Daily Watercolor Exercises
To improve at painting watercolors, practice. Daily watercolor exercises will go a long way in improving your technique and developing your style.
Some exercises should be about technique and some should be about developing new ideas and styles. All of them should be about enjoying yourself and learning from mistakes rather than judging yourself. Each time you paint, you will learn something new. This will be true for as long as you paint.
Watercolor exercises that focus on repeated shapes and patterns can also be a mindful practice and relaxing. I find that sometimes, I go to these exercises to relax and find myself inspired to paint.
DO play with your paint
Play around with your watercolors! Learn how they behave with one another. Start out with 3 primary colors, blue, yellow, and red. Give yourself ample room to mix your paints. Grab your practice book or sheets of paper and a comfy space to sit.
Some of my favorite primary color combinations. Click on any of the links below to see the colors and pricing on Blick’s website.
Practicing Your Technique
Watercolor exercises should be customized based on the types of painting you’ll want to do and the sort of lines and shapes you’d like to get better at. Below are some tips for what your daily exercises can include.
Exercises that focus on technique
Is your focus is architecture? Practice more straight lines, grids, perspectives and repeated shapes. If you are more about nature, lakes, rivers and parks, practice organic shapes. Paint leaves, different types of trees, water lines, and perspectives. Maybe you’ll be working on people and portraits, these will still be based on shapes, work on individual features like eyes, nose, mouth, hands, feet, head, etc to practice.
Combine these exercises based on your style and focus.
Practicing Painting People
If your paintings will include people, sketching and practicing some simple shapes will help you develop a style for your painting’s characters. You can focus more on movement and style and separately on detail. For example, you may want to focus on facial features also if your paintings will require that. Watercolor exercises, like those above, may seem over simplified are very loose but they also help you work on color transitions, perspectives, shadows and gradients.
Stuck? Paint What You Love
There are many times I am stuck and can’t think of what to paint. In cases like this, I’ll pick a random subject like fruit, houseplants, row houses, etc… I even have a box of random pre written words that I can draw from. This solves one of the biggest issues; What should I paint?
The 3×2 Watercolor Exercises
One of my favorite exercises is done on these small, 3″x2″ watercolor papers. I pick a theme, like the coffee plant here, and find some images to reference as I create a miniature painting. This exercise helps you develop your water and pigment control.
Practice small versions of larger paintings you’re thinking about starting. This is called creating a thumbnail.
Do A Lot With Limited Tools
For watercolors, I opt for quality over quantity. Even if you’re just starting out or looking for a mindful pass time. Water, a brush, paint, and paper are really the only 3 things you need.
Usually I will take a large watercolor sheet and rip it up into smaller pieces or get a journal with good paper. I have a go-to Isabey Squirrel Quill Mop brush or my Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky brush. These brushes have lasted years and will continue to do so. For the palette, I will either pick a simple primary set or go with something completely off the wall.
The difference between these brushes and the cheap ones is how well they hold and release the pigment. Think about having to paint a continuous line or fill a large area with paint. You don’t want to run out half way. You want to make sure your brush can hold the right amount of pigment.
Purchasing quality paints will make your supply last longer, and offer brighter pigments. I think these things will all benefit your overall painting experience. You can quickly find yourself with a pre-made kit that has a horrible brush, dry, dull paint, and paper and that can’t handle your creativity… or water 🙂
Take a look at my Resources page to see my favorite watercolor tools.