Watercolor Techniques

Watercolor Technique Textural Effects

Watercolor Technique – Textural effects are elements that are added to a watercolor composition to give it detail and depth, simulating textures found in nature and man-made objects.


Drybrushing is painting with an almost dry or slightly damp brush loaded with a small amount of paint. The side of the brush is applied lightly over the surface of the paper in quick strokes. Paint only touches the raised “bumps” of the paper texture, leaving a grained effect with white spaces between.

The drybrush textural effect is useful for depicting rough stones, wood grain of an old wooden building, the sparkle of sunlight on water, etc.


Granulation is painting with watercolor paints that have grainy pigment particles. Some watercolor pigments are naturally coarse. Their granular particles settle into the depressions of textured watercolor paper, leaving a mottled effect. Mixing granulated watercolor with non-granulated watercolor will produce interesting two-color textures.

Following are Winsor Newton watercolor paints that are classified as granulated colors:


Lifting is applying absorbent material to a damp painted area to lift off the color and show the white of the paper beneath. The shapes of soft clouds in the sky can be achieved using the lifting textural effect. This technique is also used to create highlights on a painted object. Tissue paper, paper towels, or Q-tips can be used for lifting.


The “Salt” technique involves applying salt to a damp painted area that is then left to dry before removing the salt. Each salt crystal absorbs the water from the wet watercolor paint on the paper surface it touches, leaving light star shapes. The paper should be left to dry completely before brushing off the salt.


Sgraffito is applying a knife’s edge to a wet painted area to scratch out the watercolor, leaving light marks on the paper. This technique is used to create highlights in a painting. The shapes of the highlights need to be simple, and they work best with transparent, non-staining watercolors.

Spattering or Dropping

Spattering is applying watercolor by flicking paint off of a brush to create random spatters of watercolor on the paper surface. Dropping is applying watercolor by allowing droplets of paint to fall from the tip of the brush onto the paper surface.


Sponging is applying watercolor with a sponge instead of a brush. The texture of the sponge imprints patterns onto the surface of the paper. A variety of textural patterns can be achieved using one or more colors layered with a sponge. This textural effect can be used for depicting foliage, masonry on a building, rocky crags, etc.


Streaking is pressing aluminum foil or plastic wrap that has been crushed to form creases and wrinkles on top of the paper surface that is still damp with watercolor paint. The aluminum foil or plastic wrap is left on the paper surface until the watercolor paint has dried. When the foil or wrap is lifted off the paper, the creases and wrinkles will be imprinted on the dried watercolor paint, leaving a streaking textural effect with sharp lines and dark-and-light patches.

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