18 watercolour techniques every artist should know

11. Try scumbling

Watercolor technique Scumbling

Scumbling is a watercolour technique used create soft hues of layered pigment

Scumbling is a watercolour technique also used by many oil painters to create soft hues of layered pigment and light. You're essentially layering the colour in soft, indirect layers to create the hue and look you want. Simply lay in semi-wet strokes of paint in watercolour. As I apply more colour, I'm careful to keep adding water so the colours blend and stay soft. It can be easy to overwork and produce a muddy look, so less is more.

12. Lift the colour

Watercolor technique lifting color

You can lift away colour to correct a mistake or adjust the lighting in a piece

Sometimes you'll need to 'erase' your watercolour. While you can't return the paper to 100 per cent white, you can lift away colour to correct a mistake or adjust the lighting in a piece. Work with an already dry swatch of watercolour and using clear water, paint in the shape you'd like to lift out. Let it set for a just a minute then dab away the water with a paper towel. You'll see the colour lift out in the shape you painted in.

13. Use salt to create texture

Watercolor technique using salt

Salt can provide an interesting texture with little effort

Watercolour is all about layering and texture. Salt can provide an interesting texture with little effort as the salt crystals absorb the water, leaving a unique pattern in the pigment. Lay down a swatch of watercolour and while the paint is still wet, sprinkle over salt. Let this sit until mostly dry and simply wipe or blow away the salt. This technique is useful for adding texture to natural surfaces like rocks or tree bark.

14. Apply paint using a sponge

Watercolor technique Sponging

Another household item you can use to apply watercolours is a sponge

Another household item you can use to apply watercolours is a sponge. Simply mix your pigment in a small dish or tray, dip the sponge into the paint and blot onto your paper. You can alter the wetness of your paint and achieve different effects – a drier look would be suited for plant life or scaly skin, while a wet application might be more suited for waterscapes or clouds.

15. Explore negative painting

Watercolor technique Negative painting

Think about where you'd like your whites and lights before you apply paint

Watercolour is about planning. Think about where you'd like your whites and lights before you apply paint. It's vital to keep control of your brush as you paint in the edge of where you'd like your negative space to begin. Load it with semi-wet pigment and paint along the edge of where you'd like your negative space to begin. Then pull the colour away from the edge of the stroke to fill in where you'd like pigment.

For more tips, take a look at our guide to negative painting in watercolour.

16. Use tape to add clean edges

Watercolor technique Using tape

Use tape to mask of areas you'd like to keep clean and white

You can use tape to mask of areas you'd like to keep clean and white. This watercolour technique is useful for hard edges involving machinery or architecture. Just lay down the tape where you'd like the paper to stay white.

Use a tape that won't rip your paper, such as drafting tape or painters' tape. Paint over and around the tape. Once your paint is dry, remove the tape slowly and you should have a straight, clean line.

17. Use a 2H pencil for your underdrawings

Watercolor technique find a light source

A hard pencil will withstand the addition of water

Here I've used a pencil with 2H lead to ensure my guide drawing will withstand the water from painting. Then I can go in and lay in some light paint strokes with a medium sized brush. My paint is very watery so won't stain the paper right away.

18. Save your darkest darks for fine detail

Watercolor techniques finer detail

Save your darkest darks until the end

Resist the temptation to use your darkest darks until you reach the end of your painting. Because watercolour painting is a transparent medium, you'll need to make sure you keep your lights light, and save the darks and details until the end.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX bookazine How to Paint & Draw. Subscribe to ImagineFX here.

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