So you want to paint great watercolours.

Watercolours scare some people, they feel it should be easy, but soon realise it can be a difficult medium to master. They give up without realising how a finished watercolour can transform a blank sheet of paper into a beautiful painting. I want to help you by adding more articles on this subject as well as other mediums.

How I gave up oil painting and learned to love watercolors

When I first began I used oils, I felt watercolours were like those powdered paints you used to have in school, and that they seemed a bit ‘wishy washy’. At a Christmas exhibition, I had 2 or 3 oil paintings up for sale. A gentleman bought them and asked if I could do a painting of his house. It turned out that this was the millionaire owner of Whitworth Hall, the ancestral home of Bonnie Bobby Shafto. But he wanted a watercolour painting, so I had to delve more into the medium. I took my oil painting techniques into the watercolours as I ended up with a strong, vibrant painting. He loved it and commissioned more and suggested I had a one-man exhibition in the Hall. Since then my passion has been to paint great watercolours.

Examples of my watercolours

These are examples of many watercolours from my gallery website Bondgate Gallery

When trying to paint great watercolours nothing beats the feeling of applying a stroke of pure watercolour onto a clean white surface of watercolour paper. If left alone, it blooms on the surface. I find my students create these marks when they test out a colour on a piece of scrap paper. It’s a confidence thing, they put a throwaway stroke down without thinking but try too hard to work the same brush stroke into a painting. Some bits of scrap paper turn out really well.

Watercolour Preferences

Before you look at different manufacturers you need to look at how you want to buy your watercolours. In pans or tubes, both are fine but don’t buy cheap watercolour pans as you will struggle to get plenty of paint onto your brush. Artist quality pans are worth the money. I personally bought pans for a long time but now use tubes and just squeeze out paint into the empty pans. Allow the colour to dry in the pan or you will pick up too much thick paint on your brush. This is fine if you are doing a large painting and want plenty of coverage,

There are lots of manufacturers of watercolour paints and I have listed them, with links, in a brochure which you can download from my resources page. Most of them make artist quality and student quality so you can compare prices. I started watercolours using Winsor and Newton Artist pans but have since used lots of other makes such as Sennelier and Holbein. Daniel Smith has a great range, a bit pricier but they are really creamy. They use genuine real pigments and you may find the colours vary from other makes. I have found that Winsor and Newton’s Burnt Sienna is now a different formula than I first used and is more orangy so I end up adding a bit of Burnt Umber to it sometimes. All makes vary slightly in the same named colours so experiment until you find the ones you are happy with.

Watercolour Paper

As for watercolour paper I use Arches 300lb rough, I have found this suits my style of painting as I can drag paint across the surface quickly and leave areas behind that just sparkle. In the art class we use Arches 140 Rough, Neither of these papers need taping down. Other manufactures are Winsor and Newton, Fabriano, Saunders, and Daler Rowney. You can also get a cheaper paper by Bockingford but I find the colour soaks into the surface and loses it’s vibrancy, but I suggest you do as I did and try many surfaces until you find the one which suits your style. Watercolour paper comes in sheets, pads or even rolls, all in different surfaces. I use Arches Rough but other finishes are cold pressed, hot pressed ( very smooth ) and ‘not’ which is similar, but not quite, to the rough paper.

My personal set of colours

  1. French Ultramarine. Mix with Burnt Sienna for great grays.
  2. Burnt Sienna
  3. Yellow Ochre
  4. Paynes Gray Allow this to mix loosely on the paper with Yellow Ochre for stonework or paths.
  5. Lamp Black
  6. New Gamboge Cadmium Yellow Either of these yellows make wonderful greens when mixed with Lamp Black
  7. Cadmium Red Mainly used in Mediterrenean scenes or accents in other paintings.
  8. Alizarin Crimson Makes great darks when mixed with French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.

To paint great watercolours you need good brushes

If you are just starting out with watercolours then student colours are ok but when you can, start adding artist quality paints as they are more lightfast. You need a few brushes ranging from 00 up to a 10, try to buy a really good No. 8 in a Kolinsky sable and this will serve you well for many years. You can find out more about brushes in the downloadable PDF file.

