Tutorial: Getting the Most Out of Your Watercolors


It’s been a while since I’ve busted out the paints. I love painting! Painting was my life before I had kids.


When talking to friends about my love for painting the conversation usually steers towards watercolor, “the most difficult paint medium”They’re not as difficult as you may think. If you’ve got the right tools, you’ll be surprised how forgiving the medium is.

Periodically, I’d like to chime in here and there with a few tips on painting with watercolor. Let’s start with the basic tools and how to get saturated tones.


You can buy yourself tubes or cakes of watercolor. Here I have Talens transparent watercolor set. They come in a nice travel-sized set. I use these most because they’re so compact, pack up quickly and the pigments are great. I never know how much time I’m going to get to paint, so I have to be able to clean up at a moment’s notice. I have a tube set with a giant palette, but I never use those. The palette takes up too much space (I typically paint in chaos, when there’s not much clean desk space around).

I like to have a variety of brushes as well. To start, you’ll want a 4 round, 8 round (make sure they have sharp points) and a broad flat. The big ones get expensive really fast, but they’re worth every penny. They’ll last forever (mine are 10 years old and still going strong). I prefer synthetic brushes, but not everyone feels the same way.

You’ll want the best paper you can find. I prefer Arches rough watercolor paper, 140lbs or greater. Get the 300lb paper if you can afford it. It’s SO much more forgiving and it feels so nice. You could also go for cold or hot press, I prefer the texture of rough watercolor paper.


You must get a giant jar of water. The above jar does alright, but I change it out every 30 minutes or so. If you can spare an ice cream bucket, get the bucket. And fill it with hot water.

Don’t forget the hot water.


For saturated tones, add a few generous drops of warm/hot water to each cake. Wait a minute or two before starting. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes. Your colors will dry brighter and your expensive brush will last longer.


See the above? The first was just done with a wet brush and dry pigment. The colors are muted. Granted, that works with the ceramic subject matter. But sometimes a subject needs more drama than Scandal, so I soak my pigments. And I love my drama. Stay tuned for more of these painting tips/tutorials.

These things I learned during high school while taking private lessons from local artist, Harold Petersen. No one ever mentioned this stuff in college. Watercolor seemed to be the bastard medium in the paint department.


Perhaps it’s because I’m behind on everything, I didn’t realize my friend Alison has a new watercolor series on her blog as well! Wow. Where have I been? I really try not to copy-cat what’s out there. Of course, it’s not like this blog is the only place you can get information and tutorials like this and it’s not like everyone uses the same techniques or materials. I’m pinning my favorite watercolor tutorials and DIY inspiration over here. Check it out. There are some great resources out there if you’re interested in learning.

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    1. Katie says:

      Love this! I really, really want to take some painting classes. My Mom can water paint and she’s so talented.

      Excited to try some of the things you pinned, like the stencil idea and the child’s portrait. Thanks!

    2. Kristin H says:

      I love watercolor! You’re right, it is the bastard child of collegiate art departments. Yet, it’s one of the harder mediums to master. Nothing makes my eyes roll harder than a white tube of watercolor paint. It just shouldnt exist! Great tips – never thought to use warm water!

    3. Kate says:

      I LOVE this! Thanks for sharing these tips- I’ve always just wet the pigment as I paint, definitely going to try using hot water and letting it sit. Also this post makes me want to go spend ALL THE MONEY on art supplies.

    4. Nikki says:

      Thank you so much for posting this! I kid you not, last night I went to buy water color supplies because I’ve really wanted to try it out! I wish I had read this post first, because I felt a little lost at the art supply store. (But you gotta start somewhere, right?) Looks like I need to go get some additional brushes!

    5. Alison says:

      this is fantastic! Not copying at all! the more info the better! xo

    6. fathima says:

      I’ve just come across your blog for the first time and am so excited to explore! Thanks for sharing your expertise – i dabble in watercolour but have never been taught any techniques so I just make it up as I go along. So great to hear from experienced people like you.

    7. Leigh says:


    8. MIREYA PIZARRO says:

      Thanks I am loving this tutorial and yeah I did the technique you mention by mere chance and thought wow my color looks amazing. Thanks for your help.

    9. Ann Allen says:

      Would like to follow you. Your comment on the warm water is a first for me. Thank you.

    10. […] a clean surface all prepped and your watercolors soaking in warm/hot water (SEE THIS TUTORIAL for why), wet your brush. Dip it all the way in and swirl it around. Water is your […]

    11. vicki says:

      I wish that I would have read your post first also. I myself haven’t watercolor since high school & I’m in my mid 50’s, so I have a lot to learn all over again. I’ve never heard about the hot water before. But, I under stand now! Kinda like trying to drive a cold car! I learned more from your shot post then any others this whole month, I would Love to follow you if I can. I’m pretty excited to get started painting! Thank You

    12. Robin Rouse says:

      im a newbie ive never taken any classes ive picked up some things from the u tube stuff but mainly i just put some paper in front of me and paint what i feel but i discovered the hot water thing all by myself, i did need to know what kind of color to use and paper also . I didnt know what kind of medium i wated to use until I saw watercolor and I’m in love.

    13. Tara L. says:

      Love this!!! I’ve always been sort of doubting my ability to paint well with watercolors, but now I’m excited to try it! Lots of great tips here. Thanks!!

    14. Superb information. Your colouring tips are awesome. Loved it. Surely i will it today.


    15. Isa says:

      Thanks for the hot water tip! Colours change so much!

      I will only add a piece of advice for that: Don’t take as much pigment as you usually do with cold water the first time!

    16. […] 17. How to get the most out of your watercolours with Melissa Esplin […]

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