Watercolors: A Simple Show Of Techniques

Watercolor painting creates a distinct softness and elegance to an illustration unlike any other traditional medium.

At the same time, watercolors are often tricky to become comfortable with as there are many factors to take into account: how much water to use to produce certain gradients or contrast, correcting mistakes or lightening an area without rubbing a whole into the paper, and choosing the right brands.

Getting quality surprise right the first time is a biggie. Supplies are expensive, and once that tube's seal is broke open, or the tablet is wet, there is no returning.

Thus, before getting to the basics of painting, selecting quality supplies is pertinent.

Here's my personal suggestions.



With all the paint brands out there, where to start? Quality paint will be smooth, and have a creamy consistency. It is the color shown on the tubing. Bad paint tends to be grainy, or even chunky and the colors are not consistent.

So, in purchasing your paint, firstly, don't get them at the craft store. Though craft stores have art supplies, they are usually limited. Alas, it is a craft store which caters more to an array of crafts rather than fine art.

Therefore, a trip to your art store would be better spent.

Now, you are at the art store and the next task is to decide whether you want to use block water colors-a hard cube of water-soluble paint like the watercolors you get as a kid. Or, you can choose tubes of watercolors.

I like the tubes because I find it goes a lot farther than cubes.


1.) Winsor & Newton's Cotman Water Colour- These are nice quality watercolors at an economical price. They come in two sizes: 8 ml and 21 ml. They vary based on color but 8 ml tubes cost usually $3 while 21 ml is around $6.

2.) Winsor & Newton's Artist's Water Colour- Of all the watercolors I've tried, these are the best. Expensive, but the best. Prices vary on tubes, depending on colors. I buy their tube watercolors in the small tube size (5 ml), but they also have a 14 ml size. The 5 ml range from $5-9, and for the 14 ml they are over $10. These ones are best used for an experience watercolor artist, or if you want to get the best of quality. I'd start with the Cotman though.

For more information, visit their website: http://www.winsornewton.com/


Brushes can be just as thorny as the right watercolor brand.

They get worn out quickly [at least for me], but still quality makes the difference. A brush's bristles should be supple yet firm. This is so it runs smoothly across the paper rather than wearing it down if it is too rough.

Be sure to have a diverse array of sizes. And, most importantly have a tiny one for those little details.

Winsor & Newman have quality brushes. As for prices, brushes are expensive too, but it depends on their size and brand.


Paper comes in many thickness, sizes and textures. Papers should be thick and firm so it can handle washes of water and paint without fraying or getting holes. 100% cotten and acid free is best [so you don't have to worry about chemicals messing with your paint]. As for texture, it depends on the painter. Some textures are bumpier or rougher than others and can give a nice effect to a painting.

Strathmore- Strathmore is good quality at a good price. I can usually find a 12 sheet tablet for around $7.50. It's not too thick, but holds up pretty good to me erasing a mistake with water multiple times.

Arches- This is the best paper I've found, but it is expensive. A pad of 12 pages is around $12-15. It's thick, has a nice texture, and almost feels like a firm sheet of fabric. Not only does painting on it flow better, but you can just feel and see the quality.

Now Lets Get Down to the Business of Painting...

So, assuming you have your supplies, yank out that pad and sketch what you'd like to paint. If you don't have any ideas, sketch first on scrap paper or drawing bad so you don't destroy that pricey watercolor paper.

When sketching, keep it light.

Below, you can see my sketch.

It is a little too dark, which poses a slight issue because once I paint on it, it may show through.

That's not too appealing.

Plus, I'd want to erase it but with the coat of paint already done, that may not be possible.

[LEFT]Here's my sketch, which note, is a little too dark.  [RIGHT] Tape your paper down to surface you can paint on.
[LEFT]Here's my sketch, which note, is a little too dark. [RIGHT] Tape your paper down to surface you can paint on.


Stretching, or taping down your sketch to a surface you can paint on, prevents your drawing from creasing when wet. If you don't do this, I guarantee you that you will have a terribly wrinked painting.

This is a test of whether you bought poor or average paper because if you did, it may wrinkle some regardless of being stretched. But, don't fret because the paper may flatten out whilst drying. If not, placing a heavy book on top solves it.

To tape it down, cover the edges with duct tape. Do not use Scotch or clear tape because it rips the paper.

Painting the Background

I like to paint the background and its details first. You don't have to worry about accidentally painting the background colors into the main figure/subject's colors later on.

Wet-On-Dry Technique

First, I paint the night sky around the moon. I start by diluting Saffron Yellow with water and placing it onto the dry paper. The color lies on solid without gradient.

Now I'll use a Wet-On-Wet Technique which is painting a wash of water (or paint), and then painting on top of that. The result is a blotchy and clouded effect. I do this method next with a wash of Peacock Blue on top of the yellow.

