5 Basic Watercolor Techniques


If you're just getting started in watercolor, don't overwhelm yourself by trying to learn everything out there all at once.

Pick a handful of techniques and work on mastering those first before moving on to the next handful, and then the next.

So, what handful of techniques should you learn first? Good question! I sat down and thought about which techniques and processes I started out with and then I consulted this book as well!

These are the top five watercolor techniques I recommend you start learning and mastering before moving on to more.

1. Reserving white paper

I think the toughest challenge I had with learning how to paint with watercolors was figuring out how to handle light areas. I've always been really heavy handed with color, even just with how much pressure I put on my pencil when drawing. (You don't need to stab and gouge the paper, Melissa. You're drawing sketch lines, not carving a piece of wood. Wrong craft.)

When planning your painting, you'll need to identify your lightest areas first. And, more specifically, which areas you'll need to leave white. One of the seven cardinal sins of watercolor is painting with white. You don't do it. Ever. I mean, you can. But, you shouldn't. Just don't.

So, because the Great Watercolor Goddess will smite you if you use white in your watercolor painting, you'll need to use the natural white of your paper for your white highlights.

Planning for that can be tough at first, until you train your brain to do it efficiently and accurately. So, do your best and then learn this next watercolor technique.

2. Masking

Masking is one of my very best friends. It will be one of yours, too. So, in addition to planning for your white spaces, you can also protect them with masking. Masking is exactly what it sounds like.

Okay, not exactly what it sounds like. Masking is simply covering the areas of your work that you want to leave white with masking tape or fluid to keep color from bleeding into those areas.

When I mask my work when prepping a piece for color, I prefer masking fluid. Specifically, I use an 0.8 mm Fineline Masking Fluid Pen. It works well for covering large areas and for covering areas with fine highlights.

This is a piece I used lots of masking in.

All those white dots and fine white lines at the top of the painting created to indicate water? Masking fluid went down first. Dried. I painted and then gently rubbed the mask off the surface of the paper.

3. Lifting out

Lifting out will be your second best friend. This is a technique that is most effective when your paint is still wet.

You take a moist paper towel or small sponge and soak the wet pigment up from the paper. This is also best done on a heavier weight of paper as a lighter weight will just crumple. This technique works well for lifting out textured, fluffy clouds in a sky, or adding highlights to a portrait.

4. Brushwork

Brushwork is all about how you hold your brush. You'll be tempted to hold your brush like a pencil. While this is effective for detail work, you'll want to practice loosening up a bit when you begin your work and are laying in washes of initial color as well as beginning to define the shapes of forms in your work.

Brushwork is what brings your work to life. A round brush is particularly versatile, allowing you to create a wide variety of marks and lines on your paper with a single brush. To loosen your grip, hold the brush near the top of the handle, or work standing up so that you're tempted to use your whole body when making marks on the paper.

5. Blending

Blending involves creating a gradual transition from one color or tone to another. Watercolor will dry with hard edges if left alone, especially where one wash meets another.

To avoid this, wait until your washes are mostly dry and then dampen a brush or a cotton swab and gently dab the area until you get your desired softness. Be careful you don't use too much water in order to avoid blotches and backruns.

You'll get a feel for the timing and the dampness needed on your brush or cotton swab the more that you practice the technique.

Master these five techniques, and other techniques will be easier to learn.

As always, I'm available to answer any art-related questions on Instagram @msrmcgaughey.

#watercolortechniques #watercolorpainting #watercolortutorial

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