Watercolor tutorial pt. 1: BASICS & SUPPLIES

You know how much I love Yao…and now she’s sharing her watercolor GENIUS with all of us! I’m so excited to paint along! This is the first in a series of five watercolor tutorials.

Yao has sweetly offered you guys 20% off at her shop or etsy shop using the code THEALISONSHOW !! So be sure to check out her gorgeous work.

Take it away Yao!

watercolor basics

Hello there!

I am so happy to be introducing a series of tutorials on watercolor with you guys today! Starting with this first one on the basics and supplies of painting watercolor, I will be sharing techniques and tools of how I use watercolor. There are numerous ways to approach this medium, so I won’t be covering every technique there is out there. However, you can find lots of great information and demos here that will hopefully broaden your creative palette!

I have always loved to paint and create art, but when I discovered the wonders of watercolor a few years ago, I really feel like I have found my voice. I can probably talk about watercolor all day, but I’m going to just touch on some of the basics in this tutorial and go into more detail about different techniques later in the series! For me, watercolor is not only a wonderful medium to paint with, but it also teaches me a lot about how I approach my work. I’ve learned a great deal about just enjoying the process of creating a painting rather than worrying about the final result. The beauty of watercolor is that it isn’t possible to plan out exactly how it will turn out in the end. At some point in the process of painting with watercolor, you have to step back a little bit and just allow it to blend and dry how it wants. Embracing that aspect was certainly hard for me to do in the beginning as I like to be a perfectionist in my work! However, once I became more used to this quality to watercolor, it was liberating and so much fun to just let it do its own thing!

I’m going to first talk a little bit about the types of supplies that I have found to work best, and then I will touch briefly on some of my favorite techniques and tools!

Screen shot 2013-06-13 at 5.57.14 PM



Strathmore and Arches are two brands that I highly recommend trying out. The Arches watercolor paper line offers watercolor blocks as well as single sheets. I mostly use their cold press watercolor blocks because it allows me to work on a few different pieces at once and is also easy to carry when I paint outside. In addition, the Arches line of watercolor blocks offer different grades in hot (smooth) and cold press (textured). The cold press grades have a wonderful texture to it that captures the natural imperfection of brush marks well.


I recently found a very affordable fold over palette that I am really loving because it is small enough that I can take it with me on trips!


This is probably my favorite subject to talk about! I have found that Winsor & Newton make the best pigments out there, and even though they are a bit pricier, their watercolors are definitely worth it. They have two grades of quality in their watercolors, and I would recommend their Artist line because the colors are richer. If you are looking for some great brights to add a pop to your artwork, try Winsor Lemon, Scarlet Lake, Opera Rose, and Cobalt Turquoise Light! Something to keep in mind about watercolor pigments is to shy away from using white to lighten a color. Watercolor pigments have this natural transparent quality to it that it rarely requires the use of white when mixing colors, so if you want a light yellow, all you have to do is mix more water with it!

As far as other ways of using color goes, Prismacolor makes a line of watercolor pencils that you can use to draw with and blend afterwards with water. I like to use it sometimes when I’m in a hurry and just want to sketch out an idea!


Great brushes are definitely worth investing in! It’s not great fun when the hairs of a cheap brush start falling out in the middle of painting. There are a variety of brushes out there, and it really depends on the project and what you are comfortable with. For example, the round brushes are very versatile and can achieve a variety of subjects and shapes from tree branches to larger shapes. But an angled brush might be great if you are painting mostly straight lines or angular shapes. The flat brushes are similar to an angled brush but because the bristles are usually longer and denser, they are terrific for washes and large coverage. My favorite line of brushes has to be the Synthetic Sable series from Princeton Art & Brush! The prices are reasonable, durable and offer a wide range of brush types.

The next few basic techniques are very easy and approachable to anyone who is interested in exploring watercolor. I will be dedicating upcoming posts to each technique and talk more in detail about tips and tricks!


watercolor basics: blending

Blending is probably where I first fell in love with watercolor. It is mesmerizing to watch different colors blending together, and since it is hard to predict what the end result will be, I am always pleasantly surprised. There are so many ways to blend colors from using a dry brush on a wet surface to using a wet brush on a damp surface. Take some time to really explore different combinations of blending between wet/dry surfaces and colors and see what kinds of results you like to use the most.