[LEFT]Wet-On-Dry: Painting yellow on top of the dry paper. [RIGHT]Wet-On-Wet: Blue is painted over the wet yellow. It gives a blotchy/grainy effect.
[LEFT]Wet-On-Dry: Painting yellow on top of the dry paper. [RIGHT]Wet-On-Wet: Blue is painted over the wet yellow. It gives a blotchy/grainy effect.

Salty Stars

Yea, you read right. Using salt on wet paint can result in some neat effects. The same happens with oil, but here I am only going to use salt.

On the wet blue sky I sprinkle some salt and let it set for 2-3 minutes [you can leave it longer]. The salt absorbs paint and moisture leaving a unique texture. The longer salt sits, the more it absorbs, hence more texture.

After leaving it on, I wipe the salt off with a paper towel.

Voila, a starry night.


To make the night even deeper and more dimensional I load a round, medium brush up with the Peacock Blue paint, and dilute it less than before. I make circular blotches around the stars, and blotches on some stars. The effect makes for a more celestial sky.

This is an example of how you can build up your watercolors. If you want it to be dark, fine, but it looks better when you build up diluted paint, making it more dimensional.

[LEFT]Use a less diluted blue or color on top of the more diluted to bring the area to life.[RIGHT]The effect of salt after sitting on the wet paint for 3 minutes=stars!
[LEFT]Use a less diluted blue or color on top of the more diluted to bring the area to life.[RIGHT]The effect of salt after sitting on the wet paint for 3 minutes=stars!

A Glowing Moon

I paint a light wash of Lemon Yellow on the moon, keeping it light to reflect the moon's brightness.

But, as a moon, it must cast a glow.

So, I get my paper towel ready, and wet an inch and a half around its outside.

You don't have to press hard, just brush some water on the paper.

Then, I take my towel and gently rub off the water which removes some blue paint to reveal the original yellow wash. Now, the moon glows.

Rubbing off some paint wet with a brush for a glowing effect.
Rubbing off some paint wet with a brush for a glowing effect.

Focusing on the Subject

Now I start focusing on my subject-the witch. I like putting all the base colors down first so I know what is what color.

So, I do this. I work with my dark colors first, because it's better to erase [wetting down the spot and wiping excess paint away] the dark colors off of an uncolored area, than from a place you already painted with lighter colors.

Why? It is likely the dark color will stain the light, painted area.

I work on her dress, which I want to fade with transparency. So, I first put down a light purple, and build up with less diluted paint up to her hips. This is a gradient of the purple.

The primary colors are painted on the subject.
The primary colors are painted on the subject.

Outlining & Shading


Hair can be challenging. I used to paint individual strands, but for my style, I found it was too realistic. Hence, I decided drawing my hair more 'clustered' or with less strands [the outlines segmenting the hair were 'strands].

Before I shade, I like to outline hair because if I make an outline too fat, I can always minimize it by rubbing the paint into the shadowing.

I shade the clusters which gave the impression of movement and individual hairs without wasting all that time. I add some small, delicate strands to display movement.

Hair can be challenging. Experimentation, imitation and practice is the best way to get better at it.

[LEFT]Outlining segments of hair. [RIGHT]Finding your source of shadow and shading it in. It really makes it pop.
[LEFT]Outlining segments of hair. [RIGHT]Finding your source of shadow and shading it in. It really makes it pop.

Clothes and Draping

Drawing clothes is an art in itself. Draping flowy outfits correctly on a figure takes patience and practice. That is a whole other article in itself.

Look at how clothes cling to the body and how wind, posture or other elements affect it in a setting.

In this sketch, the clothes are fluttering in the night's air. It is consistent with the way the hair is blowing as well.

Like with the hair, I outline it first, and then shade in the drapes to make it more realistic. I use the same bluish purple to shade the gown.

[LEFT]Outlining the clothes. Use a fine tipped brush.[RIGHT]The grown with shading.
[LEFT]Outlining the clothes. Use a fine tipped brush.[RIGHT]The grown with shading.

Shine without White Paint

When I first started using watercolors I always resorted to my white paint to create shine.

Don't do this. There is a better way.

Applying diluted white paint can muddle colors, so use the technique used for the moon's glow: wet and dab with a paper towel.

On the witch's tights and leather shoes, I placed a streak of water and dabbed away some paint. Works like a charm.

White-Paint Sparkles: But Don't Overdo It

As mentioned above, I was white paint-crazy. I used it for all my shimmer, metals and what 'needed' it.

If you want something cartoony, go nuts with white sparkles of the eye or shiny skin--if not, use it modestly.

I wanted to add a little magic to the witch, so I gave her dress some sparkles using white and a small brush thickly.

