Painting with 3 Watercolor Brushes and 4 Colors

Dec 21, 2022

One of the biggest barriers to artists getting started is the unknown about what supplies to use.

Especially when it comes to pigments and brushes, it can be overwhelming to choose from the many many options available to you.

There are literally hundreds of paint colors, and several kinds of brushes - round brushes, mop brushes, quill brushes, natural brushes, or synthetic brushes. There's a lot of information to take in, especially when you're first getting started. 

So, today I'm going to simplify things. I am going to show you what watercolor supplies you really need and what to think about in order to make the pigments you have work for you.

What If You Just Painted with 4 Colors and 3 Watercolor Brushes?

To help you see how minimal you can go, I painted this watercolor street scene using only these four colors and these three brushes.

In this picture, you see: Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Turquoise, Raw Sienna, and Rose Madder Permanent. The watercolor brushes shown are a large mop brush, a medium round brush, and a smaller synthetic brush.

At What Point in the Painting Should I Use Each Brush?

The large brush we're going to use in the first wash to cover a lot of the paper. With this first wash, I  think about the lightest values of the scene, and use the large mop brush to cover most of the paper with this lightest value.

I use the medium round brush for slightly more precision as I paint the middle value connected shape. 

Finally, when we get into more of the darks and details, I use a smaller synthetic brush. It’s important, even though I am only using three watercolor brushes on this painting, that the smaller one I choose has a nice point so I can paint as precisely as I want.

Prioritize Value over Color

If you attempt a minimal challenge like this, keep in mind that it matters less what colors you are using than the kinds of colors they are. 

What is most important is value and color temperature

Value is simply how light or dark something is, and it's a very important tool when we are creating depth in the scene. And the other part of this approach is to simply look at a color from your reference and, instead of thinking how do I make this exact color, ask yourself: does it need to be a warmer or cooler color?

I increase the value and warmth when I want subjects to be brought forward; I decrease the value and increase the coolness when I want a subject to recede. Cool colors show distance - they push things away from the viewer.

The Watercolor Painting Process

This demo is quick and I show you the way I am mixing colors along with the actual painting process on my paper. 

I enjoyed this challenge overall, and I think it proved that you don’t need a closet full of supplies to make art. If you have any questions about supplies, check out my recommendation list or reach out to me!

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