Rooftop – Where India Inspires Creativity

Learn Indian art online

The Beginner’s Guide To Watercolour Painting

Watercolour painting

An Introduction To Watercolour Painting

Are you a complete beginner to the world of watercolours? Or have your previous attempts resulted in dismal failure? This medium can be intimidating, as watercolour painting is very different from painting with acrylic or oil paints. The mesmerising fluidity of watercolour paint sets it apart from other art mediums. While tricky and difficult to master, learning watercolour painting is well worth it, as it renders breathtaking results.

Watercolour painting is relaxing and can be a great medium to learn for complete beginners. It can also provide a breath of fresh air to seasoned artists looking for a change of pace. Sit back and let Rooftop guide you through the wonderful world of watercolour painting!

Understanding The Art Of Watercolour Painting

Watercolour Painting
Wind From The Sea, Andrew Wyeth (image source:

Watercolours are a type of paint that uses a water-soluble binder. They are water-soluble and a translucent medium. Watercolour paint will dry in thin, semi-transparent layers. Unlike opaque mediums such as poster colours or acrylic paints, watercolours can be built up slowly. Watercolour tubes and cakes are the most popular types, though liquid varieties are also available.

This medium has a steep learning curve. The process can be rewarding, and instead of focusing on perfection, try to learn from your mistakes. Having fun is important, and painting with watercolours is an immensely therapeutic experience.

Also read: Are Artists Abandoning Traditional Painting Techniques In Favour Of Modern Technology?

Everything You Need To Get Started With Watercolour Painting

So what do you need to start watercolour painting? Not a lot, thankfully. You can start painting with just three colours: red, yellow, and blue. Mixing these primary colours can provide secondary and tertiary colours. Mix water with watercolour paint to create tints and with black to create shades. We recommend beginner artists to start with a 12-colour set.

Watercolour Painting: Choosing The Right Brushes

Watercolour Painting
Brushes of different shapes and sizes (image source:

The right materials can make learning an art medium easy and enjoyable. Think about the kind of art you want to create and choose brushes that serve a similar purpose. The types of brushes you use will affect the final appearance of your watercolour painting. The bristles of a paintbrush can be natural (animal hair), synthetic (plastic or nylon), or a combination of both. Each type of brush has pros and cons. So choose your brushes based on your requirements as an artist rather than listening to what other artists have to say.

Be aware that natural-hair brushes are not ethical. The Wildlife Trust of India has issued a statement condemning the sale of mongoose-hair brushes. These brushes are made by illegally poaching a legally protected, endangered species. In India, 100,000 mongooses are illegally poached each year. Other countries face similar threats to their wildlife and ecosystem due to illegal poaching and fur trade.

Watercolour Painting
The Indian Grey Mongoose (image source:
Watercolour Painting
(image source:

Natural-hair brushes

Considered ‘superior’ to synthetic brushes, they are generally more expensive. Some of these brushes can leave the appearance of brush marks on the painted surface, which is a desirable result for many artists. However, the bristles for these brushes are sourced from the fur trade—from animals that are bred in inhumane conditions. They are killed for their fur, which is used in luxury clothing and products. Other natural hair brushes are made from the fur of endangered species of weasels and mongooses. The ethical implications of natural hair brushes are encouraging artists to switch over to synthetic hair alternatives.

Synthetic hair brushes

Synthetic brushes are cheap and, if used well, durable. Perhaps not as long-lasting as natural hair brushes. They have a better spring, i.e., if you bend the bristles and let go, they snap back and thus maintain their shape for longer. They are also easier to use for beginners. Leading brush manufacturers have started offering high-quality synthetic brushes as a viable alternative to natural-hair ones. As these brushes tend to be cheaper than their natural counterparts, they are an eco-friendly and affordable option for beginner artists.

Paintbrush Shapes, Handles, And Sizes

Watercolour Painting
Paintbrushes of different shapes and sizes (image source:

Brush names and numbers may be confusing, but worry not. Here’s a beginner-friendly guide to brush handles, shapes, and sizes.


Round brush: This brush has bristles in the shape of a circle and tapers to a sharp point in the centre. It is the most popular type of brush.

Flat brush: This brush is, well, flat. All the bristles are the same length and it does not have a point. Use this brush to apply a wash and paint large areas.

Flat brush (image source:
Liner brush (image source:

Liner or rigger brush: This brush has long and thin bristles that are useful for adding small details and precise strokes to your watercolour painting.


Paintbrush handles are made of wood, plastic, or bamboo. Brushes with small handles are suitable for kids, travel kits, and painting small canvases. Brushes with long handles are better for bigger canvases, as they offer more control. For beginner artists, it’s best to use a medium-sized handle that feels right in your hand.


