How to Experiment with Watercolour Paints

Watercolour is such a fantastic medium, as it offers a fine balance between control and abstraction. Here, Artist Emma Howell shows us how easy it is to get started with watercolour paints, and gives a few technique tips and tricks to get everyone on their way to unleashing an abstract masterpiece!

Emma Howell is a Cheltenham based artist focusing on concepts behind the word ‘adventure’. She sees an adventure as not only a physical process of searching and seeking, but also a creative and mental process of exploring your mind and body’s capabilities. Most of Emma’s work is evolved by the use of her adventure journals, where she translates what she hears, sees and feels onto surface.

You Will NeedHow to Make

Set up your working area (inside or outside), preferably a large space where you feel comfortable, such as a cleared table or the floor (my preference), so that you’ve got all products you need in front of you. This prevents a big mess from happening – the kind of mess that would cause stress and disrupt your creative flow. So, keep organised and tidy to begin with! (This isn’t to say that it won’t get messy – but that’s part of the fun!)

Decide what you’re going to paint – Are you more realistic or abstract? Do you want to work from a photograph, from real life or from your mind? As an adventure artist who primarily works with abstract expressionism, I paint using my mind – with help from my hearing, sight, smell and touch. Usually, I paint on location in notebooks that I call my adventure journals, which I then evolve into larger paper/canvas works back in my studio.

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to paint, gather what colours and tools you need to create your artwork. Line up the appropriate brushes and paints, fill your water jars, lay out the surface you’re working on (e.g. watercolor paper) and then let’s do this!

Depending on your style of working and the effect you’re aiming for, you can either mix your colours on a palette with a paintbrush or dive straight in and squeeze the paint directly onto your surface. I find that with watercolours, it’s important (to an extent) to get your water quantity right with each application. Too little and the paint will stick to the brush, creating very dry and stiff brush strokes on the paper – too much and the paper may not be willing to absorb it all, causing the surface to bow or disintegrate.

You may in fact like to use a waterbrush because they give you a little more control. It all depends on the effect you want – sometimes, hard and grainy brushstrokes from too little water looks raw and beautiful, and a light wash of heavily watered down paint can look calm and delicate. That’s the great thing about art, right? – there aren’t any rules!

Top tip! As you’re in the midst of creating your artwork, make sure you’re regularly refreshing your water – as after a while, it can become quite murky. If you continue to paint using the same water throughout, your painting will end up looking murky and dirty – just like your water!

Watercolours blend together really well. When you’re wanting to make an ombre effect with your colours, very slowly massage water with your brush between the two colours you want to blend together.

This technique is great when you’re trying to recreate a sunset, a skin tone or a contour. In my case, I like to blend together colours to recreate a texture, a feeling or a sound that I want to translate from my environment.

You can also use kitchen roll to soak up excess water, blend colours together and to create soft textured effects on the paper.

For layering paint, you must be patient.

Leave one layer to fully dry before adding the next. Usually, whilst I wait for a layer of paint to dry, I crack on with a new artwork.

Once the first layer has dried, you can now add the next – and it’s usually better to make this one a little more transparent (use more water!), so that you can see the first layer underneath. The great thing about watercolours is that they’re very versatile – depending on the amount of water and paint, you can adapt the transparency accordingly, ranging from a very light wash to thick and fully opaque.

Once all the paint layers have dried, you can now take this opportunity to introduce some other mediums. 

I use soft pastels to add blocked texture or lines, pencils for expressive mark-making and a pen to write notes.  


Learn more about my practice by reading my artist statement or by following me on Instagram.  

We’re always keen to see your crafts, and if you share your makes with us on Instagram using #Hobbycraft, you will be in with the chance of winning a £100 voucher each month! T&C’s apply.

Shop the project

What do you think of this post?

80 22

Comments and Discussion

Other posts you might enjoy