Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

Good Watercolor artists know the techniques. It’s how great art is created! Fully understanding the basic techniques is necessary in order to achieve success with watercolors. This lesson covers over 20 ideas, techniques and skills that will level-up your knowledge if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

Let’s Start With The Video Tutorial That Clearly Demonstrates All Watercolor Techniques

It begins with washes which are the ultimate watercolor building block. From there we will begin to explore various conditions and paint mixtures, working with wet-in-wet and more. I’m thrilled to share these with you, so let’s get started!

Sure, here’s a description of each wash technique:

  1. Flat Wash: A flat wash is a basic watercolor technique where the paint is applied evenly across the paper, creating a smooth and consistent layer of color. This technique is achieved by wetting the entire surface of the paper first and then applying the paint in a single, continuous stroke. Flat washes are commonly used for backgrounds or large areas of color in watercolor paintings.
  2. Gradated Wash: A gradated wash, also known as a gradient wash or a graded wash, is a watercolor technique where the intensity of the color gradually changes from dark to light or vice versa across the surface of the paper. This effect is achieved by starting with a heavily pigmented paint mixture at one end of the wash and gradually diluting it with water as you move across the paper. Gradated washes are often used to create smooth transitions between different colors or to depict changes in lighting and shadow.
  3. Variegated Wash: A variegated wash is a watercolor technique where multiple colors are applied to the paper simultaneously, creating a mottled or patchy effect. This technique can be achieved by mixing different colors on the palette or by allowing the colors to blend and bleed into each other directly on the paper. Variegated washes add texture and visual interest to watercolor paintings, and they are often used to depict natural elements such as foliage, clouds, or water.
watercolor wash techniques including flat, variegated, gradated and wet-in-wet
Watercolor wash techniques

Three Common Watercolor Mixtures

Of course I’m referring to tea, milk and honey. Having three go-to paint mixtures will simplify the thinking and decision making process. Each one has its own purpose and the artist would decide which one to use based on the situation.

  1. Tea; this mixture has plenty of water and little pigment. Ideal for less saturated areas, starting a painting and glazing techniques
  2. Milk; less water and more pigment compared to tea mixtures. Perfect for building of color intensity, adding volume to a painting and more. Most of the painting is done with this mix.
  3. Honey; very little water and plenty of paint. This is a sticky mixture that’s ideas for creating opaques areas, adding heavily saturated color and texturing.

Layering Basics

Layering watercolors is necessary for building ups finished painting. However, knowing what type of wash to start with and how to build upon it is key for success.

Most paintings start with tea mixtures. Then thicker washes are added on top off some of these thinner layers. As the painting nears a completed stage, thicker paint is used.

IMPORTANT: Watch out for adding too many thin layers on top of each other. This will create a dull, flat painting that often comes across very pale and weak.

Common watercolor mixtures; beginner techniques
Common watercolor mixtures; beginner techniques

Brushwork Techniques

The brush is mighty! And how an artist uses the brush has a huge impact on the finished art. The brushwork is often described as the artists signature. Know that it’s impossible to copy brushwork, one can do something similar, but never the exact same.

Famous artists have signature brushwork that is easily recognizable. While many teachers don’t include brushwork as a techniques, I have to disagree and say that it’s absolutely one of the most important of the bunch. Which is why I included a section for it in the video.

Study the demo below and you’ll start to appreciate the subtle power of brushwork.

Exploring brushwork techniques
Exploring brushwork techniques

Wet-on-Wet Techniques

Oh yes, wet-in-wet is something we need to include here. It’s gives both beginners and experienced artists a difficult challenge. Knowing what the paint, or wash, will do based on the situation is what separates beginners and experienced artists.

Ideally, beginners need to doodle, experiment and spend time doing mindless studies in order to achieve an understanding of how all the different situations work. If finished art is always the ultimate goal it’s impossible to really learn wet-in-wet because it’s not getting the attention it requires and deserves.

Study the wet-in-wet technique demo below and create something similar if you want to get on the right track.

Wet-on-Wet Techniques
Wet-on-Wet Techniques

Timing Techniques

When paint is applied, or added to a wash, can make or break the end result. In other words, you may have the right mixture prepared and loaded on the brush but is the timing right to add it to the paper?

Again, experience is the best teacher here but having some basic knowledge helps some as well.

Thinner mixes, or tea, tends to cause the most issues, while honey is generally considered safe to add at any time no matter how wet the paper is.

Adding Paint into Wet Washes and Paper
Adding Paint into Wet Washes and Paper

Removing Paint and Softening Edges

Every now and then, paint needs to be removed, or a hard edge needs softening. Removing paint can be tricky since a wet, or damp brush, is required. If it’s too wet the wash will be ruined, so think damp bristles!

The same can be said for softening edges. A damp, clean brush works best while an over-wet brush can cause some damage to the dry layers. Softening edges is a common task that artists will need to use once in a while, so it’s a good idea to know this technique.

Removing watercolor paint, softening edges and scratching into paint
Removing watercolor paint, softening edges and scratching into paint

Scratching and Scarping Into Paint

Scratching into paint is a great way to add detail, texture and more. Timing is key, sound familiar? If the paint is too wet it will run back into the scratch, too dry and it will not work unless a razor blade, or exact knife is used.

Looking for 60 fresh and easy watercolor painting ideas for beginners? Check it out.

Conclusion

Mastering the essential watercolor techniques outlined above is crucial for beginners seeking to explore the captivating world of watercolor painting. These techniques provide the necessary tools to control the fluidity of the medium, create stunning effects, and unleash the expressive power of watercolor.

With practice, patience, and a willingness to experiment, beginners can unlock the full potential of watercolors, creating artwork that is vibrant, ethereal