[LEFT]Shiny tights and boots using the wet and towel dab method.[RIGHT]Sparkles with white paint.
[LEFT]Shiny tights and boots using the wet and towel dab method.[RIGHT]Sparkles with white paint.

Finishing Touches

Finishing touches are those details that complete the picture and bring it to life.

An example would be the sparkles that brought a mystical element all the way to the brown of the witch's eyes and dab of red on her lips. I added some more craters to the moon with a very light, diluted brown to finsh the background fully off.

The Finished Product

Remember to sign it.

This is my result of with the discussed techniques:

The finished product.
The finished product.

To wrap this tutorial up, be patient, focused and don't give up.

Practice techniques including these, others and your own despite frustration.

One can only get better, so get that brush damp and moving.

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Comments 22 comments

cosette 7 years ago

*WOW*. i am impressed. you're really GOOD! i draw, but i am too cowardly to add color with paint - i use pastels and colored pencils.

you know what's fun about art stores - they have like a jillion different gradations of one color. it's mind-boggling. one time my son and i were at the art store looking for black paint for a school project. it got so we got all goofy looking through like a hundred shades of black, so we started quoting Nigel from This is Spinal Tap: "How much more black could this be? The answer is none. None more black." haha good times.

i am rating this fabulous hub UP. good job!

torimari profile image

torimari 7 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thanks a bunch cosette. I put a lot o' time into this and I really appreciate the positive review!!:)

ralwus 7 years ago

Very good tutorial. Love your finished picture, er painting. Best of luck and peace. CC

waynet profile image

waynet 7 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

That's great considering the pencil lines were too dark, you turned out an amazing watercolour painting, must pick up a brush and paint again soon and more of these tutorials would be excellent!

I might even have a go sometime...

bloodnlatex 7 years ago

This is really good. How long have you been painting with water colors? You definitely need to do more of these...

torimari profile image

torimari 7 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thanks! Four years, and I'll surely post more. :)

gonzo62003 profile image

gonzo62003 7 years ago from Texas (Alaska for a season)

It is always good to know that someone who knows what they are doing is leading the class. "Have a grr88 day!"

torimari profile image

torimari 7 years ago from Pennsylvania Author


Ms Chievous profile image

Ms Chievous 7 years ago from Wv

Great painting! I always admire those who can paint or draw! More More!

QuirkyPearl profile image

QuirkyPearl 7 years ago from England - UK

Impressive painting and great tutorial, would like to see more;-)

torimari profile image

torimari 7 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thank you! I intend to have another art hub up before Friday. :)

seasoning 6 years ago

just saw your hub on the forums..... i have bookmarked it one day i will paint.....

tantrum profile image

tantrum 6 years ago from Tropic of Capricorn

This is a very interesting hub ! I painted with watercolours all my life, until a fire at home burnt everything I painted since childhood.

Now I'm more in mix techniques. You can see some of them in my hubs Broken Brakes. The art is all mine.

Life Unplugged 6 years ago

Hi Torimari that was excellent way of showing watercolour art technique.You have taken great efforts to put this up.

I have been painting for quite a while ,but I don't use pencil for drawing ,I use water colours directly form the tube and paint !!

Good work and Good hub!

torimari profile image

torimari 6 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thank you~I wish I could paint right on it with paints alone and no pencil. But, I need my concept down first, and I fear that I'd mess the paper up sketching on whatever it is I want...and as I'm sure you know WC paper can be pricey. Yet, it's awesome that you work that way.

Genevieve 6 years ago

Really awesome tutorial! I am way more excited than I should be about using that shine technique. . .

One thing, I am not quite sure how you made those "sparkles". Could you clarify???

torimari profile image

torimari 6 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thanks Genevieve!:)Happy to hear it. The way I made the sparkles is just take some white paint on a tiny brush, add minimal water to it, and dab whre you want them.

Basically, to make the white of the sparkle intense, dilute it less with water. :)

Pyro 6 years ago

That is a really amazing painting. As I was scrolling through I was wondering how the end result would be and as soon as I saw it I was like o: Also when I paint, to make sure I dont put down dark lines on my paper I do a graphite transfer, I usually draw my images on one paper and transfer it to a watercolour paper.

torimari profile image

torimari 6 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thanks Pyro! Wow, I've never heard that done before with the transfer. I need to look into it. Sounds really interesting.

VengefulArt profile image

VengefulArt 5 years ago from Las Vegas

Awesome! i'm starting to dabble in water colours so this helps a lot! i use a very very similar style of drawing so i can really relate to this!

DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 3 years ago from Central North Carolina

Watercolors are so much fun. I enjoy reading about various techniques and enjoyed your hub.

PURPLECANDY profile image


I love your style! Lots of helpful tips here! Do you ever just "leave things white" on your picture? Just curious. It's something I've been exploring. The white makes the colors "pop".

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