Painting With Watercolours: experimenting with technique

Part of the reason why I like watercolours so much is mess is kept to a minimum and it’s easy set up and clean up. I can stick a cup of water on the table with paper and a watercolour tray and know the kids will be occupied for a good half an hour. Another reason to love watercolours is its whimsical finish.

I’m rather fascinated by painting and beautiful drawings in general, and so it’s something I look to explore further with my kids.  To be honest, I’m not a fan of doing structured educational activities at home as such; however I am an advocate of learning, especially when it extends an interest or passion.  Below are some of the early watercolour techniques I’ve explored with my kids.

Set up

A cup of water

Paper towel (for absorbing excess water)

Piece of paper

Watercolour pallet

Paint Brushes (it’s a good idea to have a few different sizes for variety and experimentation)

Clean Up

I don’t tend to stress about paint going on the table because cleaning up is as easy a wet cloth, tipping the water out in a garden and hanging paintings to dry on the line.


Basic brush techniques

Experimenting with different ways of moving the brush. 

Painting With Watercolours: experimenting with technique - swirls, waves, stripes, dots

Dry brush / Wet brush

Two different looks can be achieved by using a very wet brush or a relatively dry one.

Wet paper / Dry paper

Wet the paper with a spray bottle before painting. This can provide an easy surface to belend colours.

Painting With Watercolours: experimenting with technique - wet paper, dry paper

Mixing colours

What colour combinations can you create?

Painting With Watercolours: experimenting with technique - mixing colours

Watercolour Painting: Autumn Bloom Tree

Here’s another (more advanced but not difficult) watercolour activity I did with the kids: Autumn Bloom Tree. It turned out fantastic!  Click the picture below for the full tutorial.

watercolour tree -- autumn bloom



Basic Drawing Materials (for adults & kids!)

Create an art space (when you have no space)

Autumn Bloom Tree – Watercolour Experiment

watercolour tree -- autumn bloom

I have no real talent (or learned skill) when it comes to painting.  However, I’m a fan of art and creativity in general, and I want to foster an appreciation of such things in my children.

We use watercolours more than any other paint because it’s relatively mess free and easy to clean up. I’ve done many painting activities with the kids over the years, like zip lock bag painting, basic brush techniques, finger painting, body painting and general project painting.  Now that my children are a little older, I’m looking for ways for them to extend and combine the mediums we have (like watercolours plus texters).

While browsing the Internet, I came across a Triad Tree painting by artist June Rollins and I put it in my pretty-to-look-at-but-not-doable pile. That was until I read the relevant post.  The tutorial looked so achievable I immediately decided to give it a shot with the kids.

What I love about this project is that it uses the three primary colours to achieve the autumn bloom look so there’s the mixing-colours learning aspect too.  This tutorial is quite long, but don’t be fooled by all the pictures: it is achievable and the outcome is amazing!  I went into more detail here (compared to June’s tutorial) because I learned things while doing it that will help in instructing the activity for children.

I am STOKED that I painted that picture above. It’s a fun activity for all ages and I love that. LOVE. Love when we all do an activity together, and I’m not merely a facilitator or observer but participate and enjoy it as much as the kids.


You can get these materials from discount shops, K Mart, Big W, Target, Officeworks and art shops.

Watercolour paper

Watercolour paint – Primary Colours: Yellow, Red & Blue


Water spray bottle

watercolour painting tutorial

You only need two brushes for painting and one to aid in splattering.

watercolour brushes

Step 1

Set the water bottle to a fine mist, and spray the blank paper (just so it’s slightly damp; just a few sprays)

watercolour painting tutorial

Step 2

Saturate the small round brush with yellow paint, and hit the brush against the handle of another larger brush (or other suitable instrument) to splatter paint on the paper.  Dots of paint will flick over the page.

autumn watercolour tree


Keep in mind a rough triangle tree shape (allowing for the trunk) on the page as you flick paint.  You can’t completely control where the flicks go but you can adjust where to hold the brush over the page to distribute the flecks.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial

The children practiced on regular paper before we started our trees.

watercolorus and kids

Step 3

The idea is to keep splattering paint until you have the general shape and enough spots.

FIRST: Start with Yellow

NEXT: Then Red

LAST: Finally Blue

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial

Step 4

Next is where the colours mix.  This is important: you need to adjust the water bottle spray nozzle from fine mist to somewhere in the middle.  The water needs to come out in droplets.  Too fine a mist and it won’t work as well, and if the spray is too direct, the colours won’t mix so delicately.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial

We experimented a little and found it best to hold the bottle directly above the paper about 10 cm.  Then gently pull the trigger in a controlled way, distributing the paint and mixing the colours.  Do this in sections on the page until you’re happy with the result.  We only had to spray about 3 times. Don’t over spray because you want to keep some definition there.

watercolorus and kids

Step 5

Don’t touch the painting, or use a brush at this point.  Leave it and allow the paint to air-dry naturally for the colours to mix and settle (takes about an hour).

Step 6

Once dry, paint the branches in.  I found this a bit tricky, and did two attempts; much better the second time around (pictured below).  I’ll break down what I learned and how I instructed the children.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial


LOOK FIRST.  Draw an imaginary mid line with v like branches going out in your head.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial


PRACTICE: Using the square brush, practice on a piece of paper first.  I found it best to wet the brush with paint (using less water) and press down with the top of the brush rather than stroke.  So press down, move the brush, press down.  This gives a more rustic looking branch.

primary colours -- watercolour mixing

This is my seven-year-old working on some branches.

primary colours -- watercolour mixing


After a few practices, start on the tree.  The children and I studied June Rollins’ tree for inspiration and then got to work. (Isn’t it gorgeous!?)

triad tree

1. Paint in parts of a trunk peeking out from the leaves (leave the tree base/trunk part to last; that way you won’t smudge paint as you work on branches).  The trunk gets a little smaller each section until the top.

2. Place branches sporadically up and out from the trunk (using an imaginary V as a loose guide).  One thing I noticed and implemented the second time around was the effect of drawing a section of branch, leaving a small space (of leaves) and continuing the branch.  This way, it looks like the branch is weaving its way in and out of the leaves. Here’s a close up of what I mean.

watercolour triad tree

3. Study the paint droplets, and use them as a general guide to where you want to run the branches up the tree.

4. Using the small round brush again, paint in the trunk and the ground.  After painting it in, I wet the brush with water (no paint) and ran it over the painted section.  I used a lighter brown over the top of the root area, and again, used a wet brush to disturb the paint.

One thing I learned while doing this is to try NOT to make the lines too perfect. Feel it. Relax. It’s awesome.  Right at the end, I used the square brush again to line one side of the tree and add a few finishing details.

watercolour triad tree

Here’s the children’s finished pictures; we are all rather thrilled with the result. How cool is Mr 6’s blue tree with the cute branches sticking out the side!

watercolour trees

Autumn Triad Tree

So that’s the long tutorial…or here’s the short version. And then just go for it, make mistakes and learn as you go (like I did). Check out June Rollins’ tutorial and artwork too.

watercolour tree -- autumn bloom tutorial

Variation for Young Children

A variation of this idea would work as an activity for very young children: do the dots and then let them loose with the water spray on the grass outside to see what colours they can make. And then make your own tree and feel proud as punch at such a gorgeous creation. I did! And if I can do it, anyone can! It was good for the soul! Oh, I adore trees!

Miss 7 did a few different trees, and to this one, she added to the scene.  What a happy looking picture!

watercolour paitning with kids


Posts about trees

Activities celebrating Autumn