Preparing Your Ceramic Plate For Watercolor Paint

Unprepped vs Prepped Ceramic Plate for Watercolor

A lot of artists suggest using ceramic plates (or specially designed palettes) as your watercolor pallet. This is a great idea since ceramic:

  • Doesn’t stain, which is common with the cheap but popular plastic palettes.
  • Doesn’t bead; it spreads evenly across the surface so you know exactly what your paint color looks like.

What many artists forget to mention is that store bought ceramic plates may bead when you first buy them! In the picture below you can see how paint reacts on a brand new plate (I purchased mine from Muji) and on a plate ready for watercolor paint.


I’ve used two paint colours, showing what happens when you mix the two colors and how they interact on the plate. The unprepared plate is much harder to see the density of the paint, and thus the colours can look much darker than they are (see the grey mix). The prepared plate however spreads quite evenly, showing you almost exactly what that color will look like once placed upon your paper. Useful!

To Prepare Your Plate

  1. Fetch a standard kitchen sponge (with the scrubby rough side) and Jif with Micro-beads. Any grease removing washing soap should work; I had best results with Jif.
  2. Scrub with the rough side of your sponge for a few minutes. You don’t need to put too much pressure onto the sponge, but you want to make sure you are fairly thorough. Don’t forget the corners (like I did above)!
  3. Rinse your plate thoroughly. You don’t want to get those harsh chemicals on your brushes (especially if you use high quality and expensive brushes).
  4. Test with a small dot of paint. It can be fairly watery, you just need enough to see if the paint handles as expected.


How To: Quick and Easy Grid for Easy Image Transfer Drawings

Final Grid

A friend asked me how I make accurate drawings on my watercolour paper – it’s a skill that many people struggle with. Transferring drawings onto watercolour paper can be as daunting of a task as painting. It’s a vital step, and if your sketch isn’t accurate then your finished painting may look awkward. Drawing freehand can be quite difficult to get accurate results.

So I thought I would share with you my quick technique to sketch your drawing onto watercolour paper. That’s right – no tracing here!

Why this method?

Some artists, such as Anna Mason (check out her amazing school for learning watercolours), teach you to measure your reference images. This is a great technique and can help you get some amazing results, but I find it to be very time-consuming for my style. This is especially the case if I am working on a very detailed picture and have a lot to sketch out.

For this grid system you only need to calculate two measurements. No more measuring out increments, marking your paper, drawing a line, to repeat.

Remember: lightly draw these guidelines so that you can erase them later!

Draw the grid on both the reference image and your watercolour paper. Once your grids are in place, you can much more easily figure out where your drawing lines should be placed. You can either then use the measuring system to very accurately place your drawings, or a more controlled freehand approach. I prefer the freehand approach: if my reference image crosses a line about midway along one of my grid lines, I can estimate that midway point by eye.

The Simple Grid

This is the basis grid that you will need to draw for any project. It’s very simple, with three steps. In a lot of painting this grid will be sufficient. If you need to be more accurate, you can then go ahead to the advanced grid steps below.

Step 1: The Cross

1. Draw A Cross
1. Draw A Cross

Start by figuring out the half way points for your width and length. Draw lines from horizontally and vertically, just like the purple lines in the picture above. It should make a giant +.

Step 2: The X

2. The X
2. The X

Next, join each corner to its opposite corner, making a large X on your paper. The lines should all intersect at the centre point.

Step 3: The Diamond

3. Draw A Diamond
3. Draw A Diamond

Finally draw a diamond from each of the half-way points, just like the purple lines above.

The More Advanced Grid

If the above grid isn’t quite as accurate as you need, then you can continue the above steps over and over in smaller sections to get more grid lines where needed. I’m going to demonstrate adding a more detailed grid to the top left area of the paper. I will also include what the grid would look like if you added the more advanced grid to the entire paper each step.

Step 4: More Plus Shapes

4. Draw Another Plus Shape
4. Draw Another Plus Shape

Begin by drawing another plus shape. As you can see in the picture above (the purple lines), I have created a rectangle/square shape in the centre of the paper by joining the intersecting lines from the finished simple grid.

If you added the plus shapes to the entire paper, it would look like this:

Step 4. On The Full Paper
Step 4. On The Full Paper

Step 5: Draw More Crosses

5. Draw More Crosses
5. Draw More Crosses

Thanks to the simple grid, we already have on side of our cross lines already drawn. The light pink lines show you the shape of one of the crosses. As you can see, you only need to draw the lines that are in purple..

If you did step five to the full piece of paper it would look like this:

5. Draw More Crosses
5. Draw More Crosses

Step 6: The Diamond… Is Already Drawn

6. The Diamond Is Already Drawn
6. The Diamond Is Already Drawn

Thanks to all the previously drawn lines, you should be able to see that the diamond is now already drawn. You can check that the complete shape is there to make sure you didn’t miss any lines just in case.

The advanced grid when fully drawn across the entire paper will look like this:

Final Grid
Final Grid

Wow this grid looks like it’s getting pretty complex, right? It now has a lot reference lines. Again if you need to have even finer details, you can repeat the steps of drawing a +, a X and a diamond.

Practicing Negative Painting

Practicing Negative Watercolor Painting

On top of learning how to control watercolours, there are also a variety of techniques to learn that will help you achieve depth and a solid painting. One of these techniques is negative painting.

Practicing Negative Watercolor Painting
Practicing Negative Watercolor Painting

In essential principles, negative painting is when you paint around a shape and not the actual shape of the object.

In the sketch above you can see I painted around the lightest trees with the darker layers of paint. However in this painting I only did one layer of negative painting, painting the second and third layers of paint (red and dark red).

Practicing Negative Watercolor Painting
Practicing Negative Watercolor Painting

The second practice sketch I did was much larger. The larger paper sized allowed me to more easily add more layers of negative painting without feeling too cramped.

Using the same colors as earlier, I left complete white of the paper. I could have easily tinted this color with a light wash, but since this was a sketch and just for practice I wasn’t too focused on getting the picture to look “perfect”. Since this practice piece was larger, I also choose to add more details to the negative layer shapes. You can see this the clearest at the edges of the painting, where each layer has a more positive painting effect where I implied foliage.

It’s always good to practice combining and shifting negative and positive painting in the same area to imply areas of foliage.

Working On The Waterfall

This painting is an older one, before I learnt about negative painting techniques (I think this painting would greatly benefit from using negative rather than positive painting).

Again I used my preferred brand of watercolour tube paints – Daniel Smith. The colors used are Pyrrol Blue (green shade), Burnt Sienna, Pyrrol Green (Blue Shade), and Quinacridone Gold.

The first task was painting the first layer of water and the background. I painted a light wash of Pyrrol Blue for the body of water, and combined Burnt Sienna to change the shade to a more brownish-grey color.

The next step was adding the moss on top of the rocks. I recently discovered that I love how salt textures on watercolour paper, so I used a lot of salt to try and create an interesting appearance. The moss was painted in Pyrrol Green, Quinacridone Gold and Burnt Sienna.

I then focused on painting the grey rocks. I used Pyrrol Green mixed with varying mixtures of Burnt Sienna and Indian Red. Why Pyrrol Green? Because the rocks were quite wet, they often had moss growing on them in very fine layers, thus I was happy for the rocks to have a green tinged color to them.

Here is where I added the background trees. It was at this point that I realised I wasn’t happy with how they turned out. I previously hadn’t practiced negative painting for foliage, however this frustration definitely fuelled more research and practice into the point.

Over all I wasn’t that happy with how this painting turned out, but every time you apply brush to paper, you learn something new.