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TABLE OF CONTENTS | 22 Different Watercolor Techniques Every Artist Should Know

Different Watercolor Techniques. Watercolor painting is a beautiful, relaxing way to create art. Once you’ve learned the basics, you might be looking for some more creative techniques to try.

This post will give you some helpful techniques to get you started. With a little practice, you’ll be using these methods to create beautiful watercolor paintings in no time!

There are SO many different ways to use watercolor!

Getting Started with Commonly Used Watercolor Techniques

Learning these creative methods can give you a leg up when you’re first getting started. It’s really amazing how many different effects you can get from a single brush.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Painting (and all art, really!) is all about trial and error. Learn these essential watercolor techniques, you’ll be able to create beautiful paintings that are truly your own.

Start Painting with Easy Watercolor Projects

Ready to try your hand at watercolor painting? If you’re brand new, you might want to check out my [LINK] beginner’s guide before you start. This will walk you through the basics and answer any questions you might have.

It can be helpful to try these techniques on some test paper at first, so you can get used to using the before trying them in a real painting.

I also have some simple watercolor projects are perfect for beginners!

Tips for Painting with Watercolour Techniques

Just remember a few things before you get started.

Keep it Simple

Painting can be daunting, but there’s no need to overthink your first project. Stick to a few colors and basic techniques. Get the basic shapes down first, adding details at the end.

Use a Light Touch

One of the most important things to remember when painting with water based pigments is to always start with a light touch. It’s much easier to add more paint than it is to try and remove it once it’s on the paper. 

Work from Light to Dark

Another crucial technique is to work from light to dark colors. By starting with lighter colors and then gradually adding darker shades, you’ll be able to achieve a more natural look.

Stop Worrying and Get Your Hands Dirty

Paintings don’t have to be perfect (especially when you’re just starting out!). Even the masters painted hundreds of “bad” paintings before the ones we know them for. Learning to paint is a process, and what looks good and bad is highly subjective.

If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it’s helpful to take a break, let it dry a little, and come back later with fresh eyes.

Take your time

Making art is all about the process, not the final product. Over time, you’ll get to know your favorite subjects, techniques, and the different brands of paint and paper you prefer. You’re learning a whole new skill – don’t expect to be an expert right away.

Take your time and enjoy experimenting with this beautiful medium.

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Essential Watercolor Techniques

While there are many different watercolor techniques that you can use to create effects, there are a few important ones that every watercolor painter should know.

I’ve sorted these into three sections. First, the very basics are under “Common Watercolor Painting Techniques”. Then we’ll move on to some different ways to use your paintbrush in the “Brush Techniques” section. Finally, we’ll have a look at creating depth and interest with “Techniques to Add Texture”.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

Common Watercolor Painting Techniques

Here are some of the most commonly used watercolor techniques for you to try!

1. Wet on Wet

If you’re looking to add a little more dimension to your watercolours, the wet on wet technique is perfect!

This involves painting on already wet paper with a wet paintbrush.

Start by dampening the paper surface using a cloth or a large brush dipped in water. Let the water sit for a few minutes so it soaks into the paper, creating a wet surface. (If you’re working on a large piece of paper, you can create a wet area to work in, instead of using the whole paper.)

Next, fully saturate your paintbrush in water, and use it to pick up some paint. Brush the wet paint onto the wet paper.

The key to making this work is to have the right amount of water on your paper and brush before you start painting. This helps the colors will blend together more easily. You can also try using different brushstrokes to create interesting effects.

One thing to keep in mind with this technique is that it’s important to work quickly. If the paper starts to dry out, it will be much harder to get the desired effect. So make sure you have all your supplies ready before you start painting!

2. Wet on Dry

The wet on dry technique is one of the most basic and essential techniques that every artist should know. In this technique, you simply wet your brush and then dip it into your paint color before applying it onto a dry surface.

This technique is perfect for painting flat, opaque layers of color.

To achieve the perfect wet on dry effect, make sure that your brush is properly loaded with paint. Then, gently touch the tip of your brush to the surface you are painting. Gently apply pressure as you move the brush across the surface. The goal is to lay down a even layer of color.

Different Watercolor Techniques - Wash Example by Annie Sprat
Watercolor Wash by Annie Spratt

3. Watercolor Wash

A watercolor wash is a painting technique in which a layer of wet paint is applied to a large area of the white paper, working from left to right with a wide brush. It’s usually best to start at the top left of the paper and work down to the bottom right.

