Beginner Watercolor Tutorial; 12 Tips To Improve Your Art

beginner watercolor tutorial

In this beginner watercolor tutorial, we will discuss 12 tips that will help improve your watercolor paintings. Watercolor painting can be a daunting task for beginner artists. The colors are transparent and the paint can be unpredictable, which makes it difficult to create a cohesive piece of art. We’ll cover everything from color mixing to value observation, and by the end of this tutorial, you’ll be able to approach your subjects with newfound confidence!

how to improve your watercolor art

12 Awesome Beginner Watercolor Tips

As you begin to explore the tips, keep in mind that values and mixing color are HUGE problems for most beginners. Besides drawing skills, it’s the number one issue I see with all watercolor painters. It’s like the foundational building blocks are avoided, or somehow forgotten, because the goal for most is to paint finished art. Not a good idea.

Yes, you will get lucky and paint a few keepers, but imagine how powerful it would be to take any scene, or subject, and make it your own. To have no limitations! That’s only going to happen if you have the foundational skills, no shortcuts!

In this article we will cover the following topics;

  1. How to create a simple value chart & study
  2. Paint a simple color study
  3. Wet-in-wet study using good value & color
  4. How to paint high key value study
  5. Paint a high key color study
  6. Create a low key value study
  7. Paint a low key color study
  8. Connecting values with multiple objects
  9. Paint a connected value color study
  10. Create a cool palette study
  11. Paint a chromatic color study
  12. Create a tonal color study
  13. Conclusion

As you can see, we have a lot to cover! Let’s get started.

simple value gradation watercolor chart
three value watercolor chart
beginner watercolor tutorial - easy value study

Tip #1: Create a Simple Value Chart & Study

One of the best ways to improve your color mixing skills is to create a simple value chart. This will help you to see the range of values in each color, and how they interact with one another.

To create a value chart, start by painting a light value gray on a piece of paper. Then, mix various amounts of black into the gray to create different values. Be sure to label each value with a number, and keep track of which colors you use.

Painting value studies is probably the most important part of this beginner watercolor tutorial. If you took away nothing but this, you will improve dramatically! I’m speaking from experience.

Once you have created your chart, you can begin to create a simple value study using any object. I have chosen a tube of paint. Feel free to use it if aren’t sure what to paint.

When you paint a value study with watercolors, it is important to observe the value of each color. In these demonstrations, I desaturated the image so I didn’t have to think about color. I used a limited palette of neutral tint, yellow ochre and ultramarine blue for all value studies you see on this article.

As far as color goes, I used ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cadmium yellow lemon, yellow ochre, alizarin crimson, cadmium red light, burnt sienna and neutral tint. Using minimal hues will help you learn to mix colors much quicker. And by the way, this is the palette I use all the time. This will come in hand in the next tip!

beginner watercolor tutorial - color study

Tip #2: Paint a Simple Color Study

Now that you have observed the values in each color, it is time to mix them! This will help you to see how the colors interact with one another, and how they can be used to create different effects.

To paint a color study, start by mixing the same grays used in the value study. For yellow, you can use cadmium yellow lemon, and yellow ochre.

Once you have mixed the grays and yellow colors, paint a swatch of each color next to one another on your paper. Be sure to label each color so that you can remember which is which.

Start paint the grays first! Once it dries, add the yellows. I did two layers on this demo, you may want to try the same. Be sure to allow layers to completely dry before adding the next one.

wet-in-wet color study

Tip #3: Wet-in-Wet Study Using Good Value & Color

One of the best ways to improve your watercolor painting is to practice wet-in-wet. This technique involves painting wet paint onto wet paper. It is a great way to create soft, blurred edges and interesting textures.

To paint a wet-in-wet study, start by wetting your paper with a wet brush. Then, begin to paint your subject using wet-in-wet techniques. I have chosen the same tube of paint for this example.

As you can see, the edges of the yellow label, and the grays in the tube of paint, are soft and blurred. This is because they were painted while the paper was still wet. The colors are also blended together, creating a cohesive painting.

beginner watercolor tutorial - high-key-value-sketch

Tip #4: Paint a high-key value study

Painting a high-key value study with watercolors means painting with light colors. This is a great way to practice painting light values.

To paint a high-key value study, you first need to know what it means. A high-key painting is one where the values are predominantly light. The colors are usually bright and cheerful, and there is very little contrast between the lights and darks.

