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Toddler Talk: Watercolors

Bob Ross was on public television when I was young. Public television was one of the few channels we were allowed the watch, and my sister and I LOVED his show, The Joy of Painting. With the happy trees and happy rocks, he made oil painting look effortless and downright amazing. We were spellbound. And after almost every show, we would get our paints, set up our "studio" and paint our happy pictures just like Bob.

I was often frustrated with the paint we used, and it wasn't until much later when I realized the difference between Bob's paints and ours was that he used oils and we used watercolors. This experience gave me a low opinion of watercolors. However, as I grew and learned more about art mediums, I came to understand watercolors and their uses better, and grew to love them. Now, I share this love with my children.

Despite my love, though, I am not highly experienced with watercolors. The good thing is you don't have to be an expert to be a good model for your children. I do use my experiences with the paints to help guide my children so they can use them with success, and you can do the same thing. Here are a few things to keep in mind when ushering your little one through the wonderful world of watercolors.

Stay Away From Cheap Paints

I would say this is my top tip. Cheap paints are lacking in so many ways and, as the painter, it was these shortcomings that frustrated me the most. Spend the couple extra beans and get a higher quality set. It doesn't need to be professional grade, just something better than the dollar bin variety.

Use quality paper

I can't tell you the number of times inferior paper was the undoing of my "masterpieces" along the way. The wrong paper can effect how the watercolors look, act and dry. There are a variety of papers to choose from, from actual watercolor paper to a paper called sulfite. It doesn't need to be an expensive investment. Search for paper with more weight than printer paper and more tooth, or texture. Stay away from printer paper, construction paper and card stock.

Get good brushes

Cheap brushes will give cheap results; although, again, it doesn't need to be a high expenditure. Stay away from the plastic bristle assortment. Your little creator will thank you.

Have enough water

The most important element for watercolors is, in fact, the water. It's what makes the whole medium work. Make sure there is enough water for your artist to not only create paint from the pigment cakes, but also rinse brushes out between colors.

Prep the Pigments

Before you begin, add a few drops of water to each pigment cake. It preps the colored cakes for use, resulting in better color saturation.


Make sure to encourage your little ones to rinse their brushes thoroughly between colors. It's something they often have a hard time remembering to do, but neglecting this step will lead to a muddying of the colors, which, later on, is very frustrating. Continue to remind them to rinse their brushes, and they will get the hang of it eventually.

Dry and Wet

Watercolor can be applied to paper two ways. One way is to apply the paints to dry paper. In this technique, paints won't bleed as much, and the color will not disperse immediately. However, before adding paints, you can also wet down the paper (just add water to the paper with a brush) and then when you add paints, the effect will be much more translucent.

More and Less Water

It is the addition or deficiency of water that creates different effects. To get darker, more opaque colors, use less water when loading the brush. The pigment will be more concentrated and thus create darker, more vivid color. To get lighter, more translucent color, add more water. Get the brush wet and add just a dab of pigment. And if the color is not light enough, add water straight from the container to the paper to really thin it out

Allow Paper to Dry Laying Flat

To end, allow the paintings to dry flat. Intense puddles of color and overly wet strokes can run and drip if laid at an angle.

Watercolors are a great medium for any little creator, and these tips will help the process along. So grab that little artist of yours and get started. Maybe someday your kid could be like Bob Ross. The watercolor version, of course.

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