painting with watercolors

How to Watercolor – Everything About Painting With Watercolors

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Painting watercolors is a perfect artform for the impatient because watercolor paintings can be done relatively quickly. You get to see a result after a short time, which is very motivating. On top of this, you can start with watercolor painting without much previous knowledge and only need a few drawing materials and accessories. Watercolor drawings also dry very quickly.



What is Watercolor Painting?

As the name suggests, this kind of paint is based heavily on water. In addition to water, watercolor paint is a kind of glaze paint which is composed of color pigments and a binding agent. This is diluted with water and applied with a brush to the painting surface, usually a watercolor paper. With watercolor painting, the background remains visible – in contrast to other painting techniques such as acrylic painting or oil painting. You can also use this to apply different shades of color on top of each other to create exciting effects. Watercolors are also commonly referred to as water painting.



The History of Watercolor Painting

Watercolor painting was started around the year 1500 by the painter Albrecht Dürer. At that time, however, watercolor was rather used for drafts, from which oil paintings were then created. In the 18th century, however, the reputation of this art form rose through artists such as William Turner, Christian Modersohn, and Emil Nolde, followed by Paul Cézanne. Since that time, watercolor painting has become its own established art form.

how to watercolor



How to Use Watercolor – Features & Characteristics

Watercolor paint consists of color pigments and one or more binders. Mostly this is gum arabic, as it is almost transparent and water-soluble. Watercolors are processed pure, i.e. not stretched. This leads to watercolor paintings having a very high and intensive luminosity, which is typical for this art form. You can mix watercolors as you like, so you can achieve all the color tones with the basic tones blue, red and yellow. For more choice and comfortable painting, we recommend you buy a larger paint set with additional colors.

There is no white watercolor, you as an artist have to help yourself here by leaving out space on the paper for white paint. This technique in painting is also called the “negative technique” and needs some practice at the beginning.


In a Nutshell

The major advantage of watercolor paint is its luminosity and intensity. The short drying time is another positive factor when doing watercolor paintings. Moreover, it is a painting technique which is relatively easy to learn – most of the time you already have basic knowledge from your school days, where you used to paint with watercolors. However, once the watercolor has been painted on, there is virtually no possibility of correction – careful application of the paint is, therefore, the be-all and end-all here.



How to Paint Watercolor – Beginners Techniques

There are two main painting techniques that you should definitely know: The glaze and the wash. These two techniques work with the properties of water. Because of the drying time of a few minutes, you can apply wet on wet colors (washes). After drying, you can paint over the layer of paint you have already painted (glazing). Then there is the less frequently granulation technique, which we will also explain below. If you need some inspirations, there are a lot of watercolor inspirations out there.


Glazing / Layering

When glazing you have to wait until the paint is dry. This only takes a few minutes. With one layer of paint, you will achieve radiant colors. Using the glazing technique, you can then apply another dimension in the form of another layer of paint. In this way, different light and dark gradients are created. Here you should take care to apply the additional layer of paint relatively quickly so that the lower layer of paint does not come off again. The glaze technique is very often used and characterizes watercolor painting.


water painting


Watercolor Wash

When washing we make use of the drying time. If you apply the watercolor paint diluted with water, you have a few minutes in which the paint remains wet. During this time you can paint into this still wet paint using the wash technique. This is where the color applications mix and melt into each other.

The more liquid the paint application, the more evenly the mixing is. A special feature is that the second application of paint remains within the previously painted, still wet area. With the wash painting technique, you can create areas of color and paint structures in which the colors dissolve. In addition to the use of brushes, you can also use other tools such as a straw or a hole blower to influence the still wet paint as it flows.

You can also use the wash to let the same color run from opaque to transparent. This is demanding but feasible and is known as the gradient technique. To do this, you limit the desired area with water and then apply some watercolor paint on one side, which you carefully draw to the other side with a fan brush. Excess paint can be absorbed with kitchen paper.

painting with watercolors
© Anna Ismagilova –



This is a special technique that is only used very selectively. The aim here is to use the structure of the paper and use it for design purposes. The ink must therefore not penetrate into the deeper structures of the paper. The raised areas of the paper thus contain ink, the deeper areas do not contain. This technique is used, for example, for painting walls where the structure emphasizes the wall’s appearance. Also for reflective water surfaces, granulating is very popular.

