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Basic Watercolor Painting: Getting Started with Supplies

I’ve been watercolor painting on a regular basis for the past year and a half. I had some old supplies from college but have had to freshen my supplies and add new paints and brushes. Below is a list of items I have in my ArtBin and you can find another post about the paint colors I use:

  1. Palette – I started by using paper plates – one for each painting but then it got out of hand as I had 5-6 paintings going at once. Then I purchased “The Watercolorist’s Answer Book, edited by Gina Rath and tip #34 suggested using a butcher tray palette so I purchased one and it’s worked great. I’ve only had to reload my paint once over the past 1.5 years.
  2. Brushes – the brushes I use the most are a large brush for applying water (even a hardware store paintbrush works), a large round brush (Princeton #16 round I’ve had since college), two angle brushes work well for skies and ocean – 3/4 inch and 1/2 inch (Silver Brush 6806S-034 Crystal Golden Synthetic Filament Short Handle Brush with Brown Tip and Nickel Plated Brass Ferrules, Angle, 3/4-Inch), and some small brushes for fine detail or fur and feathers, 0 or 1 round. I also like this one for hair or grass – Princeton Artist Brush Neptune, Brushes for Watercolor Series 4750, Script Synthetic Squirrel, Size 1.
  3. Paint – Some of my paint is almost 20 years old but I’ve updated my stock with Winsor & Newton Cotman water colors 12 tube set and then individual tubes as needed. I find that even a 5ml or 8ml tube will last several years. I’ve added some Daniel Smith Luminescent watercolors as well – Iridescent Moonstone and Iridescent Antique Copper to provide a fun and unique look. I do also have a tube of white gouache paint that I’ve only used once or twice on ocean waves.
  4. Paper – I mostly use ReadyCut Strathmore 140 lb cold press paper in 8×10 and 5×7 but have been branching out into larger sizes and block painting. I typically order a few of each size and I am set for the year, depending on how much I will be painting or any orders I’m working on.
  5. Boards – I use clipboards or sketchboards. I started out using cardboard and cutting out what I needed from my Amazon boxes!
  6. Phone/tablet and stand – I usually use images saved on my phone as a reference for painting but sometimes need a large image so use my iPad. I did purchase a gooseneck tablet holder but don’t use it too often.
  7. Painter’s tape – I use good old Scotch blue painter’s tape in .7 inch width to tape down my paper to my boards. It’s hard to find in that narrow width but it works the best for me.
  8. Jar/Tupperware for water
  9. Paper towels or washcloth
  10. Scanner – I have the Epson Perfection V600 Photos and scan each painting I finish in two sizes (just to be sure I guess). I use these images for prints and cards.
  11. Masking fluid – if you want to keep your white areas white when doing a colorful background liquid frisket can be handy. I have a specific cheap brush I use for applying it so that I don’t ruin my good brushes.
  12. White gel pen – works well for adding snow capped trees or building or whiskers.
  13. #2 pencil and eraser
  14. Micron pens – I use these for pen drawings or for adding in detail such as black whiskers.
  15. Portable Painter – I was gifted a pocket size portable painter for traveling and I’ve used it a few times. It comes with a paint brush, palette and a place for water.
  16. Transfer Paper – if you do want to trace an image from reference you might need transfer paper.
  17. Salt – adding salt to wet paint can add some fun, snowflake like patterns – make sure your paper is loaded with wet paint and then add the salt sparingly or go crazy and see what happens.

Where do I purchase my supplies? Mostly I do find some specific items at my local art supply store as well as my frames. Amazon has everything just about and sometimes has good sales so watch for those. Some artists have specific stores on Amazon where you can find the brushes and supplies they use. Happy shopping!

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Basic Watercolor Painting: Wet Into Wet Background

  1. Start by identifying the reference photo you’d like to use for your painting. I try to use an image that’s about the size of my paper choice.
  2. Choose your paper size. For this painting below, I used a pre-cut Strathmore 140 pounds cold press 8×10. I use painter’s tape to create a clean white edge and to secure my paper to a clipboard. I chose the vertical page orientation for this painting.
  3. Prepare your work space. I use a jar of clean cold water. My palette is a butcher’s tray with my paint around the edges and my color combinations in the middle. I’ve used this for over a year and never wiped it. I just continue to re-wet what I need and mix any new color in an open space or one that’s a similar color. My brushes and paints are kept in an ArtBin for easy transport. I typically paint at my dining room table with light from windows and a chandelier plus a desk lamp if needed.
  4. I use a simple mechanical #2 pencil to lightly draw my subject. I draw free hand without tracing usually but tracing can also be done especially for large pieces.
  5. Once you have drawn your subject and the areas of dark/light that break up your imagine, it’s time to paint!
  6. Wet into wet. I usually use a wet on wet technique for my backgrounds with a lot of bleed of the wet paint into the already wet areas. Sometimes I use a mask (liquid frisket) but usually I just apply water around my subject, careful to stay on the lines.
  7. Once my paper is thoroughly wet, I use a large round brush (Princeton #16 round in this case) to add paint to my background. For this I am using turquoise and french ultramarine. I get the dried paint pretty wet but then make sure I have a good amount of paint on my brush. Then I begin to outline the subject with the thickest paint at the line as it bleeds out onto the wet paper.
  8. I also added some green and darker blue to the other areas of the background (Prussian blue, indigo, . You can continue to gradually darken the background by adding more paint; however, you may also muddy the paint or if it dries, it could create lines and add shapes (unfortunately that’s what happened to this one (image 10).
  9. Let this paint dry completely before working on the subject(s).
  10. I went to far and didn’t stop so it lost it’s unique bleed look. I will try again!
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Finding Time When There Is None

