Ready To Start Painting: Watercolors

You’ve been through all our lessons and are ready to start painting in watercolors! Learning is doing and you’ll improve your skill the more you work on it. We strongly suggest you follow the lesson plan that follows before striking out on your own.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this lesson:

Basic YouTube Controls

Set Up Your Palette

Knowing When To Stop

Basic YouTube Controls

In case you’re new to YouTube, here are the basic controls you’ll need:



If you like, you can always open the YouTube video in a separate tab in your browser to make it simpler to switch back and forth between the video and the text in our lesson. To do this, simply click the YouTube button in the lower right-hand corner of the video that’s in the lesson. This will open the video in a new tab on YouTube. We recommend watching the video in full-screen mode. For more information on YouTube, see our Being A Successful Student post.

The next three lessons will get you started with painting. Of course, you can skip around if you like, but we’ve ordered the videos in the way that we feel will best suit the beginning painter. We’ve set up each lesson in Parts that each take up to 2 hours to complete. This time includes approximately 20 minutes to watch that exercise’s video, and 10 minutes to lay out your paints on your palette and post painting cleanup. We suggest those who have trouble hearing the instructor use the closed captioning (CC) feature during their initial viewing of the video. Our CC experience is that they do a very good job capturing the instructor’s words—but do expect some humorous misses now and then! For more information on YouTube’s Closed Captioning, see this post here.

If you feel like you need help, write into the comment section at the end of each lesson or use our contact form to ask key questions not addressed in the comments section. We’d like to see your progress! If you feel you’ve been successful with the paintings in the lessons, submit photos of them to us using our submission form. If you need more instructional videos once you are done with the three exercises, you can always check out the Student Resource Center for more tutorials and information.

Get your space and work materials all set up then watch the videos for some great tutorials. Make sure you have all of your recommended supplies before you get started. If you still need to do some shopping, check out our Amazon list. We recommend you watch the video before you start each exercise so you’ll have an idea of what to expect. You will probably want to watch the video as you’re painting, so make sure you have a computer and an internet connection in your working space/studio. Pause and rewind if necessary.

You will need to draw your image onto your paper, so if you haven’t already, check out our Drawing section for some tips on how to draw. If you’re not sure how to get your image onto canvas or don’t want to rely on your drawing skills alone, take a look at our Quick And Dirty Tricks For Getting Your Image Onto Canvas.

Set Up Your Palette

To learn how to set up your watercolor palette, watch this video by Watercolor Misfit:

Once you’ve finished watching the video above, you can move on to actual painting! You can use any size watercolor paper with these tutorials, but the bigger the paper, the more freedom you have to move and paint without getting too fussy with your details. We would suggest no smaller than 8” x 10”.

When you begin working on your paintings, you may be concerned that your paint color doesn’t match exactly with the instructor’s color. That’s okay. Don’t worry too much about mixing the perfect color–you’ll figure it out in time as you continue painting. Read the text for paint mixing suggestions and take your best guess. Mixing paint isn’t easy and it takes practice to become good at it, so just keep on doing your best!

A note about your paints: If you take extended breaks between the following videos and your paint dries on your palette, don’t worry! You can reconstitute your paints with a little water. When you’re ready to start painting again, simply wet your brush and rub it over the surface of the dried paint. You’ll then have pigment on your brush and you’re ready to start painting again! Watercolor paints are really great for this and many already come in a dried form ready to use.

Knowing When To Stop

The key to a successful painting is knowing when to stop! Fussing too much will only make your paint muddy and the overall painting appear overworked. It’s really difficult to know when to stop painting, so here are a few tips:

  • Move your painting to another area. Take it off your easel and prop it up in another room in the house. You won’t have the temptation of brushes and paint in another room so you can view the painting more objectively.
  • Give it time. Sometimes you need a day or two to look at the painting before you see something you want to change.
  • Ask opinions. Get the opinion of someone else. Do they think it looks finished? This can be hard to ask of someone else–as artists, we often feel very vulnerable doing this. Sometimes, though, it’s best to get the fresh eyes of someone who hasn’t been looking at the painting for a long time because they’ll notice something that you overlooked because you were focused on another piece of the work. Be brave, ask for opinions, and have confidence in your work!

All artists struggle with the idea of when a painting is finished. Here are a few notable quotes on the subject, just for fun:

“When something is finished, that means it’s dead, doesn’t it? I believe in everlastingness. I never finish a painting – I just stop working on it for a while” – Arshile Gorky

“To finish a work? To finish a picture? What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow the coup de grace for the painter as well as for the picture” – Pablo Picasso

“How do you complete a painting, really? There are paintings by so many different artists that are interesting precisely because they haven’t really been completed” – Peter Doig

“Do not finish your work too much. An impression is not sufficiently durable for its first freshness to survive a belated search for infinite detail; in this way you let the lava grow cool…” – Paul Gauguin

“It is difficult to stop in time because one gets carried away. But I have that strength; it is the only strength I have” – Claude Monet

Key Lesson Learning:

You’ve learned information about getting ready to paint, and how the Beginner’s School encourages students to share their thoughts and work so we can all learn together.

Next lesson: Watercolor Exercise One: Lemon

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