Watercolor Texture Techniques to Create Stunning Scenes

Apr 01, 2024

When you add texture to a watercolor painting, you must do so in a way that supports the order of your composition. What does that mean, exactly?

It means you want to apply texture (hard edges, dry brush strokes, and details) with intention. Watercolor texture, when added strategically, creates depth and leads your viewer's eyes around the painting.

Keep reading to learn some watercolor techniques for balanced and beautiful paintings.

How To Use Texture Wisely in Your Watercolors

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A common issue I see in student art is the application of texture onto every part of the painting. While sometimes it is an interesting texture, they often squander its effect when they overuse it. 

The order of a painting and the balance of the composition must be top of mind when you make these decisions. This means that we must use texture sparingly and in ways that enhance the overall appearance of the painting. 

In this blog, we're going to look at a painting by renowned watercolor artist, Andy Evansen.

I admire this watercolor for the way it shows how texture can create depth in a painting. We can learn from studying this painting and noticing the choices he made throughout the painting process.

How to Strategically Use Texture in Watercolor

Andy Evansen made brilliant texture choices when painting this watercolor. Scenes like this are deceptively difficult, and we can learn from studying his mastery. 

1. Use texture to lead a viewer’s eye into the scene.

First let’s discuss the texture in the foreground of Evansen’s painting. This texture here is negative painting and contains negative shapes. What that means is he has painted around these highlights to preserve them. So he has thought about the perspective of these lines and the light color of these lines he has to leave behind. 

I think it’s amazing how he creates this beautiful feeling of texture and interest that leads us right into the painting. Note how prominent the texture is here in the foreground and how, as it leads us into the scene, it becomes less pronounced.

2. Use texture to create depth and realism.

As we just saw, the foreground is textured and interesting, leading us right into the scene. This is effective, in part, because of the contrast with other parts of the painting. Compare these areas of his painting.

Notice how there's not much texture further into his scene. When he gets to the middle ground, there's a bit more texture. And then when he gets to the foreground, that's when you see a lot of texture.

One way to achieve depth in your watercolor scene is to vary the texture. Parts of your painting that you want to appear closer to the viewer should have more detail. The sections of your painting that you want to recede into the distance should be less textured.

This contrast goes a long way toward creating dimension. It helps order the elements of the painting. 

3. Use texture to create a balanced composition.

Now let's focus on the foreground again, because it’s important what he did here. 

This is such a wonderful balance of information without overworking. It's easy when you're painting the foreground to add too much information, and then that takes over the painting. 

When this happens, the viewer’s eye gets stuck in that overworked section of the painting. But you want your viewer to be guided through your painting. 

Imagine  if Evansen had used the same amount of contrast that he used on these cows all over the place in this foreground. Then the foreground would be competing with the rest of the painting. This is why finding that balance is so important.

4. Use texture to define a shape in your painting.

A few examples of using texture to define shapes in this Evansen painting are: the cows, the branches on the trees, and the leaves of the trees in the background of the painting. 

This last example is important to note because it shows that even in the parts of our painting that we want to look distant, we can use texture, albeit sparingly. He is smart and uses a light color to give these trees their shape. This helps to keep them balanced.

How to Create Texture in Watercolor

Dry Brush Marks

To create dry brush strokes, simply dip your brush into the paint and then remove most of the excess paint by wiping it on a paper towel. This will leave just a small amount of paint on the brush, allowing you to create rough, textured strokes on the paper. 

Dry brush marks are great for adding detail and dimension to your watercolor paintings.

Lifting or Blotting 

Lifting involves removing paint with a damp brush or paper towel to create highlights and texture. This is a simple strategy you can use when your paint is still wet. Simply touch the brush or paper towel to the wet area that you want to lift some paint up from. This will make the white of the paper - or the light color behind your wash - more prominent. 

This creates more of a soft edge that you might associate with clouds or diffused light.

Soft vs. Hard Edges

You create soft edges when you allow paint to blend and flow together, creating a smooth transition between colors. You can achieve this by using the wet-on-wet technique, where wet paint is applied to a wet surface.

To create hard edges you allow paint to dry before adding another color onto it or right next to it. Painting directly on this dry paint creates a sharp contrast between the colors and a more defined shape. Hard edges create more texture than soft edges, but they both play a role in creating a texturized watercolor scene.

Watercolor Paper Texture

Don’t forget that your watercolor paper also imposes a subtle texture onto your painting. If you use cold-press or rough press watercolor paper their textured surfaces have an effect on the texture of the finished product. Hot press paper, on the other hand, is smoother and will not add any textural effects to your watercolor. 

Remember to practice and experiment with different techniques to find what works best for your painting style. Texture can truly elevate your watercolor paintings and bring them to life.

The Role of Texture in a Watercolor Painting

Texture plays a lot of roles in a painting, and when you apply it with intention, your watercolors will shine. 

As demonstrated in Andy Evansen’s painting, texture can:

  • Guide a viewer into a painting
  • Create a balanced composition
  • Add interest to a particular part of your watercolor
  • Create interesting contrast
  • Create depth and realism
  • Define the shape of a subject in your painting

When you use texture without intentionality, though, it can make a painting look overworked, chaotic, and confusing. So next time you set out to paint a landscape, an interior, or a portrait, make sure you use texture with purpose. 

Related Blogs:

Creating Depth and Realism: Essential Strategies for Watercolor Landscape Artists

The Secret to Great Watercolor Composition

How Smart Artists Study the Work of Masters

Stop Overworking Your Paintings!

Watch my FREE Video Lesson 7 Secrets of Fresh, Powerful Painting.

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