About painting with watercolour – a starters Guide

About painting with watercolour

Many people think that watercolour painting is the simplest place to start. You can achieve subtle tones, and strong vibrant colours with watercolours, but easy it isn’t. However it is certainly worse persevering and remembering that the journey can be as enjoyable as the destination.

There are 3 components to being successful with any new hobby.

  • Research and understanding
  • Buying the best you can afford (it isn’t necessary to buy the most expensive, but remember that if is too good to be true then generally it isn’t (good)!
  • Be prepared to practice, play and don’t expect amazing results at first attempt.

At Northwich Art Shop we sell a wide range of artist materials.

For starting out with watercolour we recommend that you consider Winsor & Newton’s Cotman Paints. Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours are a range of water colours that are made to our normal high quality standards but costs are kept to an economical level by replacing some of the more costly pigments with less expensive alternatives.

The range consists of 40 colours in tubes and pans which possess good transparency, excellent tinting strength and good working properties. There are also a number of excellent water colour sets available in the Cotman range. If you want to dip your toes in then the Seawhite range is a good starting place, and suitable for GCSE standard. However the colour density and pigments in Winsor & Newton Cotman means that you use less to create a good result.

So with 40 colours available where do you start?

Both Cotman and Artists’ Water Colours can be freely intermixed. If long term permanence is required with Cotman, use only colours rated AA or A which are recommended as permanent for artists’ use. (you can download a colour chart here)

  • The three primary colours in Cotman Water Colour are Lemon Yellow Hue, Ultramarine and Permanent Rose.
  • The six colour mixing system we would recommend you choose Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Ultramarine, Intense Blue, Permanent Rose and Cadmium Red Hue.

Browse our range of Cotman Paints here

What should I paint on?

You can buy the best materials in the world but if your paper begins to curl at the slightest whisper of water, then your efforts will be wasted. To avoid this happening, use any watercolour pad, block, or loose paper with a weight greater than 140lb/ 300gsm.

The texture of paper you choose gives you different effects with the paint. Depending on your requirements, there are three main surface textures to choose from, although Cold Press (also known as NOT) is  where I suggest you start – something like this would be a good place to start.

  • Hot press: This texture is even and smooth and makes a nice surface for prints and drawings.
  • Cold press: This slightly bumpy texture is the most popular texture for watercolourists
  • Rough: Rough texture has an even bumpier surface than cold press. This surface is good for exaggerated rough texture techniques.

It is sensible either to buy your paper in a BLOCK (this is pre-stretched and most resistant to buckling) or to buy in a pad and using masking tape stick this down to a rigid drawing board. For starters something like an A4 paper will be more than adequate.

What should I paint with?

For centuries artists have been using a wide range of implements to apply paint with, you can go and forage in your garden for the right piece of grass, make a bamboo quill or use your fingers. Or you can use a brush. Now when it comes to research this is where many budding artists hit a total block. There are so many types, styles and flavours of brush. Synthetic fibres are perfectly acceptable in terms of starting our (indeed many professional artists use synthetic brushes.

A good starting point would be a set. We have a couple that I would point out for your consideration

Seawhite 3 brush Set

Proarte Synthetic Watercolour Brush Set

Proarte Sable Brush Set


We do have a great starter set made by Seawhite that would set you off on your journey, we also have the ever popular Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Set


To have a go get yourself some paints, paper (plus masking tape and a drawing board) and a few brushes and let your imagination fly.

Play with the products. Try blending colours to see what you can make. Experiment with water to dilute colours, get to know how the brushes work.

Follow some tutorials on You Tube (there is a world of options) and if you feel grabbed by the idea then consider joining a local art group, or taking a course.

You may find some inspiration here with one of our local artists (Rebecca Yoxall) who has both free and paid for content available online. Why not take a look now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *