10 Watercolour Techniques

Add texture and effects to artwork.

Out all the mediums I have used over the years, watercolour has to be one of the hardest to master. After saying that, it is also one of my top favourites for producing an organic and loose looking artwork. It can be intimidating for beginners, and even some experienced artists find it challenging, so learning a few simple techniques can go a long way.

1. Gradient

Using the “wet in wet” method which involves adding clean water to the paper, and adding wet paint. You can use different strengths of one colour and/ or a mix of different colours. This effect is great for dramatics skies, water or just adding a basic wash. It is also great for blending colours or creating a fade out effect.

2. Blooms

These unpredictable textures are also known as blossoms, backruns, or even cauliflowers. These terms all refer to the same thing. They occur because water always seeks a state of equilibrium. An area of very wet paint will always flow towards an area of less wet paint.

Blooms will also occur if you drip wet paint or clean water into a semi-moist area of paint. As the drip settles into the damp paper it has the effect of pushing the pigment already on the paper (this results in a pattern similar to a flower – hence the name of this effect).

3. Bleeds and Feathers

Bleeds are created using damp paper with wet paint which allows the colour to feather and bleed out. Tilting the surface a little helps the colour to drift into the areas you desire, once you are happy with the result lie the artwork on a flat surface to dry.

4. Sponge

Sponge is great for adding texture and creating clouds, and foliage for trees and brushes. To create this effect, use a dry natural sponge that has been lightly dipped in wet paint.

5. Layering

Layering is painting over paint that has dried. Watercolour paints are translucent – you can add layers of watercolour to create dimension, texture and colour variation. Just know that the paper has to be completely dry in between washes so that the colours don’t blend together and get muddy.

6. Cling Film

Plastic wrap or cling film is great for creating textured surfaces for natural forms such as foliage, bark, rock or stones.  The benefit of this particular textured effect is that it usually adds a great deal of depth to your watercolours. 

To apply, add the plastic wrap over a wet (not just damp) colour wash. The plastic wrap can then be pushed around to create the shape, size, and direction of pattern you desire.  Ideally, the wrap should be removed after allowing the watercolour to dry completely. 

7. Dry Brush

This technique is great for adding texture and detail such as wood grain and light reflecting of the flat surface of water. To create this technique you need a dry, stiff bristled brush that has been lightly dipped in paint and then dragged along dry paper.

8.Isopropyl alcohol

Watercolour paint and rubbing alcohol are akin to oil and water – the alcohol repels the liquid. Once you paint a wash, drop some isopropyl or rubbing alcohol onto the wet surface. You can experiment with different methods of application such as: Q tip, spray or a syringe. Either method will create an alluring effect that’s reminiscent of tie-dye.

9. Splattering

Splattering gives your painting an energetic vibe, but it’s easier said than done — this technique can easily get messy and uncontrollable. There are three approaches to splattering – TAPPING, FLICKING, OR STENCIL.

10. Salt

The salt crystals soak up the liquid from the watercolour paint, creating areas without as much pigment. To vary the effect, you can use different size salt crystals as well as try it with more or less watercolour paint (ie more or less wet). You can use any salt – table salt, sea salt etc. The technique works better when you use the wet in wet method and add the salt immediately.

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