Watercolor Painting Tips and Tricks

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Artists spend their whole lives learning.

That’s one of the amazing things about painting. No matter how much time you’ve spent or how many things you’ve learned, there’s always something more to discover about painting.

As you grow in your experience and expand your range of painting, you will develop your own set of shortcuts and tricks that help you complete your paintings. One good way of discovering new ideas and tips is to hang out with other painters. Talking, listening and watching others paint will broaden your experience far more than hours spent in the solitary seclusion of your studio.

Taking a group Watercolor class is obviously a good way to spend time with other painters. Another good way is to join an art group. Since painting can be such a solitary profession, artists band together to paint, discuss their art and their artistic community. Getting together once a week, or even monthly, is a great way to keep in touch with like-minded souls and learn from each other.

Not every tip or trick is a good one. You’ll learn by doing, so try anything you think is interesting. Practice those that seem helpful until they are second nature.

Watercolor Classes

Composition Quickly

Unless you are doing a formal scene, avoid centering the focal point of the painting in the center. A successful painting is not static, but draws the viewer’s eyes from one place of interest to another.

If you visualize the canvas and composition in thirds, it’s easy to locate your center of interest. The horizon should be approximately one third from the top or bottom of the page. Don’t make the horizon divide the painting into two equal segments.

Offset your focal point from the center of the page. Keep the spacing an unequal distance from the left and right sides.

Transferring Or Enlarging Your Sketch To Paper

That sketchbook is full of great ideas for future paintings. How do you go about recreating that sketch on your full-size watercolor sheet?

You can re-draw the composition. If you’re good at eyeballing this may be a good option. If the composition is sparse and contains few details, it’s a simple matter to copy your sketch. However, if you’ve invested a lot of time and effort on your sketch and it’s full of detail and important information, it may be very difficult to recreate the composition successfully. What’s an artist to do?


If your sketch is full size and merely needs to be transferred to a similarly sized sheet of paper, tracing is the easiest method. Use soft graphite to cover the back of either the sketch or a piece of paper. Use this as your tracing paper to copy the lines of your sketch you’re your Watercolor paper. Office-supply carbon paper is not erasable, so this is not a good option if you want to erase drawing marks on your completed piece.

Watercolor Tracing Paper

Grid Method Of Enlarging A Drawing

This is a fairly simple way to transfer a drawing from one size of paper to another size. Use a ruler to divide your sketch into equal segments and draw the grid lines. Then make the same divisions on your support. For example, if you’ve created a four by five grid on your sketch, make the same four by five grid on your watercolor paper. Use a very light hand when drawing the grid on your watercolor paper, as you’ll want to be able to erase the marks entirely.

If your drawing is complex, make smaller blocks. This gives you more points of reference from which to copy your drawing. Now is the time your powers of observation come into play. Begin re-drawing your sketch on your watercolor paper, using the grid work to guide the placement of your lines and details.

Choosing a Palette of Colors

Just because you’ve gone a bit crazy and bought every color in the rainbow doesn’t mean you must use them all on one painting. That’s a really bad idea.

A successful painting has a sense of color harmony. This is achieved by using a limited number of colors and mixing them to achieve a range of hues. By keeping your palette simple and relying on your skill in mixing colors, you instantly add color balance to your work.

Sedimentary Watercolor Pigments

The following paints are sedimentary colors: Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Blue, Manganese Blue, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Sap Green, Sepia, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian Green. So, what’s so special about sedimentary watercolors?

Some pigments have a coarse consistency. Fine-grained pigment paints make wonderful, even washes that flow smoothly over the paper. Sedimentary colors tend to dry unevenly. The paint settles in the low spots of your paper, leaving the ridges light and the valleys dark. This effect shows up dramatically on rough press and cold press paper. On hot press paper, the effect may be blotches or streaks.

Paints that have coarse-grained pigments are challenging to work with effectively, and extra practice and manipulation is necessary to succeed in achieving the effects you want.

Some artists don’t like to use sedimentary paints for just those reasons. However, you can add to your artist’s bag of tricks by allowing the paints to do what they do best and learning how to make the most of their intrinsic properties.

Use that settling quality to accentuate texture. The grainy feature can add a rough texture to rock formations, concrete and shadow areas.

Watercolor Thickness And Consistency

Using Value Contrasts Effectively

One quick way to tell a beginner from an advanced painter is the use of lights and darks. Novices tend to stick to middle tones. They are hesitant to add enough darks to make their light areas really pop.

Local color can be a distraction in determining the value contrasts in a painting. Using a digital camera and a photo-editing program, take photos of your work and convert them into black and white images. If there isn’t a lot of distinction between the lightest and darkest areas, consider adding to the contrast of your painting.

Adding Or Reestablishing Whites

For a traditional watercolorist, adding white paint to the palette is a big no-no. By nature, white paint is opaque and defeats the translucent properties that a painter looks for in his work. White is produced by the paper and is either left purposely or re-introduced by the removal of paint. There are three main methods to maintain the white of a painting and one guerilla tactic that can be employed as a last resort.

Painting Negative Space

If you’re the type of artist that plans his composition in detail, you can plan for the white areas of your painting. Simply sketch in the areas that will remain white with a light pencil mark. Then paint around the area and voilà, you have yourself a white reflection, highlight or pure-white petal.

