Watercolor Techniques

What Are Watercolor Techniques

In this post, I will define what are watercolor techniques and provide a list of techniques with brief descriptions for each. Definition: A “technique” is defined as a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure; a skillful or efficient way of doing or achieving something.

So, a watercolor technique is a method, procedure, or process to achieve a particular desired effect when painting in watercolor. Mastering watercolor techniques gives the artist the ability to control the application of watercolors to the painting surface.

By practicing watercolor techniques, you will acquire the know-how and skills to paint flat and three-dimensional shapes and textures, depict light and shadow, use colors, and reserve white space in your composition.

Wash Techniques

  • Flat Wash Technique – creates a continuous flat color without showing evidence of brushstrokes
  • Graded Wash Technique – creates a gentle, graduated dark-to-light effect using one color
  • Variegated Wash Technique – creates a gentle graduated blending effect using two or more colors

Wash techniques are the basic methods used for watercolor painting and are the primary skills learned and practiced by the beginner in watercolor.

Wet & Dry Techniques

  • Wet-On-Wet Technique – water is applied to the paper first before painting watercolors on it
  • Wet-On-Dry Technique – painting watercolors on dry paper (without prewetting the paper)

Wet and dry techniques are used for laying washes and creating textural effects.

Preserving White Space

  • Planning and saving white space – determining, before starting a painting, where to leave white space in the composition and avoiding applying watercolor to those saved white spaces
  • Resist Technique – applying waterproof materials such as masking fluid or Frisket, masking film, and masking tape to the paper surface before painting to preserve white space

Preserving white space is essential for painting in watercolor because, unlike painting in oils, white watercolor paint is not normally used. Instead, the white of the paper serves the purpose of the white areas needed in a watercolor composition.

Applying Watercolor

  • Glazing Technique – layer of transparent or semi-transparent watercolor paint applied to a wet surface, then left to dry before adding the next layer of transparent or semi-transparent watercolor paint over the previous layer
  • Layering Technique – glazing layers to build depth and three-dimensional form
  • Light to Dark Technique – light watercolor applied first, then left to dry before adding darker watercolors in succession
  • Hard and Soft Edges Technique – blending a sharp edge into a blurred edge to make it appear to fade softly into the distance for perspective and three-dimensional form

These techniques for applying watercolors to paper are the basic methods for painting in watercolor.

Textural Effects

  • Drybrush Technique – painting with an almost dry brush with only paint loaded onto it
  • Granulation Technique – painting with watercolor paints that have grainy pigment particles
  • Lifting Technique – applying absorbent paper to a damp painted area to lift the watercolor
  • Salt Technique – applying salt to a damp painted area that is then left to dry before rubbing off the salt
  • Sagraffito Technique – applying a knife’s edge to a painted area to scratch out the watercolor
  • Spattering Technique – flicking paint off of a brush to create random spatters of watercolor

Textural effects are elements that are added to a watercolor composition to give it detail and depth.

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