintbrush is a tribute to another famous artist.
The Scratchmade Journal likes to infuse tutorials with homey anecdotes and encouragement.
Doodlewash is the companion-blog to the Sketching Stuff podcast mentioned above. If you’re unsure about which art supplies you might consider or are looking for inspiration for your next work, this would be a place to look.
Naturally, there are more. You only need to ask your favourite search engine for them.
Again, we return to the idea that painting is primarily a visual art. Now, we add the fact that humans are primarily visual learners and come to the conclusion that videos would be a great way to learn how to use watercolour paint.
What a torrent of information there is for you, there!
We found channels hosted by artists from Italy, Canada, Australia and Japan and the UK. A substantial number of them have millions of subscribers; others have uploaded so many videos that they’ve organised them into playlists so you can follow them in sequence.
Some videos are hour-long, professionally edited tutorials and others are mere minutes, detailing a single technique: a lone artist sitting in front of their camera for your benefit.
Some of the names you’ve read in this article also have YouTube Channels and, as a bonus, they feature other artists’ channels for you to peruse, in effect forming an online community of watercolor paintings and painters.
So, if you have no time for classes and an overwhelming desire to work with watercolor paints, you now have a few resources to call on.