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11 Essential Watercolor Techniques All Painters Need to Know

Watercolor Painting Techniques (continued)


Wet on Wet

The wet-on-wet approach showcases the best quality of watercolor paint—its ability to create beautiful ethereal washes. To produce this technique, simply wet part of the paper with your brush. (You can use either water or a little pigment.) Then, dip your brush into another color and lightly dot it on the wet area and watch as the pigment feathers.

This in-depth tutorial will show you the wet-on-wet (or wet-in-wet) technique in real-time. 


Dry Brush

Watercolor Techniques

Photo: Abstract dry brush on paper from Yeroma / Shutterstock.com

Dry brush is just as it sounds; take a dry (or mostly dry) brush and dip it into your paint. Afterward, spread it over a dry piece of paper. The result will be a highly textured mark that’s great for implying fur or hair.

Perfect your dry brushing with help from this video:


Masking Tape or Rubber Cement

Rubber cement (like masking tape) acts as a resist for watercolor. Apply this material in places where you don’t want the pigment to go. Once the watercolor is dry, peel the rubber cement or masking tape from the page. You’ll see the paper underneath. This is a great solution for preserving white paper among the rest of your painting.



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When applied to watercolor paper, salt will soak up some of the color and create a sandy-looking effect on the page. Begin by laying down a wash that’s “juicy”—you want to have some extra pigment on the paper. After you’ve painted the color, spread the salt on top of it. Once the painting is completely dry (it’s best to wait overnight), scrape the salt from the page.

Jerry’s Artarama has an informative video on how to use salt to create a beautiful effect:


Lifting Off Paint

There are a few ways to lift paint from the page, and they all involve plastic—saran wrap being them most popular. Like the salt method, began with a wash that’s got some extra pigment to it. Then, place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the painting; it’s best if you’ve crinkled it or have creased it. Wait for the paint to fully dry. The pigment will pool under the plastic and create an interesting texture.


Rubbing Alcohol

Watercolor paint and rubbing alcohol are akin to oil and water. Once you paint a wash, take a utensil (like a q-tip) and dab alcohol onto the wet surface. It will create an alluring effect that’s reminiscent of tie-dye.

In this short video, you’ll see the rubbing alcohol technique in action:



Scratch-off, or sgraffito, involves scratching the paper to create small indentations. Start by painting a wash where you’d like the scratch texture to go. While still wet, take a sewing needle (or another sharp object) and drag it across the paper. Paint will fill the punctured surface and appear darker and more defined than the rest of your wash.




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Warning: you’re going to get your hands dirty with this technique. (But isn’t that part of the fun?) The spatter technique will give a chaotic, Jackson Pollock-esque effect to your work. To create it, load your brush with pigment and use your finger to flick it onto your paper.

Don’t want to get paint on your hands? Another option for spattering is to use a secondary brush and knock your painting brush against it. The force will release the pigment and it will transfer onto your paper. The downside of this method, however, is that you have less control over where the paint goes.

Watch how to splatter in this video:

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Related Articles:

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, WA. She chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. Sara wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.

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