Painting Value Studies in Watercolors

In this blog, I'll share some notes about why I'm working in watercolors, what tools I'm using, and presentation tips for your finished work. In this circuit I'll be working only in values (Black & White). Here's the previous "circuit" based on Gonzalo Carcamo's course on Schoolism.

value studies in watercolors based on the series Vikings

I'm kinda new to watercolors. I bought my first watercolors a few years ago, but I only started learning how to use them properly in 2018. As I used to be an oil painter, I'm not new to using brushes and mixing colors. However, watercolors work kinda the opposite way from oil paints!

With oil paints you work from the background to the foreground, knowing that you can use lighter colors in the foreground. Normally, with watercolors you need to preserve the white of the paper as you work from background to foreground because you don't paint light on dark. You can still do that if you want but it will look more like gouache, acrylics and oil painting. It's not a bad thing to work this way, it's just a different technique.

Anywho! Watercolors are so much fun to work with that I want them to be my go to medium.

Why Watercolors?


I want to be able to put my thought on paper quickly, be it in value only or in color. Watercolors are practical enough to use for concepts, color keys and sketching outdoors too. I highly recommend Nathan Fowkes's courses on Schoolism if this is a path you're considering. There's some overlap in his 4 courses but they're worth the time. I recommend doing them in this order:

  • Designing with color and light

  • Landscape Sketching in Watercolor & Gouache

  • Environment Design

  • Pictorial Composition


Another reason I want to focus on watercolors is that it is a great way to practice the following skills:


  • Simplification of shapes and values

  • Improving shape design

  • Better edge control

Colors (in a future blog)

  • Color mixing and palettes


Something that watercolors can offer you where other mediums like pencils and pens fall short is that you can use 1 brush to create different marks and cover a bigger area when needed.

I also love oil pastels for their texture but they are at a disadvantage when working on smaller size paper and try to add smaller details.

value studies in watercolors based on the series Vikings

Tools I Use

  • Flat brushes

  • watercolor round brushes

  • Pebeo watercolor tubes

  • palette: should be white(ish), because your paper is white and you want to judge the values and hues properly.

  • clean water: to clean your brush before you use a different color.

  • grey water (from cleaning brushes) to wet the brushes when needed, and to partially clean your brushes so you don't have to change the water several times.

  • cloth/tissues to dry my brushes and remove some excess water from the paper.

  • watercolor paper: This is what you need to use to get the best out of watercolors, especially with edges.

  • weak tape: you can buy it like that or you can use any tape after you stick it to your clothes and remove it several times. You don't want it to rip your beautiful painting when you remove it at the end.

  • drawing gum: to protect the white of the paper while you do washes.

  • box cutter: to cute paper and also to scratch out color stains and reveal the white of the paper for smaller highlights and stuff.

I initially started with 2 tubes white and dark grey (for black) but later figured I don't like using white. It looks dull and contrived on paper, so I started using the dark color only. I left the whites clear but for the tiny whites I scratched those with the box cutter.

I already had smaller flat brushes that survived the oil painting era, and I got round watercolor brushes when I first bought my watercolors. I still wanted brushes that are a little bigger than the ones I have to let me cover more area and create different marks. Still not sure what how to use the fan brush best, seems to only work when dry.

What Did I Use for Reference?

I used the series Vikings for references to get out of my comfort zone, try different perspectives and camera angles, high key and low key (photos that are mostly light vs ones that are mostly dark). That, plus working in black and white was a great warm up for Inktober, even though I worked in a completely different style.

I painted directly on paper without a pencil under-drawing.

value study in watercolors based on the series Vikings

value study in watercolors based on the series Vikings

value study in watercolors based on the series Vikings

value study in watercolors based on the series Vikings

value study in watercolors based on the series Vikings

value study in watercolors based on the series Vikings

value study in watercolors based on the series Vikings