Watercolour is a popular medium that can offer a wide range of textures and effects, but it has a habit of intimidating beginner artists due to its sometimes temperamental nature.

Watercolour can seem chaotic when you don’t know how to use it; it spreads across the paper and leaves unexpected shapes when dry. Many beginners struggle with controlling this medium, but there is something to be said for embracing the unpredictability of watercolour paint.

However, you can learn a few basic techniques to control the paint and get exciting results.

Materials used in the examples below:

Here are five easy techniques that every beginner watercolour artist should know.

1. Wet-on-Wet

Try the wet-on-wet technique if you are going for loose shapes and soft feathery edges. Using a mop brush or flat wash brush, apply either wet paint or clean water to your watercolour paper and then immediately add wet paint on top before the paper has time to dry.

Remember to keep your paper taped to your work surface, so it stays as flat as possible. For a sketchbook, use binder clips to keep your pages flat. The more wet your paper is, the more the paint will bleed and spread into the water.

If you use a lot of water for this technique, use thicker paper (300g and above) to prevent excessive paper buckling. 

The wet-on-wet technique is excellent for painting skies, water, treetops, fur, or anything that requires a fluffy or out-of-focus look. 

Pro Tip: Add enough water to your watercolour paint to make the paint easy to mix and appear transparent. The white of the paper seen through the transparent paint makes the colour look brightest.

Experiment with adding more or less water to make the paint more or less transparent.

For the above example, I brushed a generous amount of water onto my Etchr Cold Press Sketchbook page. Then I added Pretty Pink watercolour paint to the wet surface.

You can see how it spread out from the dark centre where I applied the paint and has created light, fluffy edges once dry.

2. Wet-on-Dry

 

Unlike the wet-on-wet technique, wet-on-dry gives you much more control over your paint. For this technique, simply leave your paper dry (or wait for the previous layer of paint to dry completely) and add wet paint.

Because your surface is not wet, you can control the movement of the paint with your paintbrush. The paint will have a hard edge when dry rather than a feathery edge like the wet-on-wet technique. However, you can make the edge softer by using a clean wet brush to blend it out.

Experiment with different shapes and sizes of brushes to get a variety of brushstrokes.

The above example shows how I made crisp lines and shapes with the wet-on-dry technique. The colours I used were Ocean Turquoise and Cobalt Blue.

3. Colour Gradient

 

Using a combination of the two techniques above, you can create a gradient between two (or more) different colours. A gradient is an excellent technique for landscape artists because it is used often for sunsets, but you can use this technique for many other subjects.

How do we create this gradient? On dry paper, lay down one colour of paint, making sure there is enough water mixed in to keep it wet, then add a second colour next to your first colour. Connect the two colours and let them bleed into each other.

Experiment with different water-to-paint ratios and different brushes to achieve more or less controlled gradients.

To make the colour gradient above, I used masking tape to make a small rectangle on my Etchr Cold Press Sketchbook page. Then I used a flat wash brush to create a gradient from Sky Blue to Cobalt Blue.

4. Wax/Oil Resist

 

Now we get into super fun mixed media techniques! If you took art classes in grade school, you probably did something like this.

Wax and oil will repel watercolour because it contains water. Combining watercolour and wax crayons or oil-based pastels in a single piece of art gets some exciting results. Apply the crayon or pastel to your paper first, add wet watercolour and watch the magic happen!

This technique is particularly fun with a white crayon. (You can even write secret messages!)

For this smiley face, I used a combination of oil resist and wet-on-wet. I first drew the eyes and mouth with white oil pastel, then added a Soft Orange watercolour paint circle.

While the orange paint was still wet, I added a touch of Simply Red watercolour paint below the eyes to create a blush. 

5. Salt Resist

 

We can also use salt as a water resistor. After applying wet watercolour to your page, sprinkle a small amount of table salt onto the surface. The water will move away from the grains of salt and create a texture like frost on a window.

After your paint dries, you can either rub off the salt or leave it for added texture.

In the above salt resist example, I used a combination of table salt and coarse cooking salt. The colours I used were Cobalt Blue and Royal Purple.

Now you know of five techniques for beginner watercolour painting to use in your next project! What will you paint? 

Subscribe to our email newsletter to learn more about the creative process and get more tips. Whether you're experimenting or want to dive deeper into the art world, we'll tell you about all the latest Etchr happenings.

Vena Carr is a Canadian watercolour artist specialising in illustration and character design. When Vena isn’t painting, she enjoys thrifting, watching cartoons, and exploring new places.

Leave a comment