To create a wash, start with a wide, wet brush. Dip your brush in water, then load the brush with thinned paint. Apply the wet pigment to your paper from left to right, using long strokes to fully cover the area.

The wash can be made more or less opaque, depending on how much water you add to the paint. If you want a more transparent effect, use more water. For a more opaque wash, use less water.

Once you’ve applied the desired amount of paint, let the paper dry completely before adding any additional layers.

4. Flat Wash

A flat wash is a type of wash (like in section 3) that is used to apply an evenly colored layer of color to a surface. The brush is held at a low angle and the paint is applied in a continuous motion.

The result is a flat, even layer of color that can be used to create a variety of effects. Because the brush is fully saturated with water, there is less risk of leaving brushstrokes in the paint.

To achieve a successful flat wash, it is important to use a wide brush, and paint thinned out with plenty of water. It’s usually easiest to start at the top of the paper, and work your way down.

5. Graded Wash

Another important wet wash technique is the graded wash. This is when you gradually add more paint to your brush as you move across or down the paper. This creates a soft, gradient effect that can be absolutely stunning.

When creating a graded wash, use a soft brush for the best results. Start with a very light layer of paint at one side of the page, and build up gradually as you get closer to the opposite edge of the page.

It’s better to add too little paint than too much. You can always go back and add more if needed.

6. Color Gradient

A color gradient is a section of painting where one color blends seamlessly into another. By applying different colors in a gradient, you can create a beautiful, ethereal look that is perfect for adding a touch of magic to any painting.

A classic example of this technique would be painting a sunset, with yellow, orange and red all blending into each other.

To create a gradient, start by wetting your paper. Then, using two or three different colors, apply the paint in small strokes next to each other. As you work your way down the paper, gradually blend the colors together until they transition smoothly from one hue to the next.

Get creative with color combinations to see what effects you can create. You can also try applying the paint in different patterns (e.g., horizontal vs. vertical) to vary the look of your gradients. Have fun exploring and see what you can come up with!

7. Layered Watercolor Technique

One of the best things about watercolor pigment is that it dries translucent, so it can be layered to create really interesting effects.

To start, wet your paper with a brush and then apply your first layer of color. Allow it to dry before adding another. You can create different shades by using different colors in each layer.

Experiment with combining layering with other techniques to get a unique look!

8. Color Lifting

Color lifting is when you remove existing color from your painting by adding water. This can when the paint is dry, or while it’s still wet. It can be done to lighten a color or to create space for a whole new color.

Use your brush to add clean water to the color area you want to remove or ‘lift’. Let it sit for few moments to soak into the paint, then use a paper towel to remove the paint from the paper.

Try not to rub the paint, use a dabbing motion instead. You don’t want to smudge your painting!

9. Masking Tape and Masking Fluid

Of all the different watercolor techniques you learn, masking is absolutely key. It’s used to create sharp lines and clean edges on your painting.

By using masking tape or masking fluid (also called liquid frisket), you can block out areas of your painting so that the colors stay true and don’t bleed into each other.

To use masking tape, simply apply the tape to the area you want to keep clean, then paint over it. When you’re finished painting, carefully peel off the tape off, revealing the clean paper underneath!

If you want to get really creative with your masking, you can use masking fluid to create all sorts of different shapes on your painting. Masking fluid comes in a bottle so it’s easy to apply with an old brush or a bamboo skewer.

To mask with fluid, just draw whatever shapes you like onto your paper with masking fluid. let the fluid dry, then paint over it. When the paint is dry, peel off the masking fluid off with your finger or an eraser to reveal your masked design!

Different Watercolor Techniques - Ink and Wash Example
Ink and Wash Flowers by Jonathan Borba

10. Ink and Wash

Ink and wash is a painting technique that uses opaque ink lines combined with translucent watercolor to create a look unique to this style.

The ink is usually black or dark-colored, and can be applied using a pen or a brush. The paint is applied over top of the dried ink in thin, transparent layers. This technique can be used to create a variety of effects, from delicate line drawings to bold and expressive paintings.

Ink and wash watercolour painting is a great way to add depth and dimension to your artwork.

Brush Techniques

It’s amazing how many different watercolor techniques you can get from a few basic brushes. Here are some common brush techniques to enhance your paintings!

