Watercolour painting is an artistic undertaking that ultimately suits those with a keen eye for balance, shifting tones and knowing the ‘behaviour’ of their materials. Despite its demanding learning curve, this painting method is one of the most experimentally rewarding to undertake; with plenty of unique techniques to get to grips with and various applications to try out. In our guide to watercolour painting, we’ll give an overview into how this style differs from others, whilst listing some approaches that will let you achieve great results in your work in a very short time frame.
The watercolour paints themselves are defined by their transparency. Rather than form a fully cohesive layer on the canvas, the pigments are scattered across the surface to give them a more vivid appearance, and to allow the artist to pile-on multiple layers for a luminous effect or to create a unified area of colour. It requires a delicate application of paint, since it cannot simply be masked over or scraped off like with oil. A mistake can be a timely process of blotting and rewetting, so to be good at watercolour painting it pays to have an understanding of how water alters the paints, and how to work around it.
Watercolour paints belong to a category known as – ‘watermedia’, which encompasses all media that is diluted with water when used (though it can apply to those who like to dilute their paints with other mediums and additives, including any odd experiments with coke, tequila or even sweat!). Yet the particular ingredients (pigments, solvents etc.) matter only half as much as the use of your brush. Some of the more standard watercolour techniques include:
This is using the diluted paint in such a way that your brush strokes are rendered non-visible, where individual elements of the piece are effectively different coloured ‘washes’. Adding more pre-diluted paint or water lets you lighten or darken the image; a method known as ‘grading’ or ‘graduating’ the wash.
When you add successful layers of paint, where the new layer allows the first show through, that is a glaze. This technique lets you mix colours, adust the hue or chroma of a certain area or allow two colours to transition into one another more seamlessly.
This is painting on an already wetted piece of paper as it dries; something which adds exclusive potential to the medium of watercolour. With the right level of controlled painting, wet-in-wet lets you work around paint diffusion, stained colours and salt textures to name a few.
Popular with botantical painters, this takes undiluted paint and adds it to the paper with a wetted small brush in a hatching or crisscross approach. Once you’re able to paint in this way without dissolving each layer underneath, you can create pieces that can easily be mistaken for oil paintings or colour photographs.
Watercolouring has seen constant refinement throughout its history, from the European Middle Ages up until the dawn of abstract expressionism. It’s easily identifiable use of layering and homogenous colour surfaces means that even when you take water out of the equation, such as when painting with a digital tablet and Photoshop, there’s a look and feel to watercolour that artists of every generation will want to master.