Painting flowers is a great way to explore the blending technique. You can create soft pedals, for example, by dragging the wet color across with a clean, wet brush.
watercolor basics: blending
watercolor basics: blending

Or you can add color to an already wet surface and have it blend in a more unpredictable way.
watercolor basics: blending

Blending two different colors together while the paper is still wet often have very interesting results. Don’t be afraid to try different color combinations and in different saturations levels!
watercolor basics: blending

What makes watercolor different from acrylics or inks is that it is pretty easy to correct mistakes. If the area is still wet, just add some water to that area and dab it with some paper towel. So don’t panic if you laid down a color or shape that you no longer want, just add some water and that should take care of most of the issue!

watercolor basics: marks

Mark making is an important way of how I approach my paintings. Ranging from fast and gestural marks to meticulous and controlled marks, knowing how to use your brush will strengthen how you express your ideas through your painting. There are many different marks you can make with various brushes. I would try experimenting with different brush types and see the kinds of marks they make and which suits your needs. Round brushes are what I use the most when painting because they are versatile enough to create fine details as well as broader strokes. You will find that brushes with lots of pigment and brushes with not so much make very different kinds of marks!
watercolor basics: marks

This angled brush is great for more precise shapes and corners!
watercolor basics: marks

While this wash brush is similar to the angled one, it is very good for washes and broad coverage.

watercolor basics: transparency
I use transparency a lot in my work because it is so great for layering images and creating density within the artwork. It can be dense and opaque by layering colors and imagery, or it can be incredibly translucent and light. Try combining blending techniques with layers of colors and shapes! Transparent images work best if you go from light to more saturated colors. Be sure to allow each layer to dry completely to avoid accidental blends.
Screen shot 2013-06-13 at 6.12.21 PM

Last but not least, trying creating translucent shapes with blends and layers. By combining different techniques together, you can create beautiful complexities that are visually intriguing.

Well I hope you guys enjoyed this introduction and found some of these watercolor techniques helpful!

Until next time,

Updated April 2015Yao now offers an online tutorial! Check it out! 


  1. Awesome!! 🙂 More of this please!!!

  2. Janvier

    Thank you so much to both of you for this fabulous tutorial! I love to watercolor and found this immensely helpful. Yao is a real talent! I feel like she, and you, should work with Martha. Best of luck to you both. Can’t believe there are 4 more tutorials coming; this one was so comprehensive already!

    1. haha thank you! I know I’m so excited for the rest! now I need to order my supplies!

  3. EEK!!! This is so awesome! I LOVE you!!! Thank you!

  4. Wonderful tutorial Alison! Thank you so much. The pictures are gorgeous and I have that block of Arches on my wishlist. Shared on Facebook too. xo

  5. This is so fantastic – lately I’ve been wanting to learn how to paint with watercolor. It’s such a beautiful hobby. Keep up this series please!

  6. Thanks so much for this-I think I need to pull out my art supplies and try again!

  7. I haven’t played with my watercolors since college. You have reignighted my interest. Thank you for this.
    Prudence Canfield

  8. Wow this is a great tutorial. I have been meaning to post a tutorial on my blog about botanical painting with watercolours…time keeps ticking! This is so well done. I love how you presented it. Nice blog too 🙂

  9. Well done tutorial. Both very educating and inspiring! Thank you!

  10. Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial, it is by far the best one I have seen around. It’s decided, I am getting all my supplies organised tomorrow! Looking forward to part 2 🙂

  11. Brittany Kleiss

    This looks amazing I wish I had time to paint right now! I also dying to learn to work with pastels after discovering Out To Play’s amazing work! I’ll just add this amazing ness to the list of stuff I’d love to do!

  12. Ana


    Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing. Would you please share the name of the palette that you use? I’ve been looking for a good travel one for ages.

  13. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I recently started dabbling in watercolour, but don’t have any real knowledge about it, so this was very informative.

  14. Kay Curlee

    Great tutorial. Made me think I can do this. I would so love yo do this. Thank you!!

  15. thank you so much for this tutorial serie, I attended a course in my city, but I focused on oil painting. now I’d love to learn watercolors, also for my scrapbooking pages, this tutorial will be very useful, you are so talented!

