Watercolor is a great medium for kids! It’s affordable, mixes well, cleans up quickly, and (usually) doesn’t stain clothing. Here are six tips to help you and your younger students find success when learning to work with this classic medium:
- Choose a good quality student paint. Good quality doesn’t have to mean expensive! Before buying a class set of any art supply, test and compare if you can, or at least read some reviews to help you make an informed decision. Avoid the “washable” paints, as the colors tend to be dull, and most watercolors will wash out easily anyway. After testing many different brands of watercolor, the Prang Oval 8 is still my favorite for vivid colors at a reasonable price. Plus, the pans are refillable. I buy refills for the blue and the green in boxes of 12.… the two colors that always go first. You can buy refills for all the colors this way, but I find that once the rest of the colors are used up, it’s usually time to toss the set anyway.
- Have students place a single drop of water on each color before they start to paint. This allows the paint to become moistened just enough so that students won’t need to grind their brush into the paint to pick up the color they want. Avoid “bad hair days” for your brush!
- Remind students that they need to keep adding water to their paint. Exactly how much water to add is a skill students will learn through practice! It’s easy to forget that younger ones may have only painted with tempera paint prior to using watercolors, so they aren’t in the habit of adding water as they paint. Watercolor is designed to be a transparent medium… remind students that if their paint looks thick and sticky, they need to add more water.
- Teach students proper brush rinsing! It seems to be human nature to swish your brush and tap it on the side of your water container when rinsing it… beginning adults do this, too! But this splatters (dirty) water everywhere, making a mess and ruining paintings. Before beginning to paint, first spend some time teaching students how to rinse their brush, by pressing it gently 3 or 4 times on the bottom of their water container, then pressing it against the side (above the water line) 3 or 4 times, repeating as necessary until their brush is clean. If students forget, the sounds of swishing and tapping will be their reminder!
- Leave a clean paint set for the next student to use. If a color looks “dirty”, don’t just run water over it, or you’ll also wash away a lot of good paint! Instead, place a drop or two of water on the color you want to clean and swirl your brush over it to pick up the unwanted color on top. Then rinse your brush and repeat this until your color is clean again. A baby wipe will also work to lift out unwanted color (and is great for cleaning the mixing tray in the lid), but beware… students quickly discover they can create a cool “tie dye” effect on the wipe by wiping it over every color, which then ends up all over their hands… don’t say I didn’t warn you — haha! You can avoid this by assigning one responsible student to clean all the lids. Everyone wants a clean paint set when watercolors are passed out, so most students will happily follow these steps if you just show them how.
- Always store brushes separately from the paints, not in the paint sets. Storing brushes inside the paint sets may seem convenient for passing out supplies, but wet paint can (and will!) seep into the trays, causing brush handles and bristles to get sticky. Instead, try storing all the brushes together in a separate cup or tub, then place a brush into each water container when passing out supplies. It’s quick and easy, and everyone gets a clean brush!
What tips have you discovered for watercolor success with your students? Please share in the comments section!