Ten Simple Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

hanshrepAugust 7, 2020

Today I’m going to be sharing with you ten techniques to use when painting with watercolor. If you are just starting out watercoloring, these simple techniques are crucial to developing a firm foundation. And, if you are an experienced watercolorist, it is always important to get in more practice too!

1. Dry on Dry

The first technique is called dry on dry, or dry brush. I use this when I want a textured look to my paintings.

Load your brush with paint, but make sure it isn’t super wet. If necessary, dab the paintbrush onto a paper towel or rag to get rid of some of the excess water. Then, brush the surface of the paper using short, quick strokes. You will need to use a very textured watercolor paper to get the best results for this technique.

2. Wet on Wet

The wet on wet technique creates the most soft, complex blends. This effect doesn’t allow for much control, which I love. Every blend comes out differently each time. Wet on wet allows the paint and water to be very loose and unpredictable.

Apply clean water to your paper in an even layer. Make sure there are no excessive pools of water. Load your brush with paint and begin to drop color in the areas you applied water. You can use multiple colors or more saturated paint to get lighter and darker tones of the same pigment. The paint on the wet paper will disperse beautifully onto the wet wash to create complex diffused textures and soft blends.

3. Wet on Dry

Wet on dry gives you full control over the painting because the paint will only go where you apply your brush to the paper.

Simply load your brush with even amounts of water and paint, then apply it to dry paper to get crisp, defined edges. I use both this and the wet on wet technique when painting florals. It is very useful when watercoloring a sketched piece because you can easily paint inside the lines.

4. Lifting

I use lifting when I want to remove color from areas I already applied paint, or when I want to add white space or highlights. It is also useful for when I make a mistake (which yes, can be very often).

If the paint is still wet, it’s easy to remove color by blotting your dry brush onto the area you want lightened. If the painting has dried, do the same exact thing but with a slightly wet brush.

You can also lift color by using a clean, dry paper towel or rag. You don’t get as much control as you do with a brush, however.

5. Salt

Salt sprinkled onto wet paint gives the most unique textures out of any of the techniques I’m sharing with you today.

Just sprinkle salt onto a wet painting, then wait for it to dry completely (It takes longer for a painting to dry with salt on it. It takes patience which is something I have in limited quantities). Once it’s dry, brush off the salt. You can use coarser salt to get larger blooms, or you can use fine table salt like I did to get these smaller bursts.

6. Washes

There are three different washes I am going to be showing you how to paint. You can use either the wet on wet or the wet on dry technique – it all comes down to which one you prefer using and the results you like better. I did wet on dry, so that is the technique I will be instructing below.

*When painting washes, you will need to tape your paper to a board that you can tilt.

When painting washes, a crucial tip to remember is to make sure to work quickly as to not let the paint dry. The main point of washes is to get smooth, even paint layers, and if the paint dries, it will result in streaky lines. And, if you make a mistake, don’t try to fix it if the paint has already started to dry. Watercolor is transparent, so a new layer of paint applied will be very noticeable once the whole piece has dried.

The first wash (which is pictured above) is an even, flat wash. It is continuous color with no variation in hue. Take a brush loaded with even amounts of paint and water and apply in a smooth stroke across the top of the paper. Because you are using a tilted board, the paint and water will flow down forming a bead at the lower edge of the stroke you just applied (make sure to reload your brush with pigment so you always have that bead. It will make the results so much smoother). If you let the paint and bead dry, you will get streaky, defined lines on your paper and your wash will not be the smooth consistency you are looking for. Continue painting in horizontal strokes, each stroke slightly overlapping the one you just applied until you get an even, flat layer of color.

The next wash is called a “graded” wash. It changes from dark to light and can be a little trickier to achieve than a flat wash. The transition from dark to light must be fluid and even to get a beautifully smooth gradient.

It is basically the same process as the flat wash, but instead of adding more paint as you progress down the paper, you will be adding water to dilute the paint. Make sure to have the bead of paint and water at the base of each stroke!

The last wash is called a variegated wash which is a blend of two or more colors. I used the wet on dry technique for this one, but it is technically easier to use wet on wet.

Begin the same way as a flat wash and paint in even brushstrokes with a bead of paint and water at the base of each stroke. Then when you reach about the middle of the page and when you want to make the transition, clean your brush and add the second color to the paper. You will want to slightly overlap the paint in the first color so they blend naturally together. This is the hardest one of all the washes to get smooth, but practice makes perfect!

7. Splattering

This is a fun, messy technique that I use when I want to add a little something extra to a piece.

I achieve this look by taking an acrylic block and putting water and paint on the top. I then flick in a downward motion off the edge of the block and the paint will splatter messily onto your paper. (Make sure there isn’t any other paintings around that you wouldn’t want paint splatters on. Yeah, I learned that the hard way)

Or, if you don’t have an acrylic block, you can load your brush with paint and tap your fingers or another brush on top of the loaded brush over the paper.

8. Galaxy

I will be doing a whole separate blog post on how to achieve these celestial beauties, but in the mean time, I’ll share a quick tutorial on how I made this little galaxy painting.

You can use either wet on wet or wet on dry for this technique, but I suggest wet on wet if you are trying it for the first time. It allows the paint and water to blend the colors for you.

Simply lay down an even layer of water (remember, no excess water pooling!), then drop in a color in random spots on the paper, making sure not to cover the whole piece with only one color. My first color choice is always pink, then I add in purple next to it so the purple and pink effortlessly blend together. Then, I add in dark layers of blue to get deep shadows. These three colors work really well together and don’t get a muddy blend. Make sure you are using complementary colors when you are painting galaxies. Then, while the paint is still wet, I use the lifting technique (make sure to use a dry brush when the paint is wet) to remove some of the dark paint and get white space where I think light is coming through. Then, I use the splattering technique with some white gouache to get the look of stars.

9. Spray then Paint

Take a spray bottle and spray the paper, but make sure not to spray too close to the paper otherwise you will get large pools of water. Then, load your brush with paint and dab the brush on the wet spots. It will organically move, the same as wet on wet but with a more unique texture.

10. Paint then Spray

To achieve this look, load your brush with pigment and paint on dry paper, allowing the painting to dry partially. Then, take a spray bottle and spray the painted area with water. Again, make sure not to spray too close or too much water onto the paper.

I hope you guys had fun trying out these ten techniques. If you do try them out, comment below or tag me on Instagram @hanlynart. It makes my day to see your work! See you next Friday 🤍

Comments (4)

  • Gloria

    August 7, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    Thank you for posting this information. It help clear up the mystery to me.

  • rwhoffman

    August 15, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    I enjoyed reading all these techniques now I have to try them. Thanks for all the work you put into this for crafters like me!!

  • Judy Joseph

    August 17, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    I love wising watercolors for cards. Thanks for sharing your amazing talents with us.

  • Lori Lehnen

    August 17, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    Great job on the water coloring!
    You have inspired me to give water color a try, thank you!

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