  16. Maravilloso tuto! ya me anoto para leerlos todos 😀

  17. This is a great tutorial, and the images are so beautiful! Thanks for sharing!


  18. Gail Somerton

    Thank you so much for a great beginner tutorial. I just became interested in watercolours and to my great pleasure I have purchased the correct materials and brushes. I look forward to purchasing your choice of colours as it is flowers I wish to paint. I look forward to tutorial #2. Thank you


  19. Wonderful & generous! Thank you both!

  20. Wow! These tutorials are amazing. You are so talented! Thank you for sharing!

  21. thank you so much! 🙂 loving this

  22. carla buijs

    thanks for your lessons, i realy love it.

  23. Nancy Barra

    I was so excited when I saw this come up on my facebook page because I am trying to work on some art pieces for my two great-granddaughters. I started working with watercolors about a year ago but have been sidetracked until now. Picked up my Prismcolor pencils but it wasn’t producing the results I wanted so I pulled out my Windser Newton water colors. I have the paper your recommending plus the colors, just not the confindense that I can produce a nice watercolor picture. Your tutorial has inspired me now and I’m sure I can work a little magic now. Thank you so much! Nancy

  24. why do i get marks left around my clouds

  25. Marjory

    wow! thank you

  26. Cheryl

    Thanks for this tutorial. I’m wondering why my first beginner set of watercolor tubes included white. I was glad to learn there is no/little need for it. When I tried adding it to other colors it just settled to the bottom and I had a heck of a time getting it to dissolve in the water in the first place. No trouble like that with the other colors. Anyway, what would be an appropriate use for white??

  27. yay! this is awesome! I’ve been dying to try to do watercolor, but I just didn’t know where to start. Thanks for this!

  28. Daniella

    Wow. Thanks you for sharing such a lovely tutorial! I recently bought some watercolours, but wasn’t really sure what to start with. This is so helpful! I love the medium.

  29. I just wanted to thank you so much for this awesome tutorial and supply list. My 11 year old son is Home School/Online school this year, and we’re looking to do a little art. When I saw this, I immediately knew we’d try our hand at Watercolor. He’s excited, the supplies have been purchased, and we’ll follow your instructions to the letter. Thank you for offering this – I am sending to all my girlfriends who Home school because this is truly a great painting technique to master even for young ages. You Rock!

  30. I am so glad to have found your awesome blog and this great series! Thanks so much!

  31. Holly

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Would it be possible to list out your entire color palette of W&N colors? I had a hard time reading some of the colors, others didn’t correspond to an actual W&N color (like apple green), and there seem to be more colors on your painted palette than tubes. Many thanks!

  32. Luz Piedad


  33. Thank you Alison! So full of everyday watercolor stuff most teachers forget to offer.

  34. Claralee

    Excellent; clear concise very helpful

  35. Carla

    Thank you so much for this series! You inspired me to try watercolors and I completely fell in love although I’m no artist! Your work is beautiful! Thanks again!

  36. Linda Cooke

    Just love your tutorials and I love watercolors. There’s just something so therapeutic about painting with this medium.
    I know you said you use the Princeton Synthetic Sable brushes. I have a few flat brushes but I noticed you are used a round brush…can you tell me what series that is. I can’t really tell but it looked like an 11 or 12, but I would love to know what series.
    Thanks, so much L.

  37. Carolina Bock

    Omg, I’ve always loved how watercolor paintings look but when I try it I’m terrible at it! I’m starting to read your tutorials and this first part I found it surprisingly amazing! I’m a perfectionist too and I tend to feel out of control when I work with watercolors, so I’ll try to be a bit more patient and see how it goes, up to reading Part 2 of this tutorial! Thank you so much for your tips! Greetings from Mexico 🙂

  38. cindy shipley


  39. Shirley Stephenson

    So helpful, I really feel I can get started now on something I have wanted to do for years. Have to go, must start reading part 2! Can’t wait.
    Thanks so much.

  40. A really great tutorial. I was just fallen in love with watercolors and with your tricks I want to paint rightnow.

  41. hooray! this is exactly what I needed. I’ve been wanting to try out watercolors for a while, but I didn’t know where to begin. Thank you!