11. Dry Brush

Dry brush technique is one of the oldest and most popular ways to paint with watercolors.

The dry brush technique is simple: you start with a completely dry brush, dip it in paint, then apply the paint to your dry watercolor paper.

This technique can be used for a variety of different effects, but it always gives opaque, bold strokes. It also gives you more control over the direction and flow of your brushstrokes.

Because watercolors are generally meant to be flowy and transparent, you’ll want to use dry brush sparingly. It’s an excellent technique for adding fine details though!

12. Scumbling

Scumbling is a technique where the artist applies a thin layer of paint to the surface of the paper, then uses a brush to ‘jab’ the surface, causing the brush bristles to splay out. This creates a uniquely textured effect.

This technique can be used to create a variety of different effects, from light and airy textures (like clouds) to more bold and dramatic ones (like grass or leaves).

If you’re interested in trying scumbling for yourself, get yourself a stiff bristled, old watercolor brush – you don’t want to use good brushes for this one!

13. Stippling

Want to add a little extra interest and dimension to your watercolour paintings? Stippling is a great way to do it! This technique involves using small dots of paint to create a textured, almost pointillist effect.

It’s a simple enough technique to learn, and once you get the hang of it you can really have fun experimenting with different patterns and densities of dots. Plus, it’s a great way to add some extra interest to backgrounds or larger areas of colour.

To do stippling, you will need a fine brush. Dip the brush in water and then into the paint, and then gently tap the brush onto the paper to create tiny dots. You can vary the size of the dots by using more or less pressure, and experiment with grouping more or less dots together.

Different Watercolor Techniques - Dripping by Mary Cherkesova
Drippy Watercolor by Mary Cherkesova

14. Dripping

The dripping technique is an easy way to add interesting effects to your paintings. Use paint mixed with lots of water to create dips for a uniquely watercolor style.

To start, you will need some very watery paints and a piece of stiff watercolour paper. Start with a small amount of paint and gradually add more until you are happy with the results.

There are a few different ways to do a dripping technique. One way is to pour water onto your painting surface and then tilt the painting so that the water runs down the surface. Another way is to use a dropper to drip water onto the painting while it’s laying flat.

You can use multiple colours and tools to create varied effects. For example, try mixing two colours together as you drip them onto your paper. Or, try using a straw to blow the paint around on your paper.

Have fun exploring different ways to use dripping!

15. Bleeds and Blooms

Watercolor bleeds or blooms are types of painting techniques where the paint is applied in a thin, watery layer. The artist then adds more paint on top of or right next to the first, while the first paint applied is still wet.

Blooms or bleeds can be done with the same color, or a different color, and are applied in a sort of dabbing motion. They creates a more intense border where the paints overlap, leaving a soft, blurred effect that loosely resembles a flower or bloom.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of the bleed technique, you can start experimenting with different ways to use it. For example, you can use multiple colors to create a multicolored gradient of blooms, or you can use different brushstrokes to create interesting patterns.

16. Paint Splatter

This technique is called paint splatter. It’s pretty self explanatory!

To do this, you’ll use watercolor paint and an old brush. Load your brush with lots of paint and then hold it over your paper. Use your other hand to flick the bristles so that the paint splatters onto the paper.

This technique is great for creating backgrounds or adding texture to your painting. You can create layers of splatters by letting each layer dry between splatterings.

Splattering is really easy – it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Plus, it’s super fun to do!

Watercolour Techniques to Add Texture

Every painting needs texture. Adding texture to watercolor paintings gives them extra dimension and makes them more interesting to look at.

There are a few different watercolor techniques that you can add texture to your work.

Experimenting with different methods is a great way to find out what works best for you and your painting style. Enjoy exploring and adding new dimensions to your paintings!

Different Watercolor Techniques - Underpainting by Cori Redford
Portrait Underpainting by Cori Redford

17. Underpainting

Underpainting is a technique that is used in lots of different mediums, especially oil painting. It can be used to add depth and interest to your water based paintings, too!

Underpainting involves painting a layer of colour onto your paper or canvas before adding your main layers of paint. It will help work out the light and dark parts of the painting before you start adding the actual colors.

This can be done with any colour, but using a dark colour like grey or navy will create a more dramatic effect.

