Art Education . 8 mins

An Introduction to the World of Watercolor Painting by Tamara Clary

Tamara Clary

April 4, 2024

Watercolor painting, with its translucent layers and fluid blends, has a distinct charm that captures both the imagination of the artist and the heart of the beholder. Unlike the opaque strokes of oils or the boldness of acrylics, watercolor boasts a delicate luminosity that makes it uniquely compelling. Each brushstroke can hold a spectrum of color that ranges from the palest tint to a deep, saturated hue, creating a dance of light and color that is both unpredictable and harmonious.

What sets watercolor apart is its inherent spontaneity. The medium invites a sense of play and experimentation, where pigments and water interact on paper to create gradients and blooms that are often serendipitous. This quality makes watercolor both exhilarating and, at times, humbling for artists of all levels. The fluid nature of watercolor means it can be forgiving, blending colors seamlessly on the page, but it also requires a degree of surrender from the artist—to the whims of water and the quirks of pigment.

This blog post is crafted with the beginner in mind, aiming to demystify the world of watercolor and offer a starting point for those looking to delve into this enchanting medium. Tamara Clary brings over two decades of expertise not just in the fine art of painting but in distilling these concepts into teachable moments for her art camp students. From selecting the right brushes and paper to mastering basic techniques, the guidance provided here is a distillation of years of hands-on experience and love for the craft.

We will cover everything from setting up your workspace to completing your first simple project, ensuring that you have a solid foundation to build upon. Whether you aspire to capture the subtle nuances of a still life or the vibrant energy of a landscape, this guide will offer the tools and techniques to begin your journey with confidence. With patience, practice, and the insights from Tamara’s extensive teaching background, you’ll be ready to embrace the joyful unpredictability of watercolor painting and discover your own creative voice within its fluid strokes.

Watercolor Basics

Definition of Watercolor and Its Historical Background:

Watercolor painting is an art form characterized by the application of water-soluble pigments to paper, resulting in a transparent and luminous effect that is distinctive to the medium. Its roots can be traced back to ancient times, with early examples appearing in Paleolithic cave paintings. The technique evolved over centuries, flourishing in the Renaissance period as artists sought to capture the subtle nuances of light and color in their works. By the 18th and 19th centuries, watercolor had become a prominent medium in its own right, celebrated for its versatility and the delicate precision it afforded artists.

The Appeal of Watercolor for Artists of All Ages:

Watercolor painting holds a universal appeal, captivating both young beginners and seasoned artists. Its allure lies in the medium’s inherent fluidity and spontaneity, allowing for a playful interaction between pigment and water that can yield surprising results. For young artists, watercolor can be a forgiving introduction to painting, encouraging exploration and expression without the pressure of perfection. Experienced artists, on the other hand, appreciate the challenging nature of controlling such a fluid medium, finding joy in the delicate balance between intention and improvisation. Watercolor’s ability to produce works that range from washes of ethereal transparency to detailed and vibrant scenes make it a continually rewarding medium to explore.

Basic Materials Needed to Start:

Paints: Watercolor paints come in tubes and pans. Beginners may find pan sets convenient for their portability and ease of use, while tubes can offer more pigment and the ability to mix larger quantities of paint.

Brushes: A variety of brushes are essential for watercolor painting. A good starter kit should include a round brush (for detailed work and thin lines), a flat wash brush (for broad strokes and washes), and a medium-sized round brush (for versatility).

Paper: Watercolor paper is specifically designed to absorb water and pigment, preventing warping and preserving the integrity of the painting. 

Water: A clean water supply is essential for mixing paints and cleaning brushes. Keep two jars of water handy—one for washing your brush and the other for mixing clean colors.

Equipped with these basic materials, artists are well-prepared to embark on their watercolor journey. The simplicity of the medium, requiring only paint, brush, and paper, belies the depth and complexity of the art form itself. As we delve deeper into the techniques and projects in the following sections, remember that watercolor is as much about the process as it is about the final product—a journey of discovery, learning, and, most importantly, joy.

