Watercolor Shading For Beginners

In this blog post, I’ll share ideas about watercolor shading for beginners. We will do it using two techniques:

  1. Wet-in-wet
  2. Wet-in-dry

By following these simple steps you’ll be able to create beautiful shading effects in your watercolors paintings! If you’re new to watercolor painting, one of the things you’ll need to learn is how to shade your paintings. Shading with watercolors can be a little tricky at first but it’s a skill that can be mastered with a little practice.

The video below will guide you on how to shade using simple objects. Master this before you move to more complex subjects.

Step-by-step guide for shading with watercolors

Be sure to browse the images and read the information if you need more tips. Although the video covers it well, some of you may like the text version.

Let’s establish some goals for this project

It’s important to establish some goals before diving in to shading with watercolors. For example, you may struggle with drawing, or perhaps your art looks too fussy because you overwork the paint by second guessing your work.

Whatever it is, be sure to write down three goals, or outcomes, you desire for this project. This way you get on the same page with your brain and set yourself up for success.

Watercolor shading for beginners, finished demo
– Watercolor shading for beginners, finished demo

Materials used in this shading demo

Here’s a list of watercolor supplies used in this watercolor shading tutorial. Keep in mind you can use whatever hues you wish. The sphere could be yellow and the cube is blue. Doesn’t matter so long as the focus is on learning to shade using proper watercolor techniques.

  • Paints: Holbein hues are cadmium red medium, ultramarine blue and neutral tint
  • Brush: Princeton Neptune pointed round #8
  • Paper: Fabriano Artistico bright white, 140 lb cold press, 6″ x 9″

Need help with materials? Here are my top 10 supplies, recommended paper, and paint brushes for beginners.

Let’s learn how to shade with watercolors

Inspiration image
step one

Draw the sphere and cube – Step #1

  • Start by using #2 pencil to add the contour of sphere and cube
  • Avoid lines that are too dark unless you want them to be noticeably visible on the finished study
  • Create red and gray test swatches
  • This will help eliminate the guess work on color mixing once you begin
  • Be sure to use a complimentary hue, or gray to discover the shade color you want for the red sphere
  • Now that the drawing is in place and you know your colors, we can move to step two
Watercolor shading for beginners

Add first wash of red – Step #2

  • Pre-wet the sphere but avoid too much water!
  • Use a very light mix of red for first wash
  • IMPORTANT! Using a damp brush remove some of the water where the highlight will be
  • Mix a little more paint into the puddle and add a slightly darker red into the first wash
  • If the paint bleeds too much into the highlight area just use a damp brush to remove it
  • Now that step 2 is finished it’s time for the next one…
Watercolor shading for beginners; Step 3

Paint the cube – Step #3

  • Use a light mixture of gray for the cast shadow on top of cube
  • IMPORTANT! Do this while the cube is still wet
  • Working wet-in-wet will allow the red to bleed into the cast shadow.
  • This is desirable since you can see the bounced light in the image
  • Now use the same gray to paint left and right side of white cube
  • And this step is done but we need to work quickly for step 4….
Step 4

Layer darker values – Step #4

  • If you are working quick enough the red sphere should still be wet
  • Add a darker hue to the shadow side, be sure to arc the stroke so it gives the sphere a re realistic volume (round)
  • IMPORTANT! Avoid getting fussy, or adding too many strokes. You want a fresh look
  • This step is finished now we will move to the final stage
Watercolor shading for beginners; Step 5

Paint darker shadows – Step #5

  • Allow everything to dry 100% before starting step #5
  • Add contact shadow under sphere where it connects with cube
  • Use the same gray hue to add darker shade on right-hand side
  • Add the cast shadow
  • Use a slightly darker hue for contact shadow where cube meets surface
  • Congrats! You are done.


With a little practice, you’ll be able to master shading in watercolors and turn your paintings into something that looks more realistic and three dimensional. Starting with a simple subject will allow you to have some success before trying more difficult objects. For example, try painting the side of an apple or flower petals if you’re having trouble getting started. Remember, start by using light shades of color first then add darker colors gradually for depth and dimensionality. Let me know how it goes!

Be sure to check out the official Watercolor Fanatic youtube channel for more great stuff!