Hi, I’m Andrea England, and World Watercolor Month is my favorite arty event of the year! And, this year is extra exciting as I get to join in as a Watercolor Ambassador! One of the great things about World Watercolor Month is it supports The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, who do amazing work ensuring that children around the world have access to art materials and the means to express their creativity.
These days I am a full time artist and sailor, but my other life is as a primary school teacher and art coordinator. I’ve taught watercolor to children from Grade 3-8, and Charlie has kindly said I can pass on some of my favorite activities for you to try with budding artists in your life (of any age)!
I’ve tried to choose ideas which are easy to adapt and which teach skills that can be applied to a whole host of paintings. Watercolor Mixing is the first project, and I’ll be back with a couple more next week! You can follow along with my steps, but it’s even better when you change the colors or try to paint something different. That’s when you’re really getting creative!
However old or young you are, quality materials can make a difference to the results and satisfaction that you obtain from painting. Watercolor sets aimed at children are non-toxic and washable- essentials for the youngest artists! Slightly older artists are less likely to eat or wear the paint and will get more success and enjoyment out of quality student paints such as Winsor & Newton Cotman or, best of all, an artist-quality range such as Daniel Smith. Good quality paints are more likely to use pure pigments, unlike cheaper brands which are often blends; these can be chalky or lead to muddy mixes.
They also last a long time- and even three tubes of primary colors are enough to get started. Have a look at Charlie’s Da Vinci Trio for a great example! Either tube or pan form are fine to start with, and you can make your own pans by letting tubes dry in a palette or paint box. Liquid watercolors such as Dr Ph Martin’s are bright, intense color. A little goes a long way so adult supervision is a good idea, but young artists will love the intense results.
If you’re using pans of paints, a small atomizer spray of water is great for pre-wetting the blocks and getting rich color. It also means the young artist doesn’t need to grind their brush into the paint! Low, sturdy bottomed water containers are ideal for younger children, and two of my young painter friends really love borrowing my waterbrushes. They are a low-mess option and the children clean them carefully on a rag whenever they change color.
Watercolors deserve real watercolor paper, whatever the age of the artist. Cheap cartridge papers absorb watercolors so they lose their intensity, and often bobble and warp under a wash. Try 300 gsm watercolor paper with a cold-pressed surface. I’ve used Bockingford pads for the activities here. For children, the biggest challenge of using watercolors is waiting for paint to dry, so cut larger sheets down into small pieces so they can work on multiple pieces at once, or use a hairdryer to give an impatient young artist a helping hand.
Reasonable synthetic brushes are available for just a few dollars. It only takes two to start with- a larger mop for washes to cover a large area and a smaller brush for detail. Steer clear of stiff bristle brushes (unless you’re trying to create textures), and beware of the brushes that come with cheap sets as they often struggle to hold a point.
For mixing, a cheap plastic palette does the job nicely. At a pinch you can also use the lid off a yogurt pot or ice cream tub- though it’s best if these are white so the artist can see the color they are mixing!
Scrap paper is really handy for testing out color mixes and strength. I keep off cuts if I trim paper down, and if a painting goes wrong I’ll flip it over or cut it into strips for testing colors or techniques.
Easy Watercolor Mixing Project
Mixing watercolor is fun and can be surprising! This activity combines practicing paint mixing with creating a work of art.
On your watercolor paper, use your pencil to draw some light fishy outlines.
Then use your palette to mix both colors and paint the middle with the new color.
I started on the left-hand side of my paper because I’m right-handed. If you paint with your left hand then start on the right side so you don’t smudge your painting.
Keep choosing different pairs of colors until all of your fish are colored.
When the paint is dry, use a pen to add details.
Taking It Further
You don’t have to draw fish! Try painting birds, butterflies, cats, plants, planes… anything you think will be fun in rainbow colors!
Cut out your favorite pictures to glue on cards or create a collage with other scraps of painted paper.
Try mixing the same colors again and again but use more or less water to change the value. What does the palest color remind you of? What could you paint using the darkest value?
Use lots of one color, and a little bit of the other to make different shades. How many shades can you make with just two paints?
Which colors make browns or grays when you mix them? What do you notice about these colors on the color wheel? Try to remember which ones look sludgy and which look good… you might want to mix them again one day!