Adding an underpainting to your watercolour painting can help to create depth and interest, and can also be used to correct any mistakes you make later on. If you make a mistake in your underpainting, it will be covered up when you add your main layers of paint.

18. Masking Fluid or Liquid Frisket

Masking fluid is a latex liquid that can be used with watercolors to preserve white areas on the paper and create interesting effects. It’s also called Liquid Frisket.

To use masking fluid, simply apply it to the area of the paper you want to keep white using a brush or other applicator (toothpicks, old pens and skewers all work well for this). Once it’s dry, you can paint over the masking.

When the paint is dry and you’re ready to remove the masking fluid, simply use your finger or an eraser rub off the dry masking fluid.

Masking fluid is a great way to add interest and detail to your watercolor paintings. It takes a bit of planning to know where to use it on a painting, but don’t be afraid to experiment with this versatile medium!

19. Paint Resist

You can create a variety of really unique effects using a ‘resist’ medium like wax to repel paint and prevent it from soaking into the paper.

With simple materials like a white crayon or wax pencil, you can produce a wide range of resist effects, from delicate line work to bold color blocking.

It’s a bit like using masking fluid in that you’ll see the white of the paper showing through the paint. The big difference is that with a resist, the wax stays on the final piece. You don’t remove it they way you do with masking.

20. Rubbing Alcohol for Different Watercolor Techniques

When it comes to mixing watercolors, there are endless possibilities. But one versatile and easy-to-use mediums is rubbing alcohol.

One of the great things about using rubbing alcohol is that it doesn’t change the pigment of the paint. So, if you’re looking for a way to lighten up a color or make it more translucent, rubbing alcohol is a great option. Simply add a few drops to your brush and paint away.

You can also try creating different effects by spritzing alcohol onto your painting with a spray bottle, or dabbing it on with a fine brush. By adding a few drops of rubbing alcohol to your watercolors, you can create a variety of unique effects. 

Different Watercolor Techniques - Salt Texture
Salt Texture – By Addictive_Stock

21. Add Texture With Salt

You may not have thought to look in the spice cupboard for painting supplies, but a sprinkle of salt on your watercolor while the paint is still wet adds an interesting texture to your art.

This simple technique can be used with any color of paint and any type of salt, from table salt to kosher salt. Simply sprinkle a pinch of salt into wet paint on your paper.

Once it’s dry, you can lightly brush the salt off the painting. You’ll be left with a delicate, organic pattern that looks a bit like frost on a window pane.

Just be sure to use a light touch when applying the salt, as too much can overwhelm the painting. Try using different amounts and types of salt to see what effects you can create.

22. Create Texture with Paper Towel, Tissue Paper or Plastic Wrap

If you’re looking for an interesting way to add texture to your watercolor paintings, try using paper towels, tissue paper or plastic wrap!

This simple technique can give your paintings a unique look and feel. Here’s how it works:

First, wet your paper towel or tissue paper and wring it out so that it’s still slightly damp. Then, lightly dab it onto your wet painting. The still-wet paper will absorb some of the paint, creating an interesting textured effect.

Plastic wrap won’t absorb the paint, it will kind of “smoosh” it around, creating a different sort of texture.

You can experiment with different types of paper or plastic to see which ones work best for this technique. And don’t be afraid to use different materials! You can even try foil – the possibilities are endless!

23. Apply Paint with a Sponge

The sponge watercolor technique is a great way to add interesting texture and dimension to your paintings right from the beginning.

First, wet your sponge and then dab it onto a piece of watercolor paper. Next, choose the colors you want to use and apply them to the sponge. Finally, press the sponge onto the paper to transfer the color.

This technique is perfect for creating unique backgrounds or adding interesting accents to your paintings. The finished look is organic and dappled, making it great for trees and leaves.

Final Thoughts – Try Different Watercolor Techniques!

When it comes to watercolour painting, there are endless techniques to explore and experiment with. By trying out various techniques, you can achieve vastly different results – it’s all about finding what works best for you.

One of the great things about watercolour painting is that there are so many different ways to achieve different results. So don’t be afraid to experiment with various techniques until you find the ones that work best for you.

The more you paint, the better you’ll become at using specific techniques to achieve the results you want.

Watercolour painting is a great way to relax and let your creativity flow. So don’t be hard on yourslef – just enjoy the process and see what happens!

Amanda Ilkov
Amanda Ilkov
Articles: 95

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