10 Quick Watercolor Tips

May 18, 2022

This week’s topic is real straight-forward and hopefully gives you some little ways to tweak your painting practice to achieve the results you want. 


Here are 10 quick tips for watercolor painting. I’m gonna jump right in!  


  1. Use the right size brush. In a way, watercolor is a little bit like golf. The less strokes that you need, the better off that you're going to be. One easy way to improve this is to make sure that the brush you’re using is appropriate for the space you’re covering.
  2. Turn your painting sideways to paint vertical lines. Painting sideways is a more natural movement than pulling up and down with your arm. This can be helpful if you're painting something like power poles, signs, or the mast of a ship. It always looks fresher if you can paint it in one brush stroke versus slowly and cautiously painting it up and down.
  3. Don’t draw too lightly. When you are drawing for your watercolor, you are creating a kind of a roadmap for your painting. What tends to happen is you sometimes cover up your drawing and then you’ve lost your way. Your drawing is important because it helps to maintain proper perspective in your scene. So make sure it is strong enough to guide you.
  4. Don't draw too darkly. The opposite can happen if you draw lines that are too dark in delicate areas of your painting like the sky. Personally, I don't care if there are some pencil lines visible around the scene, but in a recent painting, I drew too dark of a line where I wanted this distant hill to be. It drove me crazy because I was pretty happy with the scene except for this dark pencil line in the sky. 
  5. Use 100% cotton paper. Cotton paper is more expensive, but it does make a big difference. It holds water longer, which allows you to take advantage of painting wet on wet, achieving beautiful soft edges and transitions in color. It’s more durable and it's a lot more enjoyable to paint on. 
  6. Don't outline. It’s very tempting to outline things when we're painting because we're used to doing it when we draw. But when we outline with paint in our paintings, it never looks good. It always looks amateurish and unappealing to the eye. 
  7. Paint a little bit darker than you think you need to. What tends to happen in watercolor is we paint something and it looks good when the paint is wet and then it dries lighter than we would like it to be. As it dries, it's going to fade, and you want your values to look correct. To compensate, paint slightly darker in your scenes.
  8. Mix more paint than you think you're going to need. It's inevitable. You think you have plenty of paint on your palette ready to go, and it goes a lot faster than you think. Then you have to mix paint while your painting is drying up, which causes problems. Be proactive and mix a little more paint than you think you need. 
  9. Variety is key. We don't want to paint a large section of our scene all in one color. Add variety because variety equals interest. Mix up the colors that you’re using and mix up your brushstrokes. This variety will keep a viewer intrigued. 
  10. Don't rush. The trick with watercolor is it demands us to move fairly quickly because things are drying. But there are a lot of things to think about all at once, so we have to slow down and be present. It is important to find that balance between urgency and rushing. 


Thank you for spending some time with me here!  I know that you can learn a lot about watercolor and so many different places, and it means a lot that you are here learning from me. I really do appreciate it. 


Keep practicing, learning, and moving forward in your watercolor journey and I will see you next time!

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