18 Watercolor Techniques To Level Up Your Paintings

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Watercolor is a great medium because it’s so versatile. The watercolor techniques shared in this can create many different effects once you understand how to use them. We will explore eighteen watercolor techniques that are fun and will help you create beautiful pieces of art. So, grab your watercolor supplies and let’s get started!

Watercolor techniques using negative space painting
– Loose watercolor landscape exploiting negative space painting

18 Watercolor Techniques That You Need To Know & Master

When applying these watercolor techniques be sure to use good watercolor paint, paper and brushes. It will ensure that you get the best results possible.

As you discover each technique below be sure to give them a go! It’s the only way to learn how to create them and will point out your weaknesses. Watercolor will humble even the most experienced artists at times so we have to respect the techniques and practice, practice, practice.


wet-in-dry wash
– Wet-in-dry wash technique

#1 Wet-in-dry washes

We will kick-off watercolor techniques with the easiest of all and that is wet-in-dry wash. This watercolor technique involves dry paper, then applying a wash on top of the dry surface. This give you more control over shapes and colors as they do not bleed into the wet paper.

Brushstrokes hold their shapes, too. This watercolor technique is desirable for may reasons from adding details, defining shapes, and textures to name a few.


wet-in-wet-wash
Wet-in-wet technique

#2 Wet-in-wet washes

Watercolor technique two is wet-in-wet wash. Probably the most difficult because this involves wet paper and then applying a wash on top of the wet surface. You lose control over shapes, colors and textures with this watercolor technique, but it does create beautiful effects.

Wet-in-wet wash is best for creating washes without harsh edges or defining shapes.

Common mistake: Beginners tend overwork wet-in-wet washes. This will usually create flat and muddy results, so it’s best to put the color down and get out of the way. This will ensure crisp, fresh colors that ‘pop’ off the page.


variegated wash
Variegated wash technique

#3 Variegated washes

Variegated washes are ideal for creating a more subtle look. To create a variegated wash start by painting one color and then add another one that overlaps. This will cause the first color to blend with the second color, also known as bleeding.

This technique is very common and probably the most widely used because of its versatility. Skies, grass fields, and adding light and dark values are some examples for where to use gradated washes.


gradated wash
– Gradated wash technique

#4 Gradated washes

A gradated wash is created when you add water to your paint, making it lighter, or darker, as you move towards the bottom of your paper. This watercolor technique is great for landscapes and seascapes because it gives a sense of depth.

To create a realistic effect with this watercolor technique, try using different colors that will gradually blend together.


watercolor techniques; Transparent layering technique
– Transparent layering technique

#5 Transparent layering

This technique involves adding multiple washes on top of a dry wash. Note how hues will gradually become darker as each layer is added in the image above. Also note that as the layers move towards the center they become more opaque.

Layering into dry paint is a common task and the goal is to do it while not disturbing the layer(s) beneath.


watercolor techniques; transparency and layers with primary hues
– Transparent layering with multiple hues

#6 Transparent layering with multiple hues

Very similar to the previous technique but this time using more than one hue. Secondary and tertiary hues are created when applying one transparent layer over another. This is a wonderful exercise as it captures the lovely transparency that watercolors offers.


watercolor techniques; gravity and fusion
– Gravity and fusion techniques

#7 Fusion and gravity

Allow hues to flow and mingle with gravity and fusion. When painting, it’s a good idea to elevate the top of art so that washes flow downward as opposed to puddling up in random places.

A common mistake is to control the bleeding of hues which will typically make the results look fussy. Allow colors to mingle using water fusion and gravity.


explore thin and thick paint into wet paper
– Charging with thin and thick paint into wet wash

#8 Charging with thin and thick paint

Working into wet washes can be challenging for even the most experienced watercolorists. But it’s necessary and it’s takes some good technique to pull it off consistently.

The illustration shows three circles. Paint is applied wet-in-wet into the pink circle using thin, thick, and thicker paint. It’s the tea, milk and honey idea which you will learn next.

The goal here is to learn how to manipulate paint and control some of the bleeding that occurs when working into wet surfaces. The thicker the paint the less it bleeds into the wash.


Three common paint mixtures
– Three common paint mixtures

#9 Tea, milk and honey mixtures

It’s a good idea to know the three common mixtures and understand when to use them. Each one has it’s place in a painting, here’s the breakdown

Tea: this is a watery mixture that has very little pigment. Its job is to create a very transparent layer and subtle washes. Create soft backgrounds, skies and distant trees using tea mixtures.

