Watercolor Workshop: 4 Tips to Get Started

Let’s get started.

Taking a Leap

Watercolors are a dynamic medium filled with brightness and expression. They may seem daunting at first, but as a teaching tool (whether to children or in your own creative practice), watercolors present opportunities to practice short and long term planning, patience, and critical thinking. As we progress through the workshops, I will show you how to develop paintings using this expressive medium. These lessons are intended for beginning watercolorists and by parents and teachers with children in small groups.

Before you begin, you will need 3 things:

Brushes

You don’t need a million brushes to get started, just one. When playing and practicing, I use a small round brush. Play around with your brushes and recreate some of the art below. Different shapes and sizes will produce different results: play with the brushes you have.

Paints & Clear Water

Prep your paints. Whether using artist grade tubes or children’s flats, you will want all of your paints and fresh rinsing water prepared and at hand before you begin. Watercolor relies on wetness to move and control pigment; stopping mid-image to mix new paints will show as blotchy marks in the final image.

Paper

I prefer to use a heavy weight, watercolor paper. These papers are heavy enough not to curl when wet applications are laid down. For lightweight papers, prepare them by wetting both sides and stretching with a gum tape. Allow the paper to fully dry again.

With your brushes, paints and paper prepared, you are ready to begin.

1. Play

Art and creativity are about play. Allow the inner child to explore the new medium. Enjoy the freedom you have and start painting geometric shapes and figures. With just a few strokes, I made these alligators and this strange dodo-bird.

The point, especially when teaching children, is to explore and make mistakes. Limit yourself to a single color to avoid muddying the images and use scraps of paper cut into strips and squares.

This is practice. Let it be free and fun. Get to know the medium with an open heart and paint what pops into your head. There are no mistakes here.

gators
Just a few quick flips of the brush to make these little gators. You try it with a circle and a few quick swipes.
Dodo
Fill up a whole page. It doesn’t matter what you paint, just fill the whole thing. Try different amounts of paint to water and see what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Experiment

Try different types of applications. Apply colors to dry paper and to wet paper and see what happens. Try smudging wet paints or use varying amounts of pressure or paint on your brush. Mix colors!

There are many ways to have fun when experimenting with watercolor paints. A few key points: don’t over-mix your colors and always rinse and blot your brush between colors. A little blue in a lot of yellow still makes green.

IMG_9085
This paint was still wet when I painted the leaf.
This paint was dry before i painted the leaf.
This paint was dry before i painted the leaf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_9081
Paint a cloud and then swipe it away. Looks like rain to me.
IMG_9079
Change the color on your brush to create a rainbow effect. Remember to rinse and pat your brush before lifting a new color. Let the colors mix on the page rather than in the pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Practice

Set aside a few hours each week to practice (one hour a day is a good rule of thumb for beginners; one hour twice a week is a good amount for grades 3-8 in the US).

Talent isn’t innate; it comes from the application of knowledge and skill. An athlete does not gain the muscles of his sport by sitting around; the same is true for an artist. Spend time developing your craft. As you practice, you will gain confidence and proficiencies in hand and style.

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Vary the paint and wetness of your brush.
Mix the colors of your wash.
Mix the colors of your wash.
The top is a wet wash, allowing the colors to mix down the water naturally. The bottom is a dry wash, running the brush over a dry page. Skies and mountains are dark on top.
The top is a wet wash, allowing the colors to mix down the water naturally. The bottom is a dry wash, running the brush over a dry page. Skies and mountains are dark on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Celebrate

Praise your work. Whether you share it with a close friend, the world on social media, or hang it on the fridge for yourself, it is important that you celebrate your progress. When you have a next new favorite, share that.

Creativity is infinite. Believe in your ability to grasp it and it will fill your heart with boundless joy and energy.

Celebrate yourself with a big fat star!
Celebrate yourself with a big fat star!
Or mix a wash with some quick strokes to set the fireworks ablaze.
Or mix a wash with some quick strokes to set the fireworks ablaze.

 

 

 

 

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SS CoverDreamy Desert CoverExplore more of my watercolors and share them with the kids in Sleepy Safari and Dreamy Desert, for your e-reading devices. The land of dreams is filled with happy, restful creatures in these sleepy-time readers.

 

The Great Wave of Homework

2012 (72 of 82)

A play on Hokusai’s “The Wave,” this piece of watercolor whimsy shows the crashing load of homework being surfed by our students. Good thing they are all up to the task.