Fundamental Watercolor Techniques

Wet-on-Wet vs. Wet-on-Dry Techniques:

The beauty of watercolor lies in its versatility, and mastering the fundamental techniques of wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry is crucial to harnessing the medium’s full potential.

Wet-on-Wet: This technique involves applying watercolor paint onto a damp surface, allowing the colors to flow and blend into each other naturally. It’s ideal for creating soft, diffuse backgrounds and capturing the ephemeral quality of light. To achieve this effect, first wet the paper with a brush or sponge, then apply your pigment. The key is to experiment with the amount of water and paint to see how they interact, creating everything from subtle washes to vibrant blooms of color.

Wet-on-Dry: In contrast, the wet-on-dry technique involves applying wet paint onto dry paper. This method offers more control and is perfect for adding fine details, sharp lines, and distinct edges. It’s the technique of choice when painting subjects that require precision and clarity, such as architectural elements or botanical details. By adjusting the pressure of the brush and the paint’s consistency, artists can achieve a wide range of textures and effects.

Layering and Glazing Methods:

Layering: Building up layers, or “glazes,” of paint is a method to achieve depth and richness in a watercolor painting. Each layer must be completely dry before applying the next, preventing colors from bleeding into one another and allowing for intricate color blending and shading. This technique requires patience but rewards artists with complex, luminous results.

Glazing: Similar to layering, glazing involves applying thin, transparent layers of paint over a dry area to alter the hue or value without obscuring underlying details. Glazing can enhance the luminosity of a painting, add vibrancy to colors, or adjust tones subtly. It’s a powerful tool for fine-tuning a painting and adding a sense of cohesion to the colors used.

Creating Textures with Salt, Plastic Wrap, and Other Tools:

Salt: Sprinkling salt on wet watercolor paint creates a starburst effect, as the salt absorbs the water and pushes the pigment away. Once dry, brushing off the salt reveals a textured pattern that can mimic natural phenomena like snow, stars, or texture on landscapes.

Plastic Wrap: Laying plastic wrap over wet paint and gently crinkling it creates unique, abstract textures once the paint is dry. This technique can be used to simulate water, glass, or other textured surfaces.

Other Tools: Experimenting with items such as sponges, paper towels, or even a straw can yield surprising textures. Blowing through a straw onto a drop of wet paint spreads the pigment in radial patterns, perfect for creating organic shapes and backgrounds.

Each of these techniques offers a gateway into the expansive world of watercolor textures and effects. By combining these methods and experimenting with different tools and materials, artists can discover their unique style and bring their creative visions to life.


As we wrap up our introduction to the enchanting world of watercolor, remember that the journey into art is deeply personal and infinitely rewarding. With the techniques and insights shared by Tamara Clary, you’re now equipped with the foundational knowledge to begin exploring the vast and vibrant landscapes that watercolor painting offers.

The allure of watercolor lies in its blend of simplicity and complexity, its capacity for both serenity and spontaneity. It’s a medium that encourages artists to embrace the unpredictable, to find beauty in the blend of water and pigment, and to express their vision with both boldness and subtlety.

Whether you’re taking your first steps into painting or looking to add watercolor to your artistic repertoire, approach each brushstroke with curiosity and joy. Experiment with wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques, layer and glaze to create depth, and play with textures to bring your paintings to life. Remember, every artist’s journey is unique—there’s no “right” way to create, only your way.

Tamara Clary’s two decades of nurturing creativity in the Raleigh area have shown that art is not just about the final piece; it’s about the process, the learning, and the joy found in every moment of creation. So, gather your brushes, paints, and paper, and let the world of watercolor unfold before you. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the successes, and above all, enjoy the journey. After all, the true magic of watercolor lies in the endless possibilities it presents, ready to be discovered by you.

Ready to elevate your art? Register now for our Saturday Art Classes and start transforming your watercolor skills today! Spots are limited – secure yours and embark on a colorful journey of creativity and growth.

Happy painting!