Milk: thicker than tea because it has more pigment. Milk mixtures are the dominant washes in when creating most watercolor paintings. This wash has many jobs like adding more vibrant colors and defining shapes to name a few.

Honey: as you know honey is thick and sticky. Add rich dark shadows, define focal points, accent colors and more with honey mixtures. A perfect way to finish a painting.


explore wet washes and paint thickness
– Timing and paint thickness

#10 Timing and paint thickness

Now that you understand tea, milk and honey we can add another layer of complexity. That’s timing! Timing when paint is applied into wet surfaces and gauging how wet the paper is will determine if you need tea, milk or honey.

Let me explain. If the paper is very wet then it’s best to use milk or honey mixes. That’s because tea would likely cause ballooning effects in the wash which is undesirable most of the time. Thicker paint usually reacts better into a really wet surface.

If the paper is semi-dry then it’s best to use thicker paint that has less water. As washes dry they create a stain that can easily become unstable if agitated with water wet brushstrokes.

A good rule of thumb is to know that thicker paint works best as paper dries. So long as the surface is equally wet you can apply a tea mixture.


Watercolor Techniques; thin to thick painting
– Painting light to dark

#11 Light to dark painting

Many experienced watercolorists would agree that painting light-to-dark is the way to go. Doesn’t always have to be this way but it works really well.

The illustration above starts with a tea mixture of warm pink. After allowing time to dry, another layer is added using milk mixture of violet. This hue is thicker paint so it is naturally darker. Plus the color itself is darker than the warm pink. Lastly another darker green-violet is added over the two previous layers. As you may have guessed this is a honey mixture.

The big takeaway here is painting light-to-dark using tea-to-honey mixtures.


lifting and removing watercolor paint
– Lifting and removing paint

#12 Lifting and removing paint

There will be many times where paint needs to be removed. Lifting is the common term for this watercolor technique. It is done by gently dabbing a damp paintbrush on the areas of a painting that you want to be lighten, or removed. Note that this is very useful for creating highlights and adding interest to your paintings.


soften edges
– Softening edges

#13 Softening edges

The next watercolor technique is softening edges. To blur the edges of brushstrokes and any desired object use the softening edges technique. This watercolor technique is great for softening edges of shadows and creating subtle value transitions on round objects.

Common mistake is to use a brush that’s too wet and it creates cauliflower effects as illustrated on the left hand side.


scratch into paint
– Scratching into paint

#14 Scratching into paint

Next up on our list of watercolor techniques is scraping or scratching into paint. This technique is great for creating interesting patterns and textures in your paintings.

To create this watercolor effect, use a toothpick or other sharp object to lift paint off the paper’s surface before it has dried completely.


Dry brush watercolor technique
– Dry brush

#15 Dry brush

The dry brush is a painting technique in which a paint brush that is relatively dry, but still holds paint, is used. To do it load is applied to a dry watercolor paper. 

The resulting brush strokes have a characteristic scratchy look that lacks the smooth appearance that washes or blended paint commonly have.


splattering technique
– Splattering technique

#16 Splattering

Expressionist painters often used the splatter painting is a techniques. It’s energetic, unpredictable and a whole lot of fun. But before you start splattering you need to know the basic fundamentals so that you can avoid unnecessary messes.

Of all the watercolor techniques in this article is easily the messiest. Try practicing this technique with large and small circles. When you do it right the splatters will land in the circles.

A few pointers to keep the studio clean;

  • Work from the elbow
  • Stop abruptly without back flip
  • Avoid too much water
  • Test your skills by using four inch circles

Calligraphic strokes
– Calligraphic strokes

#17 Calligraphic strokes

There are many opportunities to take advantage of calligraphic strokes. It’s best to practice these strokes on scrap paper before adding them to finished work. These brushstrokes are typically a thin line and used for subtle details such as telephone lines, outlines for random features and other details.

Here are a few pointers;

  • Usually applied with needle, or liner type brush
  • The pigment needs to be diluted but not too runny
  • Experiment with different pressure into surface to create thin and thick lines

watercolor techniques; Negative space painting
– Negative space painting

#18 Negative space

The last of the watercolor techniques is negative space painting. This technique is done by painting the background of the subject first, then adding the subject later.

This watercolor technique is great for creating interesting in your artwork. It’s an advanced skill that once learned will completely change how you approach your watercolor art.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed the 18 watercolor techniques shared in this article. Before taking on more advanced skills I’d recommend you master these watercolor techniques. If you liked this post, please share it with your watercolor loving friends!

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