Watercolor Lettering: Getting Started Tutorial

I've been itching to devote legitimate time and practice to watercolor since high school, but only recently have I started scratching it. I've experimented with this medium off and on since then, but because I wasn't immediately good at it (yeah, I know how awful that sounds), I just figured it wasn't meant to be. 

Well, I had my 'epiphany' moment with watercolor a few months back, and all of a sudden, everything about my watercolor practice changed. 

'Watercolor is a marathon, not a sprint.
Realizing this has totally changed my outlook on this medium, increased my patience with it, and keeping this mantra in mind has positively effected the RESULTS of my watercolor pieces. 

I want to share this inspiration with you, and help you get started with watercolor lettering, if that is something you are interested in learning, or if you are like me, and you-- for some reason--believe you can't ever master this medium!

This blog post is a simple post about getting started in the very basics of watercolor, and a few simple exercises you can do to dive in. This post is best suited for a medium-to-advanced lettering artist! If you are brand new to lettering of any sort, you may find some of the tips I'm giving in this post to be a bit confusing! 

Let's get started!

Here's what you'll need:
Watercolors of Choice (You can also use Tombow Dual Brush Pens - Check out this post)
Brush of Choice
Paint Palette
Paper Towel
Watercolor Paper

Before putting paint to paper, I sketched out some drills on a piece of watercolor paper I cut down to 5x7 size. You can barely see my sketches because I made sure to sketch lightly enough that my pencil marks would not be as visible through the paint. 

I'm using the Winsor Newton watercolor palette. (It was MUCH more at Hobby Lobby, even with the 40% coupon, so I highly suggest ordering it online) It's a small little palette that comes with a really high-quality travel brush, and the inside of the lid serves as a mixing palette. This is actually meant for watercolor on the go, but as much as I've been using this pan set in recent weeks, I think it's going to last forever!

Choosing a brush is an important first step in practicing watercolor. No matter the size, it's important that your brush be tapered, and come to a point at the end, like the photo above. Think of it like the nib of an actual brush pen. In order to create a wide range of stroke sizes, you have to have this kind of brush. I'm using the brush that came in the palette because, though it is small, it is mighty!

If you're using dry watercolors, like above, you need to add water to them. You can do that by either:
1. Dipping your brush in water, and then swishing your brush around on the pigment (what I'm doing)
2. Using a water dropper (or some other method) to drip water onto the pigment

After adding water, you can take the color on your brush to a clean palette. You could work straight from the pan, but feel like that could be wasteful. You can always add more water or pigment when needed.

These little watercolor blocks in this set are VERY pigmented, so I don't have to do much to get a lot of color on the palette.

Experiment with pigmentation and see how much color or water you need to add before you get your desired opacity. When you're ready, load some color on your brush (but be careful not to over do it), and start with some practice strokes. 

I dove right into a squiggly pattern that works really well for brush lettering. The wavy up-and-down-ness of it helps me with practicing my up and downstrokes in a fluid way. 

If you're wary of starting with this drill, I suggest looking through the rest of the drills I have featured here, and picking which one suits you best for practicing first. 

As I continue with this drill, you can see the pigment on my brush is beginning to run out. I think experimenting with how long you can get your color to last until you need to add either A) water or B) color is an important part of mastering this medium. You truly have to experiment until you learn the medium and the brush you're working with. This medium is so finnicky, and it requires a lot of patience. If you're not naturally gifted...and I am not! LOL

You can see the bend in my brush as I'm on my downstroke. You can also see a lot of my uneven edges, because I'm not naturally gifted :)

The next drill is a loop-de-loop type of pattern. It's also really conducive to brush lettering, so I really love this exercise!

Remember to go S-L-O-W, take your time, breathe, and don't get frustrated with yourself if it's not perfect. 

AKA don't be the old Kiley trying to watercolor!

Practicing downstrokes with these simple lines is a common brush-lettering warm-up and would be an excellent drill for watercolor lettering. Like I said before, the same principle goes for both this brush and a brush pen. The bristles are flexible, and will bend with the slightest bit of pressure. The more pressure you place on the brush as you move downward, the thicker your line will be. 

The opposite is true for upstrokes. You should use the very tip of your pen, with barely any pressure at all, to get a thin line.

Next, I wanted to practice a few simple letters. These are plain letters, with little to no personality, simply so I can practice my up and downstrokes in letter form.

When you feel comfortable with that, you can try a word! 

Let's try some fancier lettering!

When you've practiced the simpler drills enough to feel comfortable and ready to move on, it could be time for you to dive into some fancy stuff! And fancy stuff calls for a fancy watercolor!

This little bottle of magic is Dr. Ph.Martin's Concentrated Watercolor and it is MAG.I.CAL. Like, honestly, pure magic. It's pretty pricy for a tiny bottle, but in my opinion, it's worth every penny! 

If you've ever heard that old ad slogan 'A Dab'll Do Ya?' Well, it couldn't be more true when applied to this product right here. If you're using a concentrated watercolor like this one, you literally need ONE dropper-full to cover a large surface area in incredibly vibrant color. You have to see it to believe it. 

Just add water! I added some water to my brush, and swirled the pigment around on the palette, creating a larger puddle of pure beauty. 

Before putting paint to paper, I sketched out a few words in my lettering style of a scripty, uneven cursive. This is my signature style, and I don't want to change it. So, my intention with every practice session is to bring a new medium to my old style.

The important thing is to go slow. I can't say that enough!

One thing I want to work on, that I know will improve with persistent practice, is creating consistent stroke thickness in each of my strokes. They aren't super consistent right now, but that is something I want to work on!

Finally, I wrote a little reminder to myselff: practice makes progress. If I can remind myself of this each time I work with watercolors, I know I will thank myself later on!

That's all for today!

Do you want to see more watercolor lettering tutorials? Let me know in the comments below!