Tips for Working with Watercolors


Watercolors are a great medium for students to learn about color mixing and applying paint. Here are a few things I’ve learned about kids and watercolors that may be helpful to you….

First of all, the brand does matter! This goes for watercolors or any other type of art supply. When a choice of brand is available, I always try to test and compare. Even in kids’ art supplies, there can be big differences in quality. Of the watercolors I’ve tested, the “Prang OVL-8” has far exceeded any others for paint quality and vividness of color. (In my experience, the “washable” paints never have the same color quality as the regular ones, so I stay away from those in general. Have your students wear a smock or an old shirt if you’re worried about stains, although I’ve never had trouble getting paint off of clothes.)

Another nice feature of the Prang set is that it’s refillable. The blue always seems to be the first color in the set to get used up (all that water and sky!) with the green (grass and trees) following close behind. Prang offers individual color refills that pop right in to replace the color that’s used up, so you don’t have to throw away an otherwise perfectly good set. I don’t buy refills of all the colors (since they have to be purchased in quantity), but the blue and green are useful to keep on hand!

When working with watercolors, have your students place a single drop of water on each color before they start to paint. Then when they go to use a color, it will already be moist, and they won’t be as tempted to grind their brush into the paint to pick up the color! Some students will need to be reminded to keep adding water to their paint so it will flow off their brush. Watercolors should have a transparent quality to them, so if they look thick and sticky on the paper, they aren’t being used correctly!

When rinsing their brushes to change colors, make sure students don’t “tap” their brushes on the side of their water containers. This flings paint and water everywhere, including onto other people’s paintings! Instead, teach them to gently “wipe” the excess water against the rim of the container – I usually tell students to wipe their brush three or four times while turning it. If someone forgets and starts tapping their brush, you can hear it from across the room and quietly remind them about wiping it instead!

One last thing….try to leave each watercolor set clean for the next person to use. If a color is “dirty”, don’t run water over it as this wastes a lot of paint! Instead, place a drop or two of water on the color you wish to clean and swirl your brush over it to pick up whatever color is on top. Then rinse your brush and keep repeating this step until the color is clean again. When students open their watercolor sets and find them clean and ready to go, it gets their project off to a good start!

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