Posts tagged watercolor techniques
Watercolor Tutorial Lesson Five: Hand Lettering
hand lettering exercise

hand lettering exercise

the art of michelle, learn to paint, watercolor exercise

the art of michelle, learn to paint, watercolor exercise

Do you remember learning to write cursive and print in school? To this day I still remember how much fun I had perfecting my cursive skills and how proud I was of myself when I finally mastered an entire sentence in cursive. :)

Today we're going to practice our writing skills with a pencil, brush, and lots of color. There's really no secret to hand lettering. Each artist does it differently and with their own natural writing pattern and ability. If you feel you have bad hand writing, remember first that practice makes it better and don't hesitate to use a reference book or look up fonts to mimic on the computer. and are great websites to use for reference.

For this exercise, I'm going to use only my own handwriting. Imperfections and inconsistencies are, in my opinion, what make hand lettering so beautiful. Don't feel like you have to make each letter identical or the same exact size, etc. Just let yourself play and experiment!

If you have a water brush, let's use it for this first line.

1. Fill the handle with water and dip the bristles in your first color. To let the water down simple squeeze the handle gently.

This brush is actually designed for on-the-go painting, and is SO handy to have around! Let's take it for a test drive.

Write your first phrase or word using the tips mentioned below. Feel free to use the phrase "Be happy" as shown in my example. I like to pull phrases out of my journal or sketchbook, but you could also write out your favorite inspirational quote, Bible verse, or family name. 

learn to paint with watercolors, brush lettering

learn to paint with watercolors, brush lettering

A few quick tips: 

  • You'll have more control over the quality of your linework if you always PULL the brush toward you as opposed to pushing it away from your body.
  • To make a color look lighter (less saturated), try adding a bit more water by gently squeezing the brush handle and releasing a small flow of water.
  • To make a color bolder and darker (more saturated and opaque), use slightly less water. Let your brush dry a little or simply add more pigment.
  • Try various fonts but limit yourself to about 2-3 until you get the hang of it. I find curly cursive to be the most natural thing for me.
  • If you lack confidence in your handwriting abilities, feel free to write out your wording with a pencil before applying the paint.
  • Start with a 6 or 8 size brush. The bigger the brush, the easier lettering tends to be (for me at least).

2. Try a different font and color on the next line.

brush lettering techniques, free tutorials

brush lettering techniques, free tutorials

2. Add a gradient to the letters.

This part can be a little trickier and will probably take more practice. My advise- plan the colors out beforehand and switch colors with each letter change. The effect can be so beautiful!

Sometimes you'll want to totally rinse your brush out between colors and sometimes you can just dip it into the next color and go. You'll have to play around with this to get the hang of it. I usually mix on my palette more than my paper, but some artists do the opposite technique. 

learn to use a waterbrush, watercolor tutorials

learn to use a waterbrush, watercolor tutorials

3. Back to the water brush. Let's try lettering your word or phrase without drawing it out beforehand with a pencil. 

It takes confidence and experience to dive into a painting or a lettering exercise without any planning or pencil work ahead of time. Don't feel like you have to do this if you don't have that confidence yet!

Every now and then I like to work without doing any prep underlying drawing because the results tend to be unexpected and usually better than if I'd planned it.

4. Make controlled PUSH and PULL marks for practice.

Follow the guide below for guidance on when to push the brush and when to pull it toward you. It's a learning process, just like it was back in your school days!

a free exercise in hand lettering

Watercolor Tutorial Lesson Three: Create a Gradient Wash

Congratulations on making it to my third watercolor tutorial!

I've been hearing from many of you via Instagram, Facebook, and in the comments section about what a stress reliever painting is and how these tutorials are helping you be more creative. It makes me so happy to hear that! Thank you for all the love and feel free to leave feedback on today's tutorial by clicking through to the comments section at the top of this post.

If you've missed any tutorials...

(Click here to review previous tutorials and learn how to set up your workspace.)

In this lesson we'll practice our:

  • water control
  • brush application
  • wet to wet technique

You'll notice that watercolor is a transparent medium (as in, you can see right through each layer to the color underneath) and tends toward a more gradient and varied look as opposed to a flat look like acrylic or gouache.

You might find this lesson a bit easier than the last as we'll be letting the paint run and bleed and do it's thing. The goal is to NOT overdo it with your brush strokes, but let the water do the work for you!

1. Start with a clean wet brush, size 16 (or the biggest one you have similar to mine).

Move the brush side to side and drag the water (no paint yet) down the paper until you almost reach the bottom. Be generous with your water here. Can you tell from the pictures about how much water I'm using?

Look at your paper at an angle to see how much water is on the page. You should see a thin even layer from top to bottom.

2. Now, let's add the first color.

I chose various greens, but you can work with whatever colors you want. Blues would also be pretty!

Load your brush with the first color and drag it across the very top of your paper where the water begins. See how the water pulls the paint right off your brush? Move the brush back and forth, gently, until you've covered about a third of the page.

3. Repeat step 2 with the second and third colors.

You'll want to make sure you're working wet into wet, meaning a wet brush working the paint onto a wet surface. So, try to work quickly so your paper doesn't dry while you're working.

Also, you'll need to exercise restraint in not over-working the painting. To lay in each color I used about 5-6 brush strokes. Once all three colors were on the paper, I added a bit more water to the darker green area to make the bleed- one brush stroke. 

If you over-work an area with this wet to wet technique, you'll notice the paper start to deteriorate and the colors will muddy. Let them bleed together and blend on their own.

4. Let the painting dry completely.

It really will change as it dries. See all the little areas where the water slowly moved the pigment as it dried? Those are called bleeds, and they're so fun to make! No other painting medium can create that look, which is why I love watercolor so much.

As usual I encourage you to have fun with this exercise and try it several times in multiple colors. Three of these gradient washes would look really pretty framed in white frames and hung together in a room. 

Share your results with me! Send me an email at or tag me at #theartofmichelleteaches on Instagram and Facebook. 

I can't wait to see what you create!