Watercolor Lesson 1: Preparing to Paint

For this watercolor lesson, you will need:


• Watercolor paints in tubes (1 set can be shared by several students)

• Styrofoam plates (1/student)

• Containers with water

• Paint brushes – large flat brushes, large round brushes, small round brushes

• Watercolor Paper on cardboard, attached with masking tape

• Paper towels

• Bath tissue


• Watercolors

• Tube Paints

• Pan sets

• Round Brush

• Flat Brush

• Palette

For this watercolor lesson, provide students with each of the tools mentioned below. As you read over each of the explanations, have the students set up their workstations, one “tool” at a time. When you’ve finished going over the lesson, each workstation should look similar to the diagram below.


1. Watercolor Paints in Tubes – these are different from the paints that children usually use, the pan set of watercolors. Although pan sets are convenient for when you are traveling or working outside and need to carry your paints, students often find the tube sets easier to use.

2. Palette – this is the surface the artist puts his paints on. With students working on a watercolor lesson, I just use Styrofoam plates. They are large enough to provide mixing room, white in color which helps the students see the true colors of the paints, and they are disposable.

If paint remains, cover them with aluminum foil and use them again; the paints just need to be wet down with a brush, and they’ll work fine. If the paints are gone or the student gets a little too creative on the palette, just throw it away and start again with a fresh palette next time.

The small plastic palettes that have about 8 wells that you find in art stores just don’t compare; they are small, so there’s not much room for mixing, and the paint doesn’t seem to stick to it at all, but rather gets absorbed in the brush right away.

3. Container with Water – Coffee mugs make great water containers, as they are heavy enough that they won’t tip over. It’s helpful to have one cup/container for each student, placed on the same side of their painting as the hand they paint with. In this way, they aren’t crossing over their painting with a brush full of paint or a clean wet brush; doing so often leaves paint or water drips on their work.

4. Paint Brushes ROUND BRUSHES are my favorite, probably because they are the most versatile. They can be used to cover an area with paint as well as make fine details with the tips. Have on hand at least one large round brush and one small one. A large FLAT BRUSH is also nice for doing washes.

Remember: never push your brush across the paper or rub it on the paper. You will most likely put a hole in your paper, and you will surely ruin your brush. BRUSH THE BRUSH, stroking back and forth. DON’T RUB, SCRUB, OR PUSH IT. BRUSH THE BRUSH. If the paint does not go on smoothly, or there are white spaces left on the paper after you’ve picked up your brush, you probably don’t have enough water on your brush. These are watercolors, after all – you need to use water when you paint.

5. Paper - students will notice that watercolor paper is thicker that copy paper or drawing paper. This is because paper tends to buckle and wrinkle when it’s wet; the thicker the paper, the fewer the wrinkles and waves. Watercolor paper is sorted by the weight of the paper when it’s still in large reams, and a minimum of 90lb. paper should be used. Paper any thinner than this tends to tear when it gets too wet or if the students rub it too much. 140 lb. paper is even better.

6. Cardboard Backing – Use pieces of cardboard larger than the paper as a backing for your painting as you work on each watercolor lesson. Because paper with a weight of less than 300 lb. buckles when wet, it’s necessary to tape the paper to a smooth surface and leave it there until it is completely dry. Don’t worry, then, if it buckles while painting – it will dry flat. The tape can then be removed. Depending on how you place the tape, this can provide the nice effect of a solid white border around the painting.

7. Masking Tape – my tape of choice for taping the watercolor paper to the cardboard. It’s easy to reposition and easy to remove when the painting is dry.

8. Paper Towels – placed on the same side as your working hand, just like the water container. This is for GENTLY blotting your brush after you have rinsed the paint out of it. Never pound your brushes on the paper towel – it will ruin the brush.

9. Bath Tissue – I like having some of this on hand for dabbing some of the paint off of the paper, such as when I make a mistake or when I’m painting clouds.

This will be the setup for right-handed students when working on each watercolor lesson. If the student is left-handed, the paper towel, palette, and cup of water will be on the left-hand side.