14 Amazing Watercolor Techniques

Get creative with your watercolor paintings with these simple techniques.


Watercolor has evolved a lot over the years, today both materials and techniques are much more accessible. Lucky for us! It is also quite a very relaxing hobby, and if you are good enough, it can become a profession. 

If you’re a lover of watercolor paints or just painting in general you may want to explore with various techniques every now and then to amp up your style. 

The techniques below can be used by anyone, and allow you to create cool effects you’ll feel like a pro when doing your next painting.

Supplies

The materials you’ll need are: watercolor paper and paints, some water (of course), paper towels and a brush. Flat brushes works really well for watercolor, but you can use whatever you have at your disposal. Make sure you also have plenty of rubber cement, table salts, rubbing alcohol and a push pin or a needle which will be used to scratch the paper.

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For the stamps, you can get creative. Any kind of object will leave a mark, try to get some texture. Leaves are great for that purpose. You can use a big checker piece, for instance. The last things you are going to need are a straw and some masking tape. 

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Preparation

Divide your watercolor paper in 10 different areas using the tape to do so. They don’t need to be equal, do it however you want. You can choose how many colors you want, but to make things easier, try starting with a simple three color combination like purple, blue and brown. They go really well together. 

The key for a lot of these steps is having a large puddle of paint. You will need to mix the paint with water, so if you want to use bowls or plates it is fine. Mix the paint until you reach the desired hue, and test it with a paper towel before you use it on your canvas.

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Now, let’s start with the techniques!


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1. Flat wash

To create a flat wash, soak your brush with paint. You will need as much as your brush can hold, then use your brush and pull it gently on the paper, with the paper titled up and hold it there. A flat wash means it is not darker or lighter anywhere, it is a homogeneous, one flat color technique.

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2. Graded wash

This is when you go from one color to another, or use the same color but with a darker or lighter effect. Start on the area you want a darker color and then dip your brush into clean water as you progress (don’t rinse it) so every stroke gets a little lighter. Blotting the brush works, too. Take care to not overwork the paper. 

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3. Rubber Cement

Use it to create a kind of shield to make sure the paint won’t get on the applied area. Make a drawing, geometric shapes, get creative. Let it dry (takes a long time) and paint over everything.

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4. Wet in Wet

Paint your whole square with water and drop the paint right into the water on the paper. Get the paper nice and wet, and be extra careful if the paper is thinner so you don’t poke through it. The water will make the colors blend and create bleeding-like patterns. This technique is awesome for a hazy background.

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5. Sgraffito

Grab your push pin, needle or anything with a sharp point and gently scratch your design into the paper. It is great to create wood textures, although it is harder to master because you can’t really see what you are doing until you pour the paint on the scratched area. Keep in mind that this works better with a darker color. Be careful! This technique is very demanding on the paper, and it is easy to tear the paper.

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6. Salt

This is simple, but takes time to dry so do it as early as possible on your painting. You can use any color, but darker ones will show up better. Make a flat wash, like tip number 1, but without tilting the paper. You will notice the difference. While the paint is still wet, sprinkle the salt and let it dry for a “starry” effect.

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7. Rubbing Alcohol

Make a flat wash again, and dip the back of your brush into some alcohol and apply it to the wet paint. A straw is also good for this, creating a different pattern with hollow circles. You can use this technique to make the texture of a planet like Mars or the moon. The rubbing alcohol pushes the paint away from it, making little white spots where you apply it.

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8. Lifting Off Paint

This technique is great if you want to paint a sky with clouds. All you need is a paper towel! It is very straightforward. You must be fast to get it right, if the paint dries it won’t work. Just flat wash the area and dab the wet paint with a paper towel, and you will see the beautiful, cloudy pattern appear.

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9. Graded Wash - From One Color to Another

This is pretty much like tip number 2, but instead of dipping your brush in the water for a lighter hue, start dipping your brush in the next color fading from one color to the other.

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10. Dry Brush

This is awesome for fur or grass looking texture. Dip the brush in the paint, and don’t wet it. Make sure the brush bristles are loose, you can use your fingers to fluff and separate the bristles. All you need to do is pat the brush in the paper. Don’t forget that this technique doesn’t work if you dip the brush in water. 

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11. Spattering

Choose one of your existing squares and dip your brush in the paint and then flick some paint, either by running your finger through the bristles or hitting your opposite finger with the brush and sprinkling drops of paint onto the canvas. Tooth brushes are perfect for this. 

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12. Stamping

This is a 'no brainer'. Take your leaf or whatever you want to stamp, paint it with your watercolor and press it on the paper. You can use pretty much anything for this, your only limit is your imagination. 

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13. Drop & Blow

A fun way to paint trees! Get a drop of paint onto the paper with your brush, then blow it gently with the straw to create a thin line. Go for different directions to form the branches. If you want your tree trunk with more branches, just drop more paint and repeat. 

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14. Lifting Off

Use the opposite end of your paintbrush and dip it in water. Then rub gently at the paper to make the paint fade on the scrubbed area. You can make shapes like circles and lines with this technique. Great for a sun in a sunset landscape.

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15. Glazing

With this technique, you paint a color on top of the other for details, shadows, beautiful patterns and textures. Just rub some paint on the top of some dry paint, and it’s done.

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Now that you’re done, take the masking tape off and appreciate your work with the different techniques! It's like mini-paintings within small frames. Remember to label each technique for future reference. 

This is just the beginning! Practice and invent your own techniques and have fun with it.

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