A year ago today I started painting again. I’ve always been an artist but hadn’t focused on drawing or painting anything in a long time. Before last October, I had drawn a few roses and began to paint them over a few years but something always got in the way – I had “no time”.

So, what happened last year? We had been in our new house just a few months so I was searching online for artwork to hang on our bare walls. Then, after endless hours of trying to find just the right decor, I realized, why don’t I just paint my own? Conveniently, I knew right where my art supplies were in the garage since we hadn’t finished unpacking. My supplies had been in tubs for years. I consolidated my supplies into one large tab. Then I got to work painting a goldfinch and a cherry tree.

I found a photo of a cherry blossom and a picture of the bird from a bird book and went to work, using acrylics. For some reason watercolors seemed too difficult or complicated so I stuck to acrylics. I ordered some canvases online and a few tubes of paint. Even my daughter, got into painting, creating a flamingo, a chick and a toucan! I finished my painting but didn’t feel it was good enough to hang up. Then I found a few more ideas on Pinterest – one of a girl and her cat on a swing in the moonlight. I finished that and prepped a few backgrounds. Acrylics were fun but they didn’t flow like I wanted and also didn’t allow me much detail.

So, somewhere along the line in November, I switched to watercolors. I had some paper and all my tubes of paint. I made palettes of paper plates for each new painting. I found precut watercolor paper online. I even found a whole set of paint I had never opened. So I got to work creating some Christmas gifts.

My sister-in-law loves decor featuring royalty and the Queen of England so I painted her a picture of a cup of coffee with the British flag as the background. I painted a bee for my mother-in-law for Susy B’s Quilting, and a scene of Mt. Jefferson for my mom. My daughter liked having me draw an animal for her to fill in with paint. She loves the salt effect on wet paint. So she painted a few to give away for Christmas gifts as well – a hummingbird for her aunt and a chameleon for her grandpa. We found some frames at Hobby Lobby and felt so proud and so cheerful giving away our creations.

Now I have sold one painting at the local gallery’s community show in Albany and donated two paintings for charity auctions. I’ve finished over 50 paintings and have many in various stages of completion.

I tend to like birds and landscapes. I like to paint from real photos. Once in awhile I’ll come up with a creation from my mind but I feel that I do my best work when working from a photograph.

I started an Instagram profile (@art_by_aurae) in order to showcase my work and follow fellow artists. I’ve joined in many weekly challenges of landscapes, which push me to complete a painting in less than a week.

How do I do it? How do I find time when there is none? I make time. I dedicate an hour 2-3 weeknights a week plus an hour or two on the weekends. I paint at the dining room table. My unfinished paintings are displayed in the dining room; they are visible for me to see and reflect on. I paint with my daughter. I paint alone after she goes to bed and before watching TV with my husband before bed. I don’t force myself to paint but try to encourage creating that space each evening. If I’m not feeling creative then I don’t paint. If I’ve had a tough day, I do paint because it helps me relax and refocus on being creative. I look through Instagram for inspiration.

I think that’s how I got hooked on watercolor in the first place. I saw one artist on Pinterest who posted a photo of the four stages of her painting. I tried to replicate it – a circle, half moon holding a mountain and a barn in the snow. She helped me realize that a painting can be completed in several manageable steps. I’ve also watched videos on how to paint certain settings. I enjoy Anna Mason’s painting videos and have learned about lights and dark tones and then working on the medium tones. Sometimes painting don’t turn out or I lose interest or no matter what I do, they don’t feel finished. My favorite ones are the ones I can finish in one or two settings! I struggle with black and getting tones deep enough. I’ve tried to mix grays and blacks.

I’ve pieced my artist methods together and feel successful. I feel like it is something I can maintain. My favorite things are my butcher’s tray that is my palette, ordering pre-cut paper online and realizing just how far a tube of paint can least. My husband bought me a nice scanner for my birthday so now when I finish a painting, I excitedly wait for it to dry and then scan it, saving my masterpiece for future use. I have two portfolios filled with finished paintings. I hope to share the beauty I’ve created by giving some away as gifts, making photo cards and prints and someday working on commissions. I would like to try commissions as long as the stress or pressure doesn’t ruin the creative spirit for me. It would be great for friends, family and even strangers to find a photo that they treasure and see what I could do with it using watercolors.

I’ve created a gallery of the majority of my finished paintings on this website so that I can start sharing my creations.

I encourage you to make the time even when there is none. Start planning and chipping away at the excuses. Just start and see where it leads you.