Unconventional Watercolor Techniques You Have to Try

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Watercolor is often thought of as a traditional medium, but there are many ways to push the boundaries and create something truly unique. In this tutorial, we will explore some unconventional watercolor techniques that you have to try! The goal is to create a seascape with sailboats, and we will be using collaging and other mixed media techniques to add interest and texture. This project is beginner-friendly, too. So don’t be afraid to give it a try!

Note – The video is a condensed version of the original version. If you would like to check out the original tutorial along with many other creative watercolor collage ideas, check this class out.

In this article we will cover the following topics;

  • The overall design concept
  • Materials needed
  • How to make your collage paper
  • Step-by-step guide
  • How to learn more
  • Conclusion

The overall design concept

The design and composition lead the way here, and on every painting that’s shared on this site. If it’s not a good design, it doesn’t get painted!

The horizon line is placed towards the bottom at the third mark. It would be easy to slap it right in the middle but that’s usually a bad idea. The sailboats form an inverted ‘V’ with the largest sail on the left, smaller in the middle, and medium-size on the end. This creates interest versus all the same size. Two sails in the middle are joined which adds some variety as well.

Color-wise, it’s an overall cool palette with pops of warm accent hues. Lastly, the sail reflections act as a lead-in for the viewers. Feel free to shuffle things around some if you feel you want to test your design skills. Or, try a different landscape of your choice.

Unconventional abstract watercolor seascape
– Unconventional abstract watercolor seascape

Materials needed

If you are curious about the materials we use, check this out.

  • Random used drawing paper
  • Mod Podge matte glue
  • 10″ x 10″ Bristol paper. or any heavy scrap paper will do, just avoid thin, lightweight paper
  • Watercolor paint, whatever colors you use will be fine, not going to be too picky for this project
  • Markers, graphite, or crayons
  • Old paintbrush for glue
  • Older, worn paint brushes, Avoid your good watercolor brushes for this project
  • Water reservoirs
  • Paper towels, or rags
  • Scissors, or an Exacto knife

Step-by-step guide

Below is a guide that will help you learn more about how this simple watercolor collage is created. There are some tips on making the collage paper, colors, techniques, values and more. It may help answer any questions you have that the video didn’t offer.

Create watercolor collage paper
– Create watercolor collage paper

Step one; make collage paper

Using the older drawing and sketches, start splashing random watercolors all over the paper. You don’t need to be neat here, actually it’s better if you’re not! Be sure to use a variety of hues.

Create the collage paper in multiple layers. It’s best to start with lighter values and allow them to dry. Once it’s completely dry, add slightly darker values and perhaps some crayon, or marker scribbles.

Use markers and crayons
– Use markers and crayons

Step two; Add more layers to collage paper

I used artist grade crayon and added some random marks. If you have oil pastels, markers or color pencils that could work, too.

Don’t try to plan anything at this stage. Just have some fun and go wild with your strokes.

Also, add some darker hues as well. This will give the collage paper more interest and perhaps offer a better range to choose from later on.

Start with the sky
– Start with the sky

Step three; Collage the sky

After the collage papers have dried, take your Bristol paper and lay it flat on the table. Note: you may want to place some cardboard underneath since it could get messy.

Find some light blue collage and cut it to the size of the Bristol paper. It’s okay if it doesn’t fit perfectly, you can always add another piece.

Now glue the back and press it flat to the Bristol paper. Boom! Your sky and water are done, well mostly. We’ll add some more to them later on.

Add some darker blue or violet for sea
– Add some darker blue or violet for sea

Step four; Create the water plane

I chose a darker blue that could be considered a violet-gray color. In most cases, the water will be darker than the sky plane.

As I mentioned earlier, place this about a third of the way up from the bottom. The middle is usually a bad idea because it creates symmetry in the design. Dividing the scene in half will confuse the viewer, so it’s best to have a dominant sky or ground plane.

Use darker value for distant hills
– Use darker value for distant hills

Step five; Add distant hills

It’s not a huge part of the design, but adding a distant hill will separate the water and sky planes. I used a dark gray strip of paper.

Since the lefthand side will be dominated by a larger sail and boat, I decided to add nothing for now. It’s probably good to wait and see how that

Be sure to press the paper as flat as possible. A clean piece of paper can be laid over the art and use a small book to press down.

Add the sailboats
– Add the sailboats

Step six; Collage the sailboats

Start with the hulls. I wanted the boat on the left to be dominant, so I used a lighter color for that one. I also added a small piece of red collage paper for a distant hull.

Note the three different sail sizes. Avoid making them all the same size and height. You could even add a darker sail if you wanted.

To create interest, each sail is slightly different in color. And I joined two sails into one piece of paper as well.

Add some details
– Add some details

Step seven; Add some darker hues

To anchor the boats I added some darker grays to the hulls, except for the one on the left. Try adding a few details using a liner, or dagger brush.

Don’t overdo it! Keep it simple and avoid painting over the collage paper too much. This will ruin the quirkiness of the painting.

Add some water details
– Add some water details

Step eight; The big finish

Step back from the painting and take it all in before deciding on the details. Every painting is unique so it’s good to treat it this way.

I thought the water could use some reflective quality, so I used a lighter hue and painted some horizontal strokes. All the while negative space painting around the sail reflections.

I also used white gouache to paint a few fluffy clouds. And that’s it! You just created an amazing watercolor collage.

How to learn more


There you have it! These are just a few of the many ways you can explore collaging and watercolor. Give them a try on your next painting and see what amazing results you can achieve! As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out. I would love to hear from you! Happy painting…

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