It is important here to use a watercolor paper with a correspondingly strong structure. You soak your round brush in a little paint and then pull it flat and with very little pressure over the paper. This way the paint is only applied on the upper side of the structure, the deeper areas remain white.

watercolor paintings

This example with water surfaces shows the granulation technique, in which the structure of the paper is specifically used.


Watercolor Landscape Painting

Watercolors are ideal for painting harmonious watercolor landscapes. For this purpose, it is helpful to make a sketch, because this way you can develop, erase, and correct your composition. You should make this sketch on a separate sheet of paper, as the rough watercolor paper is not suitable for this and leaves unsightly traces. As soon as you are satisfied, you can copy it onto your watercolor paper – it is also possible to transfer the sketch using an auxiliary grid.



How to Use Watercolor Paint – Materials Needed

When it comes to water painting, you don’t need many materials. As always though, you should use high-quality products – especially for the brushes. This avoids frustration and boosts your creativity.


Which Watercolors to Buy?

There is a wide range of watercolors to choose from. The most practical way to use it is a watercolor paint box which contains a selection of colors and can be closed and stored after use. To start with, you can also buy cheap watercolors because they already have a good color density. For the advanced watercolor painter, it is recommended to invest in high-quality watercolor paints so that the work has more radiance and expression. Read more in our best watercolor paint guide.


Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils offer you the comfort and accuracy of a colored pencil, but the result of a brush. That sums up the advantage of watercolorpencils pretty well. Watercolor pencils are especially useful when it comes to fine lines and to set accents in your watercolor paintings. You can find everything about watercolor pencils, their use, and the techniques in our watercolor pencil guide.


Watercolor Brush Pencil / Brush Pen

Brush pens are the perfect combination. For the direct, precise application of color, the watercolor brush pen has been available for some time. You can imagine a felt-tip pen filled with watercolor paint, with a brush in the front. This allows you to draw lines and accents accurately and precisely, which you can then change further with water.


Which Brushes Are Best For Watercolor Painting?

High-quality brushes are very important for watercolor painting. They are your main tool, so high quality is essential. The better the brushes, the more fun the painting is. You want to use brushes that can absorb a lot of water and allow for precise and accurate painting.


Watercolor Paper

The watercolor paper is also important. You should buy strong paper because it does not curl as fast as thin paper will. This is important so that the paint does not collect in puddles due to the waves. A good guideline here is a paper thickness from 200 g/m² – 300 g/m². You should also make sure to use a watercolor block glued all around. This will help to prevent the following sheets from accidentally getting paint off. This will also prevent your watercolor paper from slipping when you paint.



How to Paint With Watercolors

In order to learn how to paint with watercolors, it is important that you have a good eye for proportions and shapes. So, a little experience in drawing can’t hurt here. As with all other painting techniques, you need patience and discipline to progress and develop your own style. For your beginnings and for further education, you can find various online courses, tutorials, and eBooks to help you out.


Watercolor Painting Books and eBooks

Learning with the help of books or eBooks is worthwhile because you can freely plan your time, and for relatively little money you get a lot of knowledge that you can look up at any time. This also allows you to learn watercolor painting at your own pace.



Frequently Asked Questions


Which Watercolors Are Best For Beginners?

When starting out, you can buy cheap watercolors, because they do have a good color density. For the advanced watercolor painter, it is recommended to invest in high-quality watercolors, so that the work has the appropriate radiance and expressiveness.


What Can I Paint Watercolor On?

Water painting is best done on thick paper, as this helps to avoid paint seeping through and can handle washing over. Special watercolor painting paper is available and is the best option to choose.


Watercolors are not always the easiest medium to work with, but they are exciting and offer a unique colorful beauty. If you wanted to find out how to watercolor paint, we hope that this guide has given you all of the knowledge and inspiration to get started! 


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