6 Basic Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

Hello friends! Today I wanted to share 6 basic watercolor techniques every beginner needs to know. They’re quite simple, but they’re the basis to every watercolor painting (not necessarily all of them are in a single painting, but at least a couple will be!). Today I’ll demonstrate what they are and explain how they’re created!

basic watercolor techniques for beginners

Wet on Wet

wet on wet watercolor techniques for beginners

Wet on wet is the process of laying down a wash of watercolor, then before it’s fully dry, adding another layer of paint.  This allows the paint to really blend together and create soft edges.  You can see in the above photo that my little dot is spreading out and the edges are feathering into a blended look with no sharp edges.

Here’s how it looks after it dried:

wet on wet watercolor technique for beginners


cauliflowers watercolor techniques

Cauliflowers are created the same way as the wet on wet technique, but when it’s taken a little too far.  When adding more paint to a still wet surface, cauliflowers, or blooms, occur when the new layer of paint contains more water than the layer it’s applied to.  So if you saturate your brush in too much water before picking up your paint, that’s when cauliflowers bloom. The above photo is just after I’ve touched the brush to the surface of the paper.

Here’s how it looks after it’s sat for a couple seconds:

watercolor blooms

You can see that the original little splash has really spread out.  Cauliflowers are normally classified as mistakes in watercolor, but they can be quite beautiful if they’re intended.  The key is to know what causes them and how to avoid them if you don’t want them, and create them if you do.

Wet on Dry

wet on dry watercolor techniques for beginners

Wet on dry is the process of laying down a wash of paint, then letting it dry fully before adding another layer.  You can see the difference in the above photo compared to the wet on wet technique.  Wet on dry creates crisp, sharp, saturated layers of paint.  Combine wet on wet and wet on dry techniques to really create a finished looking painting.  Wet on wet is great for blends and base layers, while wet on dry is perfect for details and anything your want to draw attention to.

Dry Brush on Dry

watercolor techniques for beginners

The dry brush on dry technique is a variation of the wet on dry method, but instead of a normal application of watercolor on dried paper, the brush is just barely wet.  It’s just wet enough to activate and pick up the watercolor, then dragged along the dry paper.  This creates skips and streaks in the paint, showing the texture of the paper underneath.  This method is great for painting grass or adding that sparkle to water’s surface.

Pen and Ink

pen and ink watercolor techniques for beginners

Pen and ink is a classic art technique, quite similar to the wet on dry watercolor method, but using a pen instead of more watercolor. All you do is paint your watercolor painting the way you want – this could be using wet on wet or both wet on wet and wet on dry, then letting it completely dry, and coming back to it with a pen.  Use the pen to create sharp outlines and transform your image from a watercolor painting to a crisp illustration. You can outline the entire image or just certain parts, and you can even add stippling and any other ink/drawing techniques on top of the dried paint. This is very popular in mixed media and art journaling works.

Masking Fluid Resist

masking fluid watercolor techniques for beginners

A masking fluid resist is simply using masking fluid to block off areas you don’t want to paint over.  Do it on dry paper, then paint your watercolor overtop.  Once it’s all dry, peel off the masking fluid to reveal what you had covered up.  This is a great way to preserve white areas of your paper, but just know that the masking fluid creates a very sharp line, so make sure that’s the look you’re going for.  You can soften it up a bit afterwards by using some clean water and lightly brushing over the edges, but it will always be somewhat sharp.

So that’s it for this tutorial! If you’re looking for more great watercolor painting techniques, Craftsy has an awesome watercolor video course called Simple and Stunning Watercolor Techniques that builds on the techniques I’ve shown you here, incorporating more techniques and showing how they can all come together to create a bright, beautiful watercolor painting.

watercolor techniques for beginners

The instructor, Mary, walks you through the process of creating an underpainting (something I believe firmly in) and using contrasting colors for vibrancy, then demonstrates different watercolor texture techniques to add visual interest, then demonstrates adding other painting media to watercolor like acrylics and gouache to really make your painting pop!

It’s a great course, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about or improve their watercolor painting skills.  So let me know in a comment below if you’re given the course a try, and how you liked it!

Thanks so much for stopping by, and till next time, keep creating!

-Ashley <3

***Full disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to Craftsy and I will be compensated with a small commission from any sale resulting from clicking that link.  This is no extra cost to you, and it helps me afford to keep this site running and the free tutorials coming, so thank you for your support! I only recommend things I fully endorse and believe that my readers will gain real value from, so your support is greatly appreciated <3


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