Your Next Adventure in Painting Watercolor Pictures

Your Next Adventure in Painting Watercolor Pictures

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8 Guiding Tips Plus What Goes into Your Starter Kit

Whether you are coming back to painting after years away or have always been lucky enough to have art-making as part of your daily routine, starting a painting feels like a thrilling adventure. Journeying through the possibilities in the studio can actually feel quite similar to actually backpacking across the continents, minus the passport stamps.

For your next adventure in watercolor pictures, take along eight guiding tips from artist and instructor Gordon MacKenzie’s Watercolor Painting Essentials DVD Collection (also available as a digital collection), which includes Keep Painting: The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook. They will keep you pointed due north and shine a light on all the possibilities that are right there waiting in front of you.

And if you are a learning artist eager to begin, scroll down for the simple essentials you will want in your starter kit. You’ll have a sketchbook of watercolor pictures amassed in no time. Enjoy!

#1 One Element, Repeated

The edges in clouds are the result of a pattern developed by making repeated variations on a “billowy” line. Note that the lines can vary in length and spacing.

What this boils down to is one element, repeated with variations can be all you need for a great painting you can create right now.

#2 Snag the Eye on a Zig or Zag

Using a zigzag layout to your composition is a powerful and subtle way to lead the viewer into and around the picture space. Your focal point can be at the zigzag’s end or anywhere along it. Try using more than one zigzag in your composition to challenge yourself.

#3 Backgrounds Make Things Stand Out

One of the best secrets I can share is to take note of the values and colors in the background that allow your foreground elements to stand out. It all started here for me.

I can remember how easy things became when I intentionally started taking note of the backgrounds of my subjects.

#4 In the Driver’s Seat, Whether You Like It or Not

You are the artist. That means you are always in control and making decisions. Realize that even while working with the subject that is right in front of you, you still must compose and make choices about what to emphasize and what to edit out.

This is the true difference between being a visual recorder and being an artist with a point of view.

#5 Make Note of It

Don’t forget to write down the names of the colors you’re mixing because you are bound to find some unusual results and just may want to mix them up again. You will also find that certain color combinations suggest how they can be used.

You might even have images flashing across your mind. Pay attention. Make a note for a future painting.

#6 Color Control

Whatever colors you choose, stick to them and you will achieve color harmony. The results may not always be pretty, but your colors will be harmonious.

#7 Adding Life to Your Paintings

Adding figures to your work can be a point of anxiety if you let it. Don’t go there! Instead, don’t worry too much about body proportion. This will come with practice.

Make your figures with the least number of brushstrokes possible, starting with a rectangular stroke for the torso, then add the head, legs and arms. To imply movement, place the feet so they extend beyond a vertical line from the head. You may need to counterbalance with an arm or leg.

#8 G + R

A gradation is a gradual transition from one condition into another, as when a dark cool color gradually changes into a light warm color.

A reversal is when one condition changes immediately into its opposite, as when switching from positive painting (painting shapes) into negative painting (painting the area that surrounds those shapes).

Gradations in all forms are one of the most appealing features in a painting. We use them all the time in virtually every picture but we seldom take full advantage of them, especially by placing opposing gradations next to each other. This produces a wide range of contrasts and a wonderful opportunity to work negative painting into your picture.

Another way we seldom use gradations is as a major way of composing part or all of our picture. It’s such a missed opportunity to inject freshness and much needed contrast into our work.

When sketching from nature or photos, never take the actual value arrangement as sacred. Think of it as a suggestion, because in a few hours it will have all changed anyway.

The Starter Kit for Painting Your First Watercolor Pictures

There are just four essentials to get you going in watercolor. Pick up steam in art supply store by focusing on these and you’ll be painting in no time.


Paper quality helps to determine your success, so use good paper right from the start. Inexpensive, poor-quality paper will definitely work against you. What’s worse, it will make you think that you can’t paint when its your paper that is at fault.

Beginners need only work on eighth-sheet size (7½” × 11″ [19cm × 28cm]) until you feel experienced enough with basic techniques. Then move up to quarter sheet (11″ × 15″ [28cm × 38cm]), then half sheet (15″ × 22″ [38cm × 56cm]).

I recommend 140-lb. (300gsm) Arches sheets for all levels. If you are using cut-up sheets of paper, you will need some lightweight boards on which to tape them.


You can mix a tremendous range of colors from these four pigments:

  1. Ultramarine Blue
  2. Indian Yellow or Aureolin
  3. Permanent Rose or Red Rose Deep or Alizarin Crimson
  4. Burnt Sienna or Quinacridone Burnt Orange


I suggest using white styrofoam meat trays as your beginner palette. Then if you get serious about watercolors, you can start looking for a commercial palette.

When you are ready for that, I encourage you to buy one that has large, flat rectangular wells for colors. The next best is large, sloped rectangular wells. You can put out a good quantity of paint on these and let it harden.

Despite their popularity, I say avoid small palettes with circular wells.


I suggest no. 6 and no. 10 synthetic rounds, an inexpensive ¾-inch (19mm) to 1-inch (25mm) flat hog bristle brush (an acrylic brush with the handle cut off), and a 1-inch (25mm) to 1½-inch (38mm) flat hog bristle brush. A flat synthetic brush with long bristles will also be handy.

Synthetic brushes are like race horses, smooth and sleek. Their marks are sharp-edged but they don’t carry much. Natural hog bristle brushes are not found with other watercolor brushes. They are your work horses that can dig up and carry lots of paint and put it down in rough, irregular marks.

Watch the video: Adventure in Painting with Dawn Paul, Painting Holy Night, Watercolor Painting (August 2022).