To paint a high-key value study, you can do the same exercise as tip #1, but this time avoid darker values. Key everything up a few notches. Start lighter than you think you need. Manipulating values is another nugget in the beginner watercolor tutorial tips. Use it!

beginner watercolor tutorial - high-key-color-studies

Tip #5: Paint a high-key color study

Now that you have painted a high-key value study, we can try it again but this time use color. A high-key watercolor painting can be painted using any color, but I have chosen to use yellow and red, mixed with the gray for the scissors.

To paint a high-key color study, start by painting the gray scissors. While still wet, paint the reds and yellows. Red may trick you, so go VERY light in value.

Once the scissors are dry, paint the cast shadow. Add a few darker notes if needed.


Tip #6: Paint a low-key value study

low-key value study is created using dark colors, and usually has very little contrast between the lights and darks. This is a great way to practice painting the shadows in your subject and to learn how to mix different dark values.

To paint a low-key value study, start by painting the scissors a much darker gray then you think is needed. Then, once it’s dry, paint the darker hues on the form shadows of the scissors. Once this is dry, paint the cast shadow.

As you can see, the colors in this low-key painting are very dark. There is a lot of contrast between the lights and darks, and the overall effect is the mood.


Tip #7: Paint Low-key color study

Now that you have crushed the low-key value study, try doing the same thing, but with color. When painting a low-key color study, use much thicker paint than a high-key version.

To paint a low-key color study, start by painting brown on the scissors. This is an arbitrary color, feel free to use whatever color you wish Paint the dark handles wet-in-wet.

Allow everything to completely dry before painting another layer for the form shadows. Add the cast shadows once it’s dry.

As you can see, the colors in this low-key painting are very dark. There is a lot of contrast between the lights and darks, and the overall effect is moody and sinister.

beginner watercolor tutorial - connecting values
Multiple objects subject

Tip #8: Connect values using multiple objects

It’s time to raise the bar. To do that, you will use multiple objects and arrange them in such a way, that they are near or touching each other.

When you study the shadows, try squinting your eyes. This will simplify the values so that they merge with similar values. The idea here is to connect similar values even though they may belong to two different objects.

Scroll back up and have a closer look at the values in the study. Objects are connected through values, not treated individually!

beginner watercolor tutorial - connecting values with color

Tip #9: Connect colors through similar values

So, we are doing the same thing as the previous tip, but this time with color. When mixing colors, try to focus on the value of a color and not the actual hue. If you do this right, different colors will bleed, or merge, into each other, especially in the shadows.

Use local colors, but don’t stress about matching them perfectly. This is more about the connecting of values, and less about realistic painting.

beginner watercolor tutorial - cool color study

Tip #10: Create a cool color study

Cool colors are made by adding blue, green, violet, or any other cool hue to the color wheel. They are usually associated with calming and relaxing effects, making them perfect for painting serene landscapes or still life paintings.

It’s okay to add a pop of warm hue. But keep it minimal because its job is to create a little contrast.

beginner watercolor tutorial - chromatic study

Tip #11: Paint a chromatic color study

A highly chromatic painting means that there are many colors used, and they are all very different. This can be a difficult type of painting to execute because it’s easy to get muddy colors.

The key here is to mix each color on your palette before adding it to the painting. This will help keep the colors clean and vibrant.

tonal color study with watercolor

Tip #12: Paint a tonal color study

This is the final tip in this beginner watercolor tutorial article. And we will work with tonal hues. Tonal colors are created by adding a complimentary, neutral or black to a color. This will decrease the saturation, or tone it down, hence the tonal study tip used for this demo.

A tonal painting is very different from a chromatic painting because it uses only a limited palette of colors. This makes the end results less colorful, and more subdued. Yes, you can add a pop of color, but dial it back if you want that lovely tonal look.

Here are some bonus tips to keep in mind

  • Use a limited palette. This will help you to get to know your colors and how they behave when mixed. Once you are more comfortable, you can begin to add more colors to your palette.
  • Start with light values. It is easier to add darker paint later on. Studies, and finished paintings, usually don’t come together until the very end. Be patient. You can always add more paint, but you can’t always take it away once it’s on the paper.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Watercolor is a forgiving medium, and even your “mistakes” can be turned into interesting effects. Allow mistakes, or unwanted areas, to dry completely. Then go back in with a plan to fix it!
  • Do value studies! This is such an important part of making quality art. Many of the watercolor tips you see in this article are value based studies.

Now that we’ve covered some basics, let’s move on to the tips!

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this beginner watercolor tutorial. These tips will instantly improve your art, and change the way you approach your subjects. Practice these techniques often, and soon you will be painting like a pro!