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Watercolour Hints & Tips

Watercolour Painting Hints & Tips

Loved by professionals and amateurs alike, watercolour painting is perhaps one of the world's oldest painting traditions. Its popularity has remained consistent for centuries, and it is still a common choice today for those just taking up painting. Suitable for a whole variety of applications and techniques, watercolour can be used to create anything from the most expressive landscapes to finely detailed portraits.

Watercolour painting has been a popular activity in the western world for many centuries, although it's history can be traced back much further. The most primitive watercolour paints were made using natural pigments that were obtained from organic sources; common pigments included clays, earths and even vegetable-based dyes that were bound with gum or egg. Some of these pigments are still in use today in our favourite earth colours, although they have been refined.

Watercolour gained early popularity with artists creating decorative manuscripts and religious texts, although it was commonly used in conjunction with a white 'body' colour to create an opaque base. As the medium gained favour with landscape artists, many chose to forgo this base colour in favour of utilising the paints natural transparency. As the two separate techniques developed, watercolour painting using an opaque base became known as 'gouache' and evolved into its own distinct medium. Following developments in papermaking, there were fewer impurities in artists' paper which consequently enhanced the vibrancy of watercolour on paper.

Over the centuries watercolour has been reinvented by notable artists like Turner, Cotman and Girtin, who's work has continued to inspire further generations of watercolour artists. Following the introduction of new mediums, brushes and sundries, contemporary watercolourists will find even more creative potential at their fingertips!

The Properties of Watercolour

Watercolour paints are made from very finely ground pigments suspended in a binder made from water and Gum Arabic. Each pigment creates a colour with its own unique characteristics, and it is these characteristics that give watercolour its unique working properties. There are three main properties that watercolourists can use to their advantage when painting; granulation, staining, and transparency.

Granulation is a property used by artists to create texture in their artwork. The pigment in granulating colours gathers together in little clusters that are visible on the surface of the paper. These pools of colour dry to a dark, grainy and uneven finish. This characteristic is more pronounced on NOT or Rough paper where the pigment can collect in the natural pits of the paper. There are also variations in the granulation of different colours. Fine pigments have a tendency to 'flocculate', which is when the pigment will collect together in uniform clumps. Heavier pigments are more likely to collect directly into the troughs of the paper. Not all colours are granulating colours, the ones that are will be marked by manufacturers on their colour charts, most commonly with a letter 'G'. Some manufacturers, such as Winsor & Newton, produce Granulating Medium, which can be used if you want to create texture with otherwise non-granulating colours.

Some watercolour paints have very strong pigments and will not be able to be lifted from the paper using a towel or sponge; these types of colours are referred to as 'staining' colours. There are various levels of staining, and some manufacturers will denote colours as being low, medium or high staining colours. Older pigments do tend to lift quite easily as a rule, and you will most likely find that more modern pigments are the most difficult to lift.

Traditionally, watercolourists dilute their paint with water to make fluid washes; although not unheard of, it is unusual to see it applied opaque. The pigments included in a manufacturers colour range will have varying degrees of transparency. The most transparent colours will allow previous layers of colour to show through and are excellent for creating glazes. More opaque colours, such as cadmium colours, create strong, vibrant colour and will allow little if any of the previous layer of colour to show through. There are some pigments that lie in between transparent and opaque, commonly known as translucent, semi-transparent or semi-opaque colours. These colours allow varying degrees of previous layers to show through the wash. The transparency of your chosen pigments will also have a bearing on how they mix with the other colours in your palette.

Another thing to bear in mind when choosing colours for your painting is the permanence of the paints that you are using. In most professional quality ranges the majority of pigments have a good permanence, although there may be one or two pigments that may not. Pigments are also usually rated for their lightfastness. Lightfastness ratings refer to how quickly the colour will fade when exposed to sunlight. It is important for artists who frame, hang and display their paintings to bear this in mind. For designers or illustrators who are creating artwork mainly for reproduction, lightfastness may not be so much of an issue. Some pigments have poor ratings, but due to the popularity or vibrancy of their colour they are usually kept in a manufacturers range. Artists who mainly work in sketchbooks or keep their work in portfolios may make use of these colours as their work is not directly exposed to light.

Our Watercolour Range

We stock a great range of watercolour paints, with ranges suitable for artists of all abilities. Our watercolour paints are generally split into two categories; professional (or artists') quality paints and student quality paints.

Professional or Artists' Quality watercolour paints are of the highest quality. They are generally highly pigmented and the ranges often contain a high ratio of single pigment colours. As the pigments in a professional quality paint are much more finely ground, they tend to mix much more smoothly with the binder; although it should be noted that some heavy pigments may split from the binder and sink to the bottom of the tube. If this happens, excess binder can be squeezed from the tube and the remaining pigment mixed together. Alternatively a small toothpick can be inserted into the tube and used to mix the binder back in.

Some paints contain additional ingredients to their binders to enhance particular qualities to the paint. Sennelier Artists' L'Aquarelle Watercolours, for example, include honey in addition to gum in their binder. This honey creates incomparable brightness and smoothness. In Sennelier's case the amount of honey used has been adjusted and refined over the years to provide optimum vibrancy and consistency.

Student Range watercolours are a great alternative for artists who are working to a budget, or who are just trying out the medium for the first time. Our student quality watercolours include Cotman and White Nights. These paints are still manufactured to the same high standards that you would expect, but the paints commonly use more affordable pigments. Delivering vibrant colour suitable for all your favourite watercolour techniques, they offer great value for money and are a great introduction to the medium.

Our range of watercolour paints includes:

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours


  • 108 colours in 5ml, 14ml

  • 84 colours in Half Pans

  • 71 colours in Whole Pans

  • 24 colours in 37ml tubes

Daler Rowney Artists' Watercolour


  • 79 colours in Half Pans, 5ml and 15ml

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolour


  • 87 colours in 5ml

  • 266 colours in 15ml

  • 48 15ml luminescent colours

MaimeriBlu Artists' Watercolours


  • 72 colours in 15ml

  • 56 colours in Half Pans

Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Artists Watercolour


  • 139 colours in 5ml

  • 139 colours in 15ml

Sennelier Artists L'Aquarelle Watercolour


  • 98 colours in 10ml

  • 39 colours in 21ml

  • 98 colours in Half Pans

  • 33 colours in Whole Pans

Rosa Gallery Watercolours


  • 70 colours in 10ml and Pans

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolours


  • 40 colours in 8ml, 21ml and Half Pans

Click here to see our range of Watercolour Paints