The Great Wave of Homework is the first in a series of Great Masters reinterpretations. These watercolor paintings are a whimsical mix of fine art and school. The Great Wave of Homework is based on Hokusai’s The Great Wave. It is watercolor and ink pen on 140lb paper, 9×12 inches.

FineArt

He’s Greedy! He’s Tricky! He’s Anansi

Many of my third graders and families will remember this African Classic! We used to perform a version of this Anansi Tale each year (the kids made all the costumes and sets from tearaway paper).

Delight as award winning artist and children’s book author, K. Ryan Henisey retells and draws fairytales, myths and legends from our shared histories. Original drawings accompany the retellings in each video, promising to inspire as well as teach.

Parents, Teachers and children, please enjoy these videos. Feel free to share across your own platforms.

Stick Figure Stories

Toads & Diamonds

Gentle and Fanny learn the importance of acting neighborly in this retelling of Toads & Diamonds.

This classic fairytale is retold by award winning author and veteran public school teacher, K. Ryan Henisey. Original drawings accompany the retellings in each video, promising to inspire as well as teach.

Parents, Teachers and children, please enjoy these videos. Feel free to share across your own platforms.

Videos

Watercolor Workshop: Washes

Watercolor Workshop Part 1 Here.

Washes are the heart of watercolors. The smooth colors and gradients produced from a successful wash are hallmarks of the medium.

For parents, teachers and beginning artists, washes provide an excellent opportunity for practice and artistic exploration. Break out the paints, brushes and small cuts of paper; it’s time to get your art on.

Flat Wash

Start with a flat wash. Load your paintbrush with wet paint and quickly drag the brush across the page in an even stroke. Paint will collect at the bottom and ends of your wash. Don’t worry about that now.

Reapply pigment to your brush and repeat. Continue working quickly until your surface area is covered. When the whole page has pigment applied, use a dry sponge or paintbrush to collect any excess paint and water on the ends of your sheet. Allow your work to dry completely before continuing.

Caution: Be quick and delicate. Avoid reapplying pigments or water to areas already covered. This will smudge the paint.

Once you’ve mastered the flat wash, try a few other wash techniques.

A flat wash in blue.
A flat wash in blue.
A flat wash with a stroke of water brushed through.
A flat wash with a stroke of water brushed through.

 

Wet Wash

To create a wet wash, run a clean, wet brush over your surface, coving the whole area with water. Now apply paint to your brush and run it over the damp page. The paint pigments will diffuse through the wet surface, creating whirls and swirls and eventually fading along the edges.

Use a wet wash to paint a sky or mountains. Wet your area and then run the paint along the top of your image. The pigments will “melt” down the page.

A wet wash. Notice how the pigment fades through the water.
A wet wash. Notice how the pigment fades through the water.
This wet wash used multiple colors.
This wet wash used multiple colors.

Variegated Wash

Use more than one color to blend a variegated wash.

Caution: Mixing more than three colors often results in muddy images. Remember, watercolors rely on simplicity and patience.

Keep your brush clean by rinsing and dabbing between colors.

One of my favorite aspects of the variegated wash is breaking away from linear constraints. Explore this wash style by creating waves, dropping and splattering color. Water’s diffusive qualities will spread the colors, creating organic patterns and natural backgrounds.

The trick with a variegated wash is to apply your colors slightly apart and then blend them together.
The trick with a variegated wash is to apply your colors slightly apart and then blend them together.

Granulated Wash

The granulated wash is a favorite of artists and admirers of watercolor. In this type of wash, the pigment of two or three colors is separated, creating a grainy texture on the page. This technique shows best results with a heavier use of pigment.

To achieve a granulated look, apply your wash as normal using 1-3 colors. As the paint and water settle, experiment with a spray bottle or wet brush and splatter water gently across the painted surface. As the clean water strikes the page, it will push and pull the pigments creating granulations among the colors. This is how I achieved the “milky-way skies” of Sleepy Safari and the Dreamy Desert.

Caution: Experiment with the wetness of your page as you create granulated washes. Too dry and the paint won’t move; too wet and it will just diffuse away. Sometimes to get the desired effect, you really do have to watch the paint dry.

Clean water pushes the pigment away, creating these spectacular spots.
Clean water pushes the pigment away, creating these spectacular spots.
The granules are quite clear with heavier pigment.
The granules are quite clear with heavier pigment.