  42. Debbie

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s awesome. I will be getting my water colors back out! I found you through Elise Blaha’s website. I will follow 🙂

  43. Looking forward to more in this series! I love painting with oils, acrylics, oil and chalk pastels, you name it…but watercolors have always made nervous with their unpredictability. I’m thinking of giving them another go, though!

  44. i’m tentatively falling in love with watercolours & this tutorial was delicious. thanks 😉



  45. Luisa

    I love your step by step explanations. I have been working in watercolors for years and still find it challenging. There is always more to learn. Thnanks

  46. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial.I am a watercolor newbie, and falling in love with this medium more & more.

  47. Oh goodness, I just discovered this almost a year after it’s been posted, where was I? This is just awesome stuff! Yao’s watercolors are amazing and I can’t wait to see the rest of her work and tutorials. Brilliant idea! More please :)!!!

  48. Boclairltd

    Just found your site and it is beautiful! This tutorial is awesome as well. You rock!


    1. hank you! Yao is amazing!

  49. This is so useful – always loved to use watercolour but it’s one of my most feared mediums because i can’t get it right. Thank you!!!! x

  50. This is a very great way of getting started with aquarel painting. Been trying for as long as I can remember, but at the end I was disappointed by the result. So back to acrylic paint. Maybe this time I’m going to finish and be happy with the results.
    Thanks for sharing!

  51. Renata

    Really really great, my dear!

  52. After seven years of learning and loving photography, I am finally stepping out into unknown territory – I’m learning to draw first; then I’m going to try watercolor. I loved this tutorial; it gave me a great jumping off point for giving the basics a try – something I plan to do this weekend. Thank you for the push!

  53. Fawn

    Thank you! I’ve been looking for a watercolor tutorial that was simple and basic. This is it!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge! Now it’s time to get out my watercolors and brushes! 🙂

  54. At 46, I discovered I was an artist, having never thought I was a creative person before then. Now I make my living as a successful metal art welder. At 48, I’m looking to see what else I can do! As a kid I used to color and paint with those old “Paint With Water” coloring type books and just loved it.

    Now, I’m excited to start using watercolors as a grown-up and loved this beautiful tutorial. I’m totally inspired.

    Cheers to artists at every age, it’s never too late to be creative!

    “I love what I do and hope it’s “inspiring4u2!”

    Many, many thanks!

    Lisa Fair
    metal artist – http://www.inspiring4u2.com
    Starbursts featured on Nickelodeon TV (The Thundermans), boutique hotels, and in homes around the globe – http://www.etsy.com/shop/inspiring4u2

  55. Gail Hunt

    This was great, Yao. I am really behind only just having found this and I hope to find Tutorial number 2 right after submitting this comment. This was very helpful. Thank you!

  56. Well this is freakin awesome!!!

  57. Watercolor tutorial pt. 1: BASICS & SUPPLIES – The Alison Show
    ieljbxgzqw http://www.gf6n2ha50sp2268g703u6d4365layfoos.org/

  58. Watercolor tutorial pt. 1: BASICS & SUPPLIES – The Alison Show
    ltflscxrjl http://www.g1oxh82n38w79s66ipwey454y34b10dss.org/

  59. Hi!

    I would like to recommend watercolors from the brand “Daniel Smith”. Those are really vibrant and lumenous to paint with. Have you ever tried this brand and if you have: What was your opinion?

  60. brandi smith

    Beautiful and concise strokes, inspiring and I m looking fwd to part 2.

  61. Norma

    HiI´m from Argentina. I´m a complete bigginer as regard painting , I´m just trying lo have a look at this advice and get to work. I´ve found them really helpful. Lt´s see qhat come out. Lookin forward to see part twoo, as well- Thanks

  62. Penny

    Thank you so much for sharing . I’m so new to watercolor that I know pretty much nothing. This tutorial has been a great help. Looking forward to more tutorials. Thanks..Penny

  63. Ilsa Terezinha Fava

    Adorei seu tutorial, realmente muito didático, me ajudou bastante! Iniciei no mês de março/2017 o curso de aquarela, técnica pela qual sou apaixonada! Abraços.

  64. maria

    thanks, this tutorial has been mi thanks four you help

  65. Dirlenis

    What about Part 2 of the lessons? Where can I get it?

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