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Watercolor Techniques and Tips

Updated on July 8, 2010

Watercolor Techniques

As in all of art, each art form has amassed a collection of techniques that were discovered years ago when these art forms were in its growing years. Some of them had survived time, had become traditions and are in use today.

The following are some methods in vogue today in the beautiful art of watercolor painting.


The first on the list as it is the most basic of them all, washes is subdivided into f itself. The first is the flat wash. One way of doing it is wetting the area on the paper and mixing enough pigment to fill it up.

The graded wash requires that the pigment is slightly diluted with water with each stroke. The resultant wash fades out gradually and evenly.


This is almost the same technique as a wash, except that it uses a thin, transparent pigment applied over dry existing washes. This is mainly to adjust the color and tone of the underlying wash.

The trick is to make sure the first wash to be painted over is dry.

Wet in Wet

Wet in wet is applying the pigment to a wet paper. Depending on the wetness of the paper, the resulting strokes can vary even from each other. It could be soft undefined shapes or some slightly blurred marks.

This technique is applied over existing washes. You just have to make sure the laid-on washes are dry.

Simply wet the paper with a large brush and paint into the dampness. Those marks made by wet in wet make very subtle background regions in the painting.

Dry Brush

This is almost the opposite of the wet and wet technique. The brush with a pigment and slightly soak with water is dragged on a dry paper.

The marks produced by the strokes tend to come forward and are crisp and hard-edged. They are best applied around the focus of interest in the painting.

Lifting Off

To lift off color and pigment from the artwork, wet the area with a brush and clean water and blot the pigment away with a tissue.  Masking some areas of pigment with strips of paper in the lifting process will bring out some interesting hard-edged lines and shapes.
(Some pigments are difficult to remove and should be avoided in this technique – Prussian blue, Windsor red, yellow and blue.)

Dropping in Color

For some surprise, you may try this technique. The process is simple. Introduce a color into a wet region and let it bleed, blend, and feather without interruption.

The resulting shapes and forms are unpredictable and interesting, and can be astonishing sometimes. This is one color gradation that cannot be achieved by mixing the pigment on the palette.

For certain needs of the painting, splattering paint can be done to achieve what you want.

First, dip a brush (or a toothbrush, depending on the size of spatter you want) into the paint. Scrape the bristles with a finger from your other hand and aim the spatter in your painting.

Tissue Paper Texture

The paint on the surface should not be so wet. Use a crumpled tissue to pick up the paint. The image left behind can approximate rocks, foliage or treetops.

With a curious mind and some creativity, you can discover some techniques of your own. Watercolor painting is a fluid art.

Effective Watercolor Techniques

Painting using watercolor is one of the easiest things to do if you have the right set of supplies and you are familiar with the simple techniques that you can use.

For beginners, it is advisable to complete a simple set of watercolor supplies including pigments and paints, brushes, a palette, paper, and water. Once you have all these, you may proceed to using different watercolor techniques including:

1. Washes Technique. This is considered the simplest and most basic watercolor techniques. You can use the flat wash which is done by wetting the area of paper. You can cover it by the wash after mixing enough paint to fill the entire area easily. You can also use the graded wash wherein the paint or the pigment is slightly diluted using more water in each horizontal stroke which will lead to gradual fading of shades. The graded wash technique is best for painting skies. 

2. Glazing Technique. This is quite similar to the wash technique but uses a transparent and thin paint that is applied over existing washes instead. The main idea here is to adjust the tone and shade of the wash underlying it. In using the glazing technique, make sure each layer is used evenly. The glazing technique is perfect for creating a cool gray glaze that are usually pushed back the end of the buildings.

3. Wet in Wet Technique. This refers to the technique which is simply done by applying pigment to wet paper. As a result, soft undefined shapes will come out from slightly blurred marks. This technique is usually applied over existing dry washes. This technique is best used when pushing images of bushes into a certain distance.

4. Dry Brush Technique. This is the opposite of the wet in wet technique because the brush loaded with paint and less water is usually used over a paper that is dried completely. Here, the marks that were produced have hard edges and are very crisp. The usual result of this technique is that it will make your image come forward from your painting.

5. Lifting Off Technique. Here, some watercolor pigments are usually dissolved. Then, these are lifted off once it has been dried completely. The lifting off technique can be done simply by wetting the area and by removing the pigment using a brush. With the help of tissue and clean water, the pigment can be wiped off. The blotted pigment will produce unique hard edged shapes and lines. This technique is ideal for producing foreground shadows.

6. Dropping in Color Technique. This is another simple technique usually used by beginners in watercolor painting. Here, a color is introduced to a wet region of the paper and blended well. Usually, the unpredictable but it is always proven to produce interesting results since it makes the color gradations more vibrant.

These watercolor techniques can be learned by conducting a simple research in the Internet or by simply browsing books or magazines on crafts and paintings. You can also ask people who are into using watercolor in producing paintings to get first hand tips.


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    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 

      7 years ago from Oakland, California

      Cool write up


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