Watercolour is notoriously tricky to handle- here are a few ideas to get you started.

Outdoor sketching and painting

Keep a handy roll of masking tape in your pocket so you can tape down the edges of your sketch book. This way if you paint wet -on -wet , the paper won’t buckle.

Also use proper watercolour paper if going out to paint rather than cartridge paper as it can be too thin and smooth for watercolour.

Keep the plastic protectors on your brushes, or use a brush roll so the finer ones don’t get damaged.

Use a spray bottle of water for wetting your paint if using a pan paint box, as you will be able to get lovely strong tones of your colours and it will help keep them clean.

Mix your paint on the palette , not on top of the blocks!




Limiting the palette can give lovely atmospheric effets. Just choose a red, yellow and blue and mix the rest- the secondaries being orange, green ,and purple and the tertiaries being a range of browns , greys and almost black- ie a mixture of the three original primary colours.

This is particularly effective in painting skies where the grey of the clouds is mixed from the other colours that are in the painting- a tip for mixing a grey for the sky is to start with the blue, add a little of the red to give a purply blue and then gently add a touch of yellow- you should see the purple become duller and approach grey.

If this doesn’t work try a different mix of primaries. Make a note of the best colours and keep a written note of the colours you use for each painting- this way you get to know what each colour can do in combination with other colours.


If you choose transparent rather than opaque watercolours, your colours should not be so “muddy” when you mix them. You can tell an opaque from a transparent paint by painting a band of black ink on some scrap paper. When it is dry, mix your paint to be tested with a little water- not too thick or too runny-and paint a band across the ink at right angles. When it is dry if you can see cloudy pigment the paint is opaque, if it is clear the paint is more transparent.



Don’t paint with dirty water, keep a couple of big jugs or small buckets nearby, one for clean and the other for drty water . Collect old yogurt pots- they are great as small water containers.

If you are trying to paint a light tone of a colour -it is very important not to dilute your paint with dark dirty water as you won’t succeed! When painting a light tone- keep some kitchen roll or a rag nearby and blot the excess water off your brush- this way you are less likely to end up with blotches or “back-runs”.


When on holiday, and trying to paint in the sometimes wet and windy outdoors., before you go, buy a sheet of “artboard”- bonded watercolour on a board backing. It is usually about 30″x22″ and you can cut it with a stanley knife and ruler to give 16 pieces of approx 5″x7″  or 8 pieces of 7″x10″ paper. These are very handy for outdooor painting as do not require stretching or taping and can be used unsupported. If you buy the “rough” surfaced artboard it will be easier to get texture into your painting-the Not and smooth surfaces are better for an illustrative style.