watercolor techniques

    Published: March 30, 2017

    Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

    Anyone who is familiar with fine art has probably come across many examples of watercolor painting. Watercolor painting is often associated with tropical regions and romantic getaways, but that doesn’t mean the art form is easy to master. Working with water alongside traditional paint makes watercolor time-sensitive, and, for lack of a better phrase, purposefully messy and impressionistic.

    But have no fear! We’ve collected some basic techniques for beginners so you can dabble in watercolor and find out if it’s right for you.


    You’ll need to purchase a pad of paper at your local arts and crafts store designed for watercolor painting. Paints for watercolor are available in a pan or tube – if you’ll be traveling with the paint, a pan is much more convenient. To begin, you’ll most likely only need to purchase a flat brush and a small, round brush

    The final touches are your palette and some masking fluid. Don’t neglect to buy a stretcher and a foam board, as paper buckles when water is applied.

    Watercolor Washes

    In watercolor paintings, the general backgrounds that you will be adding to your painting in broad, wide strokes are called washes. If you are applying a wash to a wet surface, first dip your brush into water without any paint and apply it to the area. You want to be able to see the area glisten, but it shouldn’t be sopping wet. Then, apply paint to your brush and paint long lines of color within the wet area. The paint will blend together to create one continuous wash of color.

    The method is slightly different for a dry wash. To begin, soak an absorbent mop brush with a thick, wet paint mixture. While wet, use the brush to create lines of paint in the area you wish, ensuring the lines are close together. If you wish, you can go over the lines with another layer of water to smooth it out.


    Creating a gradient, or blending of colors, is simple in theory: add a new section of watercolor to a still-wet surface and blend the two with your brush. The wetter the paint, the more blended and less controlled the gradient will be. For a wet gradient, apply the second coat of paint while the first layer is completely wet (logically makes sense, right?). The colors will blend right away, which is ideal for more abstract paintings or when the two colors vary greatly.

    For a moist gradient, apply the second color once the first layer is damp, or matte. You will have more control, and the two colors won’t blend completely, maintaining their distinct hues. You can create a monochromatic gradient by applying a strong amount of one color, then using a wet brush with no paint (only water) to diffuse the color to your liking.


    To add layers or accents atop a color without blending, wait until the first layer of paint is completely dry. Use very little water, if any, with your second layer of paint (using too much water will rewet the bottom layer, causing it to blend). Add dimension and texture by making the second layer of paint thicker.

    Once you become comfortable with these basic techniques, you’ll be able to create some truly wonderful artwork! Whenever you’re making your next watercolor masterpiece, use filtered water for best results.