These 3 Watercolor Techniques Got Me Out of First Gear

next level watercolor techniques, 3 watercolor painting techniques to get you out of first gear | Artist Daily

The Next Level in Watercolor Painting Techniques

At least I feel that way. I set myself a goal this week—I wanted to learn a few new watercolor painting techniques because I feel like when I contemplate working in watercolor, I only know the “first gear” approaches.

Watercolor painting techniques: I feel like Tim Saternow (West 20th St from 10th Ave, 26 x 40, 2008, watercolor painting) is skillfully able to create cloudy opaque passages and virtually transparent ones in his watercolor works.
I feel like Tim Saternow (West 20th St from 10th Ave, 26 x 40, 2008, watercolor painting) is skillfully able to create cloudy opaque passages and virtually transparent ones in his watercolor works.

Watercolor Painting Tips, 1-2-3

In order to rev it up a little, I did some sleuthing and found some great watercolor painting techniques that might be out of my league right now, but it was still enlightening to look at the watercolor art created with them, and they definitely inspired me to keep moving forward.

#1. I’ve always loved the transparency of watercolor, so much so that I think I forget that opacity is a possibility. But to put opaque pigment over transparent, all I have to do is spread a wash on wet paper, then go in with paint of the same tone but very dark. Because the tones are unified, the differences in dilution really stand out.

Watercolor painting techniques: Peggy Williams is a master of light and shadow. Her strokes are almost imperceptible and give a sense of a form with just one swipe (Warrior, 18 x 25, 2006, watercolor painting).
Peggy Williams is a master of light and shadow.
Her strokes are almost imperceptible and
give a sense of a form with just one swipe
(Warrior, 18 x 25, 2006, watercolor painting).

#2. Cold press paper is popular with watercolor artists, but I wanted to explore hot press paper, which is the smoothest watercolor paper out there. Aiy! It was tough. It absorbs moisture fast, so I found that you have to use more water than usual to keep the pigments from streaking in a way I didn’t intend. But it did let me see a lot of the tonal ranges of any one color, which is helpful because I’m just learning to understand all that a color can do on my watercolor palette.

#3. Light and shadow are tricky for me with watercolor painting because I’m always thinking of the objects like the sky, a tree, land, or a sunset in a flat one-dimensional way. I put them down as if they are cutout pieces of construction paper. To break out of that I learned that you can alter your strokes with a flat brush, for example, to visually create irregularities in tone that make it seem like an object is moving forward and back in space. Zigzagging sap green over cadmium yellow gives a sense of a tree’s leaves blocking out the sun. I want to continue practicing this, but I had never thought of one stroke being able to do so much.

Spending time in the studio practicing, experimenting, and studying watercolor painting techniques, I was able to come away with several advanced (for me) watercolor painting approaches as well as several inspiring next steps for me to explore. It’s exciting to know that working with a medium can always be like discovering uncharted territory.

If you are a watercolor painter interested in going further with the medium or a semi-newbie like me who wants to explore more, take a look at these: Secrets of Watercolor, Brilliant Color, and Zoltan Szabo’s 70 Favorite Watercolor Techniques. Enjoy!

Watercolor Texture Design Tips

In addition to the skillful watercolor tips mentioned above, there are tons of other great ways to boost your watercolor mastery. For one, adding design and texture elements can bring a sense of glimmer and eye-catching sparkle to your paintings.

In the video below, accomplished watercolorist Soon Y. Warren demonstrates how to add shimmering texture using gold powder and matte medium, and an easy way to save whites or scrub out highlights in your watercolor paintings!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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