Susan Bourdet
Capturing the beauty of wildness in watercolor.

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Watercolor Hints


Mail order catalogs are cheaper sources of materials than art supply stores. Good ones are Daniel Smith 1-(800)426-6740 and Cheap Joe's 1-(800)227-2788.

Good paper is essential. In the workshop, we used Arches 300# coldpress. If you use a lighter weight paper, you'll need to stretch it.

Brushes: 1-1/2" flat for washes, an assortment of rounds (I use #'s 2,4,6,8,and 12) A large palette with wells for paint

Tube watercolors - Holbein and Winsor Newton are best. Paint brands are not so critical while you're learning, but the cheaper student brands may fade with time.

Miscellaneous stuff to have on hand: hair dryer, large water container, old bath towel, paper towels, Winsor Newton Masking Fluid (yellow tinted), #2 pencils, tracing paper, good eraser, spray bottle

Planning the Painting

Plan the composition out on tracing paper before you touch the watercolor paper - it bruises easily! A tracing paper transfer (where you go over the lines on the back of the tracing paper, then turn it face up on your watercolor paper and rub the lines through) is the safest way to get the design on the watercolor paper.

Do your research - have enough reference material to make your painting interesting. Your own photos and sketches are the best way to gather reference.

Make a small sketch first to roughly plan the layout.

Use the whole area of your paper and think about how you'll move the viewer's eye around the painting. Usually, if you divide your painting area into thirds with both vertical and horizontal lines, the places where the lines intersect are good places to locate the center of interest.


Spray the drawing lightly with Krylon Workable Fixative before you apply the mask. This will preserve your pencil lines.

Mask only the foreground elements that need to be isolated from the background wash. Make sure the masking fluid is fresh - if it's too old, it won't come off the paper easily.

Use an older brush if you can, but be sure it still comes to a good point. A really bad brush will give you ragged edges that are hard to fix later.

Background Wash

Before you paint, organize your work area so everything you need is within easy reach. Always start with clean water, clean brushes and a clean palette. Place a bath towel under your watercolor paper to absorb excess water.

Mix large, concentrated puddles of your background color before you start. Usually, you want to avoid using more than three colors in a background - too many colors makes mud.

Wet the paper evenly and allow the water to soak in for a few seconds. Apply the wash with long, even strokes, varying the color and tilting the paper to create soft blends.

Dry slowly and evenly with the hair dryer.

Make sure the background is completely bone dry before you remove the mask or start to paint the foreground elements.

Painting Smaller Areas

Choose the biggest brush you can for each area - don't try to paint the entire subject with your #2 round. The size of the brush should be appropriate for the size of the area you're painting.

Because watercolor is transparent, plan your steps so you're painting the lightest areas first and building up to the darks.

Change the water and clean brushes and palette frequently.

If you don't want two areas to run together, make sure the first area is dry before painting right up to it.

Remember that less water = more control. If you don't want any blending or fuzzy edges, make sure the paper is completely dry.

Rounded forms can be creating by applying a stroke of color, then pulling it out with a damp brush or, for larger areas, adding a stroke of water next to the color so that the color migrates into the wet area.

Details always come last. Even for details, thin the paint with a little water so it flows easily off the brush.

© 2003-2004 Susan Bourdet. Website design by Red Acorn.