Different Techniques For Painting With Watercolours: The Artists Guide

There are many different ways to create art but one of the most visually stunning is to paint with watercolors.

Painting a watercolour can be a daunting proposition for the beginner and sometimes for the experienced artist too.

Don’t worry: it is not as difficult a skill to perfect as it may seem, we will take you through how to take on a watercolor painting with ease.

The use of successful watercolor techniques lies in being able to move water, paint and brush around on watercolor paper. It is a balancing act between these and the paper you use.  Different papers, paints and brushes all have different effects so where should you start.

The materials you buy are key. At an art exhibition like the annual Society of All Artists event, you get to finger and feel different types of paper, use different types of brushes and different qualities of paint to find out what suits you. This is the try before you buy experience, usually a lot of fun and a technique experience as well.  

If you can’t do that it is a bit of a ‘lucky dip’ when you buy materials online or in an art shop. You don’t get to use any of it before you buy.  My advice is to makes notes on the prices, then set your budget, buy the best you can and you will be ready to have a go and see what effects you can create. Different materials will create different effects even with the same techniques. Once you have selected your materials it is time to start.



Anyone who has made it as an artist already will tell that practice is key and the skill with watercolor techniques come with practice too, I will say that again. That’s right practice, practice, practice and more practice!

Wet on Wet Watercolour Painting

Whatever paper you have chosen you wet it first, damp not dripping with water. Use a spray bottle if you like. Mix some paint with water and try a blob of it on the paper before it dries. Watch what happens. Really watch. Next, try more paint and less water and repeat the exercise. Watch from the moment you dropped the paint on the paper until the paper and paint are both dry.

Take a different weight of paper and repeat the exercise. Now compare the result you got.

Now try again but this time drop in two different colors. Try a light grey with a sky blue.  Try light grey with a tiny drop of a scarlet red. Try a dark grey with a dark blue.

Get the idea?

What you are looking at now are possibilities for wet on wet skies, Bright ones, sunshine ones, stormy ones and downright gloomy ones.

Now try the same exercise using different greens. When you have done that you have trees hedges and grass when seen at a distance, or if you are doing flowers lots of different petal effects with reds and blues, mauves, yellows and so on.

Wet on Dry Watercolour Painting

This is using wet paint on dry paper. Mix up a good supply of paint, any color will do.  Using a ruler draw some squares on 2 sheets of watercolor paper, tiny, small, medium and large with tiny being half and inch by half an inch 1 cm and large being six inches by six inches.

Using a brush, size 6, or thereabouts load it up with lots of paint. Hold it so that a large part of the brush is on the paper at the top of the largest square and bring it from left to right across the page.

Now do this again with the tip of the brush just over the bottom of the first try. Do this before the first line of paint has dried. Continue this way until you have painted in the whole square. Try and get the paint to flow on the paper as smoothly and evenly as you can.

Now do the next smallest square, same procedure. Then do the next smallest and the next and so on to the very tiny squares.  Change the size of your brush as you tackle smaller and smaller squares. Keep going sweeping across the squares with your brush. Even on the tiny ones, it’s a sweep across.

Do the same again only this time use a different color. Then do it again using another color. Do watch the paint dry as you go and you will see how it changes and how it looks when dry.

This will help achieve the skill of smooth blocks of color over large and smaller areas of watercolor when you are painting a picture.  You will be able to do bricks, pavements, inland water ways, large expanses of grass or sand, boats, roads and even expanses of a wall inside a room. You will be able to tackle smaller or thinner things like tree branches, flower stalks, gate posts, fencing, rope, shells or lamp posts. Just depends on what is in your sketch.

Dry on Dry Watercolour Painting

If you draw a very lightly loaded brush across a dry paper surface you will get areas that don’t have any paint on them. Depends on the weight of paper you are using. Very rough surfaces will give you sparkling highlights that look like water when you do this.  Try it with different sizes of brush too. Blue or blue-green is recommended as you will see how lakes, rivers and the sea are created. Practise, practise, practise.

Sponge and Masking

Mix up some paint, any color. Take a sponge, not the one in the bathroom, an art shop one, they are real sponge.  Dip it in the paint and splotch it onto your paper, watch what happens. Let it dry.

Now mix up two lots of color. Splotch one color onto the paper and let it dry. Now splotch the second color over the first. Watch how it changes as it dries and the final result. Do blue over yellow, red over yellow, green over blue and so on and then reverse it. Yellow over blue, red over yellow, blue over green etc.

Practise and vary the size of your ‘splotches’. It can give you mid-ground detail. (Mid ground – the middle third of your paper.) You will have trees and bushes in spring, summer, and autumn depending on your color mixes. Yellows and light brown overlaid with greys and blues can give you beaches, even a pattern on a not so distant garden or meadow. Sponging on a wet on wet sky gives you clouds.

Masking fluid is a liquid which is drawn or dropped onto the paper where up don’t want any paint. When dry paint can’t penetrate it. You use it to create highlights, (where the sun or light shines on something). Have a go to see how it works. Squiggle some around on your paper. When dry and solid paint over it. When the paint is dry rub the solid masking fluid off.  Watch out though, too much rubbing and you start to blister the paper and paint next to it, so go gently.

Happy watercolour painting comes from using these techniques and never ending practice. Keep what you practise and date it. Look at what you did over time and you will see how you improve to a point where your paintings become saleable.

To find inspiration for your art read this:

Artists submit your art to The Talent Bank for free promotion.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

Related Articles

Back to top button