Introduction to watercolour: Finding your watercolour style

In this post, I explore ways to help you find your watercolour style.  Drawing from my own experience, I walk you through a process that will assist you in finding your voice in watercolour.  This post is part of the watercolour series in the “Creating with …” category.

I was introduced to watercolour as a child.  I never really took to it as the colours seemed so washed out and never had the oomph I loved about the application of colour on to a drawing.  There was a lot of waiting time between layers and if I rushed it, it would all become a big puddle of colour as the wet paints would bleed into each other.  So I gravitated towards acrylics.  I simply love the visual weight of the paint.  Relative to oils,  its odourless nature and the ease of washing up won me over hands down.  It was always my go-to medium when I felt the need to paint something.

Then in July 2015, I was re-introduced to watercolour when a friend gave me a big care package of watercolour supplies.  Let’s be honest, I didn’t love it when I tried it again.  It was so alien.  The patience required, the unpredictable nature of the medium and the needed light touch when working with watercolour were things I weren’t used to.  I was used to painting in a frenzy.  I was used to paint staying put where I had painted them.  I was definitely not used to paint having a mind of its own!  I felt awkward and my paintings showed it.  I was close to giving up when my friend said something to me that changed my perspective.  She said, “It’s only water.  Don’t be afraid of it.”  She hit it right on the head, I WAS intimidated by it.

So I pressed on.  I wasn’t going to be beat by some pigment floating in gum arabic! I hoped that through constantly working with the watercolours, I would begin to feel more comfortable and produce all the lovely watercolour paintings and sketches you see on Instagram.  And then, it happened!  One day, I decided to repaint the acrylic painting you see below in watercolour.

Anemones. Acrylic on paper. 21cm x 30cm. Adelyn Siew 2015

As I painted the second layer of flowers, my heart began to sing.  The transparency of the paint and the resulting effect at the intersecting points of the paints were singing such a lovely chorus, I joined in! And as I painted each new layer of flowers, my heart sang even louder.

Watercolour anemone
Watercolour anemone. Watercolour on paper. 15cm x 21cm. Adelyn Siew 2015

I realised in that moment that I had equated watercolour paint to watercolour realism.   I had to break my preconceived ideas about watercolour.  So I explored.  I googled “contemporary watercolour”. I searched Instagram for #watercolorabstract and scoured Pinterest for watercolour pins.  A whole new world of watercolour styles opened up to me.  Now, I am happily experimenting and loving the new discoveries each time I paint with watercolours.

If you are at the start of your watercolour journey and feeling discouraged, could I make a few suggestions?

  • Don’t be afraid of water – Like my friend said, it is only water.  Don’t be intimidated by it.  Because watercolour is pigments in a water-based binder, any paint that is misplaced on the paper or does not sit well on the page can be washed away!  That’s right, dip your brush in clean water and brush over the area.  Take a dry tissue paper or kitchen roll and dab the “mistake” away! Easy peasy.
  • Buy mid-range paints, brushes and paper – Okay, I know I am going to cop some flack over this piece of advice.  However, if you are just starting out and trying to find your happy place with watercolour, it doesn’t make sense to go get the best there is to paint with.  Top of the range watercolour paints, paper and brushes are expensive.  When you are constantly aware of how expensive the paint and paper are, you will not be willing to experiment.  Buy the student grade range from the major brands like Windsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, or Art Spectrum (Australian made).  I’d go for a set because they tend to be cheaper.  For brushes, don’t head for a kolinsky sable brush yet.  Imitation sable brushes are great to start with.  For paper, a watercolour sketchbook from your local art and craft supply store would suffice.  A4 size is a good mid-size.  I am suggesting a sketchbook instead of loose paper or art pad because it keeps all your paintings together.  I feel it is important at this stage to have all your paintings within easy reach for referencing when you are experimenting styles.  Remember, you don’t need a wide range of colours yet and three or four brushes of varying sizes are plenty.  Steer clear of cheap paints and brushes though.  The paints won’t be as bright and smooth, and the brushes will frustrate you when they shed their bristles on your paintings!
  • Explore Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and your local library – See what amazing paintings other artists are producing in watercolour.  Be inspired.  Find inspiration from the internet.  Engage with other artists on social media.  The idea to paint my anemones in watercolour came to me in an Instagram conversation with a watercolour artist.  Study their techniques.  Take up an online course.  They don’t need to cost the moon.  I did the Yao Cheng watercolour series on Creative Bug.  (At present, Creative Bug is offering 14-day free trial.)  Check out the free watercolour video lessons on Jerry’s Artarama.  Don’t forget your local library.  Borrow every single watercolour book.  Browse through the images and practise the techniques.
  • Experiment, experiment, experiment – Collate a number of images or style you like and try it out in your sketchbook.  Explore how the painting process makes your feel.  Does it make your heart sing?  Does the technique feel natural.  If after experimenting with a style, you don’t feel a connection to the painting, the style probably doesn’t suit you.  Move on to the next image.  We are aiming for volume not perfection.  The point of this exercise is to experiment with as many styles and techniques as you can manage until you strike one or two that reverberates with you.

I am most certain that by the time you work through your first sketchbook, you would have found a style you are comfortable to work in or even created your own unique artistic voice.

Useful links on this topic:

  • The discussion on this Wetcanvas thread has a lot of good suggestions on finding your style.
  • has a comprehensive collection of watercolour techniques for you to try out.  Each technique is supported by step-by-step images.
  • Carrie of Artist Think makes the point that we aren’t stuck to one style for the rest of our lives.

I know I have mainly written about finding a watercolour style but the process I have suggested above are applicable across many mediums.  Where are you at in your artistic journey?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or via my social media platforms.

Next up in the Creating with watercolour series, I’ll help you put together your very own palette.

Paint and paint some more,



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