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I love to teach my students the magic of watercolor painting! As a watercolor artist, it’s one of my favorite lessons. I believe the success of mastering this media lies in the art of learning to trust watercolor because it’s ultimately going to do what it wants to do. This is why I often call this lesson, “embracing happy accidents!”
This lesson can become as complicated or as simple as you’d like. For secondary or more advanced students, you can follow the process as it’s written here. For younger students, you may want to limit the information, techniques, and artists you present.
I begin the lesson by introducing my students to watercolor terms, supplies, techniques, and artists. We learn vocabulary, discuss the different types of brushes, papers, and paints, and look at master artists. We discuss why certain paintings are so enjoyable and I demonstrate ways in which artists can creatively manipulate watercolor to play with value and color mixing.
Did you know that AOE has a Studio: Painting – Watercolor course? It’s true! Learn more about this exciting medium while creating your own art and finding new ideas for your classroom. See more, including a sample assignment, right here.
Watercolor brushes come in many shapes, sizes, and price points, and the choices can quickly become overwhelming. I recommend starting your students out with synthetic brushes. The quality is good, and they’re much less expensive than natural brushes. A small round brush, an angled brush, and a big flat brush for washes are all your beginner students will need.
When students progress to Art II or other more advanced classes, you can begin to invest in natural bristle brushes in more shapes and sizes.
Here are 8 different brushes you might consider providing.
I recommend using a watercolor paper that is at least 90lb. Best practice states that if the paper is lighter than 300lb, it should be stretched. However, I’ve found it is just as easy to mount or mat the final piece, which saves time and stress. I also recommend purchasing the highest-quality student grade watercolor paper your budget will allow because that will ensure the most successful final pieces.
When choosing paper, consider the following 3 factors.
Watercolor paint is made with a pigment that is then mixed with a binder. Binders are what hold the pigment together. Different types of paint use different types of binders. Watercolor paints are more vibrant and transparent because watercolor has fewer fillers and the binder, which is usually gum Arabic, is absorbed by the paper. Therefore more color can show on the surface of the paper or board.
Watercolors contain both pigment and a binder. Pigment provides the color while binders hold the pigment together. Watercolors are more vibrant and transparent because the binder in them is weaker compared to other types of paint.
3 Types of Watercolor Paint to Explore
For even more information about watercolor paints and how to use them in the classroom, be sure to check out the following PRO Learning Packs! (As your administrator to purchase PRO for your school today!)
Watercolors have been around for ages. However, the Golden Age of Watercolor ran from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s.
Here is a list of 20 watercolor masters through time you may want to share with your students for inspiration.
Next, I like to have students experiment with the watercolor paint to see what effects they can create. (You can find fourteen different techniques to try with your students in this article from our archives.)
Have your students fold their paper horizontally four times and vertically four times, so they have sixteen spaces to experiment and play. (Limit this number for younger students.) I give students a handout laying out several techniques, such as wet-on-dry, wet-on-wet, resist, drip, gradated values, salt, alcohol, white ink pen, saran wrap pull, paper towel prints, etc.
I have students select sixteen and practice each one in a specific rectangle on their paper. By giving students this time to experiment and play with watercolor, it frees them up for the actual art lesson. It also teaches them that watercolor “bleeds” can be very interesting and that, often, the looser they are with the paint and water the more successful and creative their final pieces will be.
Once we complete our experimentation days, we move into the actual lesson.
This lesson teaches students about the power of experimenting and playing with materials as they create unique paintings. When they are all hung in a hallway exhibit, they are simply breathtaking!
How do you teach watercolor techniques in your classroom?
Do you think adding in time for experimentation with media is an important element to a successful lesson?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.