Watercolor palette

My Palette

As you can see my palette is definitely a working one. I tend to pick up one or two colours at the same time letting them blend on the paper. As long as you don’t pick up too many colours you will be fine. Don’t get into the way of being too clean with your colours and just dabbing a little here and a little there. Be freer with your brush and your paintings will improve in depth and quality instantly. See my paintings on my website.


When I am ready to start on a watercolour painting I tidy up my desk first and layout my paper and palette. I paint with the paper flat. You do not need to stretch and tape good watercolour paper, but new students seem to want to do this. If you really must tape down the paper then it must be done properly to prevent buckling. First, soak the paper and leave it to expand a little, then tape it down. As it dries it will tighten like a drum skin.

I have two pots of water, one for cleaning the brush in then a second for wetting the brush ready to pick up the paint. Make sure you have a palette with large mixing wells so that you can have enough wet paint to cover the area you are about to paint. If you paint on a hard surface make sure there are no pools of water at the edges of your painting that can run back into the wash.

Presentation of your finished watercolour

When you have finished your painting it needs to be protected from other surfaces and spillages. We always mount and frame our watercolours as soon as possible, apart from protecting them, a good mount and frame presents your painting at it’s best. When my art class students finish a painting I show them it in my ‘magic frame’ and they are so surprised to see the finished result.

When fixing the painting to the back of the mount only tape it down along the top edge, this allows the paper to breathe and not buckle which it would eventually do if it was fastened down along every edge.
The best thing to have is a couple of old mounts and frames that you can lay over your picture as you work. This will help you get a feeling of how the painting is progressing. Also, don’t be discouraged if the painting doesn’t come out the way  you hoped, it happens regularly with watercolours. Just try a smaller mount round the picture and lose the part you are not happy with. I can’t tell you how many times a painting has hung in our gallery and not sold, until putting it in a smaller frame changed the feel of it and it sold very soon after.

Paint great watercolours

Lynn, with a new framed painting waiting to be picked up by the customer.

Welcome to my newsletter

Welcome to my new website and my first newsletter. On this page I will keep you informed of any new courses available as well as posting articles on art materials such as paints and brushes. You can navigate to other posts using the guide on the right.

I will also publish some of my student’s paintings every month, so that you can see the quality of their work. They do turn out some great paintings that have won prizes at local art exhibitions.

Bluebell Wood in Acrylics

3 hours 3 hours.

Paint abstract acrylics with palette knife

  1. Black out the canvas

    Here I cover the canvas with black gesso mixed with some resin sand and black lava paste. This gives a textured surface which helps give broken colour when you drag acrylics with palette knife across.Black gesso added

  2. Apply background

    Apply a light green using palette knife leaving the black areas alone to form the trees.Apply colour with palette knife

  3. Add More Colour

    Still using a palette knife drag some pure yellow across the greens. Because the surface is heavily textured the wet paint will only be deposited on the raised surfaces.Add yellow with palette knife

  4. Lighten Sky

    Using the palette knife drag white paint and yellow over the surface, working it into the middle of the canvas to give a brightly lit background. Then drag a prime blue across the foreground.Adding blue foreground

  5. Add Pure White

    Using a large palette knife add thicker white to the sky.Add fine branches

  6. Add smaller branches

    Using a small palette knife and a fine brush paint in the branches using black/Adding Finer Branches

  7. Adding to the foreground

    Now drag Magenta and blue onto the foreground, leaving darker shadows below the trees. Use a palette knife to drag light green across parts of the foreground. When dry add paler magenta and blue to build up the texture.Add Magenta and blue

  8. Finishing Off

    Continue using the acrlics with palette knife to drag lighter colours across the surface until you are happy with the finish. Add more light to the middle distance of the ground.Bluebell Wood


Coloured Pencil drawing of a Kingfisher by Elisabeth Yaneske.

Here is a great coloured pencil drawing of a Kingfisher by Elisabeth Yaneske using my online course.

Elisabeth, who says she is a complete novice has drawn this Kingfisher after enrolling in my course on Coloured Pencils. This lesson shows you how to build up the textures by layering and scrumbling different coloured pencils over one another.

Painting Holidays

Thank God that’s January out of the way, now February has arrived and we can start thinking about our Summer holidays. This year why not try something different on your holidays, put the camera away and start sketching the beautiful scenery in front of you. You will create a scene better than any snapshot, and when you arrive home you can develop your sketch into a full painting.