Watercolour Painting
An approximate brush size chart (image source:

Brushes come in different sizes, and each size is assigned a number. The thinnest or smallest brush will be a number 0, and the brush numbers go up as thickness and width increase.

Rooftop Recommends

Buy the best quality materials you can afford. Good-quality brushes and paints can last you a very long time. Using poor-quality paints as a beginner may be frustrating, as they contain more filler than pigment. ‘Artist’ grade watercolours contain more pigment than ‘student’ grade ones, are more vibrant, use higher quality ingredients, and are consequently more expensive. They provide a better finish and make the watercolour painting process easier for both beginners and professionals. Even the cheapest artist paints will outperform expensive student-grade ones, so make sure to invest in the right materials.

Also read: Understanding colour psychology and its influence on emotions

Simple Watercolour Painting Techniques For Beginners

Certain painting techniques can make your watercolour painting go from ‘good’ to ‘great’! Beginner artists as well as professional ones use the following techniques:

1. Wet On Wet

In this technique, a wet brush is dipped in paint and used to layer colour over a wet painted surface. This can cause colours to blend in unpredictable ways. This technique does not offer much control but can be great for seamlessly blending colours.

Regatta, watercolour painting by Violetta Kurbanova (image source:
(image source:

2. Wet On Dry

Before The Snowfall, Bob Ross (image source:

After a painted surface has dried, use a wet paintbrush to paint over it. This technique offers a lot of control. Depending on how long you let your previous layer dry, the edges of the wet paint may blur slightly or be extremely defined and clean.

3. Dry On Wet

Koi 98, No. 1, Cheng-Khee Chee (image source:

Wet your brush, and then use a cloth to get rid of the excess water. Dip the damp brush in paint and brush it over a wet painted surface. This technique can create interesting shapes and textures. 

4. Dry On Dry

This is also known as the dry brush technique. Artists use it to create a textured look that is unique and appealing. Although it is not a common technique, it can give your painting some extra oomph.

(image source:
Watercolour painting by Veneta Docheva (image source:

5. Wash Technique

Various wash techniques (image source:
Tenuousness, José Apaza (image source:

A flat brush is used to spread a very light and diluted coat of paint evenly over the surface. We can use it to add depth while painting. For example, adding warm or cool undertones before painting can change the appearance of skin tones. A light wash of bright colour can alter the appearance of colours you layer over it.

Watercolour Painting: Avoid These Common Beginner Mistakes!

Watercolours can be a tricky medium to master. Here are some tips to avoid common beginner mistakes and make the process go smoothly.

1. Using Watercolours On Poor-Quality Paper

Always use watercolour paper while using watercolour paint. You can get away with using cheap paper for acrylic paints. Watercolours require you to apply a lot of water while painting. Watercolour paint may bleed through poor-quality paper and cause it to start peeling or even tear.

2. Using White To Lighten 

Unlike other paint mediums, watercolour painting requires you to mix paint with water to lighten it. White watercolour paint is technically gouache-opaque watercolour. Mixing it with watercolours can produce pastel, muddy, and chalk-like colours. Using white watercolour paint to add highlights can be effective as long as you don’t go overboard.

Eminent artist John Singer Sargent layered wet washes to create shadow and let the white of the paper show through as ‘light’ areas in his paintings.

Gondolier’s Siesta, John Singer Sargent (image source:

3. Making The Base Colour Too Dark

Entrance to the Moulin de la Galette, Vincent van Gogh (image source:

Watercolour paint is buildable, but only if you start with a light colour. A general rule of thumb in watercolour painting is to paint from light to dark. Beginners may paint the base layer too dark and then try to lighten it with white paint. This will make your light and shadow areas look messy. So add base colours first and use darker colours on top to add shadows and create dimension.

4. What’s The Best Way To Learn Watercolour Painting?

Young Hare, Albrecht Dürer (image source:

The best way to learn an art medium is to keep practising. Whether your goal is to get better quickly or master a single technique, if you keep making art, you’ll get there. Set small goals for yourself, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get something right on the first try. Remember that everyone starts somewhere. Even the best artists can’t master watercolour painting in a day! This medium has its own set of rules, and once you learn them, things will get much easier. So hang in there, don’t stress, and have fun!

Download the Rooftop App from GooglePlay or AppStore and learn watercolour painting while exploring Indian art forms!

Discover us on Instagram @rooftop_app for all things on traditional Indian art forms.

By Melissa D’Mello

Related Posts