If you’re painting on dry paper, the edges will be crisp. If you want sharply defined edges, you’re done. However, if you want soft edges that blend into the white, wet the paper before painting. The more water you use, the greater the spread of paint into the white area. Practice this technique to ensure that you aren’t ruining your snowy white highlight with color bleeding all over the area.

Lifting Out Paint

Lifting paint is much easier with non-staining paints than with staining pigments. Determine which colors on your palette stain, and avoid using those paints in areas that you may want to reestablish the white paper.

Use a clean brush and fresh water to wet the paint that you want to remove. Allow the water to soak into the paint and blot with a paper towel or tissues. Repeat this until you have removed as much paint as you can.

Scraping Paint

This technique is used for removing paint while it is still wet. Check your brush handles. You may have some that have an angled end. You can use this brush handle to scrape the paint. If you don’t have one of these useful brushes, use the corner of a credit card, piece of mat board or palette knife.

Get out some scrap paper and practice this one. If the paint is too wet, the color will flow back into the white you are trying to create. If you wait too long, and the paint has begun to dry, you’ll merely score or damage your paper. You’ll eventually be able to judge the wetness of the paper by the amount of gloss or shine of the water on the surface.

Scraping Watercolor Paint

Guerilla Tactics To Restore The Whites

If you are really in a bind and absolutely can’t recover your white area, you can take drastic measures. This procedure requires using a good quality paper that is at least 140 pound or heavier. Use sandpaper and a light hand and begin sanding the area in question. If you need a specific detail, cut a piece of Mylar as a template and use it to confine your sanding.

Use a very fine grade of sandpaper or an ink eraser and be gentle. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a neat hole in lieu of your perfect white.

How To Create Luminous And Lively Darks

Just as a traditional watercolorist avoids white paint like the plague, an experienced painter seldom uses black. Black is the absence of color and life, and the expression of both is something for which most artists strive in their work.

You can create beautiful, rich darks and blacks by mixing your own. Whether you need a soft and subtle gray or a velvety black, your palette will give you all you need in the way of darks and blacks.

A number of proven color combinations make strong and lively darks. French Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna are colors most everyone has in their tabouret, and they are excellent basics to create good darks and shadows. Prussian Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Umber is also a good combination for inky darks. Stick to three colors to build your darks to avoid muddy paint.

Remember, you can mix your paint directly on your painting, as well as premixing it on your palette. When you mix your paint on the paper, you will get variations in the strengths of the combination, which will result in a livelier area of shadowing.

If you are adding a shadow around a reflective object, such as a colored jar, add some of the jar’s color in your shadow. This may mean that you are not mixing the paint directly into your paint combination, as blending too many colors results in mud. You may need to wait until the shadow is completely dry. Carefully glaze a portion of the shadow with the reflected hue to add a bit of local color to the shadow.

Painting Trees

Beginning artists usually make two big mistakes in painting trees. First, they try to use green paints straight out of the tube. Those green tubes really have nothing to do with the colors of nature, and trees are rarely a true green. Second, they attempt to portray a tree as a solid mass, rather than a compilation of many parts.

Painting Watercolor Trees

To begin with, when you are painting a landscape, hide your green paints. They really won’t help you out much. Save them for painting green glass in a still life of bottles or colors in a shawl draped over a piece of furniture. Learn to observe what colors really make up a tree, and experiment with blues, yellows and a touch of red tones to create realistic greens. Also, notice that there are lots of reds, browns, yellows and blues in both the local color and shadows created within the foliage.

Some trees, like evergreens, have very recognizable shapes. Deciduous trees can take many forms, so if you’re planning to paint poplars, don’t use oak trees as your reference material.

Lay in your skeleton first. Sketch the trunk and main branches. Once you see the basic shape of your tree, you can add the meat to the bones. Observe where your branches go and add masses of foliage that fits with the basic structure. When you paint, allow space to show, not only bits of the limbs, but peek-holes of the sky as well. The foliage is not a solid shape, but has shadows where some clumps of foliage are superimposed in front of other masses of leaves. Use shadows and highlights to give the tree a sense of depth and three dimensions.

Every time you take brush in hand, you have an opportunity to learn something new. Watercolor is not an expensive medium to use. Read, practice and then practice some more. Try new techniques and make mistakes. Don’t expect every experiment to work out, but always be open to new possibilities.

FREE Online Art Paint Course

Free Online Beginners Guide To Painting!

There are 27 Chapters in this Free Online Painting Course:

Let Us Begin…

The Beginners Guide to Painting

Watercolor Paints

Watercolor – Where to Start
Watercolor Paints
Watercolor Paint Brands
Watercolor Supports
Watercolor Paint Brushes
Watercolor Basic Painting Techniques
Advanced Watercolor Painting Techniques
Watercolor Painting Accessories
Watercolor Painting Tips and Tricks (This Article)

Oil Paints

Oils – Where to Start
Oil Paints
Oil Paint Brands
Oil Paint Supports
Oil Paint Brushes
Oil Painting Techniques
Oil Painting Accessories
Oil Painting Tips and Tricks

Acrylic Paints

Acrylics – Where to Start
Acrylic Paints
Acrylic Paint Brands
Acrylic Painting Support
Acrylic Paint Brushes
Acrylic Painting Techniques
Acrylic Painting Accessories
Acrylic Painting Tips and Tricks

In Closing…

Getting Creative!

Enjoy the Free Art Course!

Paint on! :)

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