Above are three paintings that I developed from sketches years ago while on holiday.

You don’t need expensive equipment for this, you are on holiday and want to travel light. My son Paul’s partner Britt, (Who by the way designed this whole website ) always carries a small sketch pad with her and jots down things every day including little colour sketches.

Here are some examples of travel palettes available from around £11 to about £50, all you need is a small watercolour pad and you are ready to go. If you want you can use a small set of coloured pencils and a pad of cartridge paper to make a lovely drawing of the scene, or watercolour pencils where you can wet the pencil marks to achieve a wash. These particular palettes are available online at Ken Bromley but there are many other sites such as Jacksonart, Amazon, or local art shops such as The Art Shop in Darlington near to me.

Sketcher’s Pocket Box

For just under £10 you can get 12 half pans of Cotman watercolours and brush that will serve you well on your travels.

Cotman Travel Palette

This is slightly more expensive at £16.12 but has an extra mixing tray attached.

Winsor and Newton Watercolour postcards

This is a beautiful set in a lovely presentation box. There are primary colours and Indian ink with palette and brush, and you can always add a few more colours. Right now this is a bargain reduced from £26.75 to £10.25

Cotman Travel Bag

This is a nice set with a travel bag to hold your materials, contains 14 colours, brushes, and a water bottle.

Artist’s Field Box

This is a more pro set containing artist quality paints, water bottle, brush and mixing areas. It is £50 but a quality set if you want to push the boat out.

Pablo Coloured Pencils

An alternative to paints if you don’t wish to carry water around is this set of coloured pencils. All you need is a plain cartridge pad and your set. My art classes love using pencils.

Derwent Watercolour Pencils

This is an in between solution, using watercolour pencils where you add water to the drawing to create washes. This can be done on site or later at your convenience.

The beauty of these palettes are they are simple to use and do not attract too much attention such as standing in front of a large easel. Once you get over any initial shyness you will soon enjoy painting on holiday and will find any onlookers are generally friendly. If you want to dissuade anyone just start cleaning your brushes and tidying up, they soon get bored and move on. I have had many strange remarks such as “Where do you get those left hand brushes” , but mostly, people are genuinely interested and will ask friendly questions, and may even ask to buy your painting. If you are in need of alcohol remember Van Gogh gave away his paintings in exchange for a beer or two.

Below are some examples of paintings done by my art class students on their holidays, and examples fro Britt’s sketch book which she has carried everywhere from Barcelona to Japan.

Now if you are really keen you can go one step further and go on an organised painting holiday. There are many, many courses on offer and nearly all let you take your partner along at a reduced price. I was once approached about running watercolour classes in the south of France and was tempted, but it would have taken up a lot of my time. You can find these courses online, and the variety and prices are a mixture to suit anyone. They are not cheap but do offer a holiday with a difference. As well as abroad courses can be found in your own country. There are also cruises which run art classes aboard, if you can find some time away from eating.

Well that’s it, I hope I have given you encouragement to try painting on your holidays. Give it a go, you will enjoy it.

Stuart Semple Watercolours

This is a new palette of watercolours from Stuart Semple which he calls The World’s Colouriest Watercolours.

The set contains 36 pans of ridiculously high quality watercolours. Colours that are so vibrant and so pigmented that your work will totally hit a new level of potency when you use them. You will notice a very different painting experience, and you’ll see that your colours last way longer too. They have strange names such as alchemy, venom and grudge but they are very creamy colours and will be great for anyone wanting vibrant waterolours. At £36 for the set plus P&P they are very good value.

Here is a pen and ink drawing of Provence in which I washed in some of these colours to create the bright washed colours of the buildings. You can see more details of this palette here. Stuart Semple Palette.


New Online Watercolour Course

A brand new course featuring Cotherstone Mill is now available for £9.99 which is two thirds off the advertised lesson. There is a lot of detail in this painting as well as extras dealing with summer trees and stone walls.

I am very pleased with this lesson in which I wanted to develop a traditional scene, more details are on the Online Courses page.

As with all my courses you can see previews before you fully enrol by clicking on the Sign Up button on each lesson. You can see short examples before you actually pay, and you can even buy the lesson as a gift for someone. I have only been creating lessons online since November 2018 but already have over 160 students in over 24 countries.