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Watercolor Painting

Watercolor painting is the process of painting with pigments that are mixed with water. Of all the painting processes,
watercolor painting is known for its inherent delicacy and subtlety because watercolor art is all about thin washes and
transparent color. And What makes it so unique is its unforgiving nature; the lines, colors, and forms must be applied
perfectly the first time around, because any attempt to paint over simply renders the entire effect muddied.

The history of Watercolor painting

Way back in Paleolithic Ages where Prehistoric human painted the walls of the cave with the mixture of charcoal, ochre
and other natural pigments. It was also used in the art form of Egyptian where watercolor painted in papyrus. And in
Asia, around 4000 B. C. Watercolor did improve in traditional Chinese painting as a decorative material and around 1st
century A. D religious murals had taken hold the art painting. And by the 4th century, landscape watercolor painting in
Asia had established itself as an independent art form.

Advances in Watercolor Painting in the 15th and 16th Centuries

Watercolor painting emerged in Europe during the Renaissance period with advancements in papermaking. While early
European artists prepared their own watercolor mixtures for fresco wall painting, this was soon applied to paper. With an
increase in the availability of synthetic pigments, printmaker and Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)
developed new methods of working with watercolor paints, highlighting the luminous, transparent effects it offered and
inspiring other artists to experiment. This trend was picked up by Hans Bol (1534–1593), who founded an important
school of watercolor painting in Germany as part of the Dürer Renaissance. However, despite these efforts, the medium
remained largely isolated to preparatory sketches, with the exception of botanical and wildlife illustration schools where
its striking effect could bestow a real-life look to natural subjects. Watercolor paints were also popular for map-making
and were considered especially effective for rendering the topography of an area.

The English Watercolor Movement and Its Influence on Modern Art

Watercolor painting really gained a foothold in Western art during the 18th century, particularly in England where Paul
Sandby (1730–1809), an English map-maker turned painter (and one of the founders of the Royal Academy), used the
watercolor paints so popular in the creation of maps for his landscape paintings. It was at this time that watercolor
painting became established as a serious and expressive artistic medium. Leading this movement was J.M.W. Turner
(1775–1851), a technical innovator and Romantic landscape artist who experimented with available synthetic mineral
pigments. Inspired by the work of watercolorist Thomas Girtin, who pioneered its use for large format, romantic or
picturesque landscapes, Turner explored both the expressive nature and technical aspects of the medium. By the mid-
1800s, English art society had seen the formation of the Society of Painters in Water Colours (1804) and the New Water
Colour Society (1832).

The unique effects of light and freer brushwork created by the English school of watercolor painting caught the attention
of the early Impressionists and influenced their work. In the 19th and 20th centuries, watercolors emerged as a medium
used by many prominent artists. Of course, John James Audubon notably used watercolors to document his wildlife
subjects, but other artists known for other mediums such as oil painting worked with watercolors as well. American artist
Winslow Homer used watercolor paints to explore the beauty of the natural world. Paul Cézanne used a technique of
overlapping watercolor washes in some of his still life paintings, while Vincent Van Gogh used watercolor techniques to
create remarkable art forms. German abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky and Swiss Modernist Paul Klee are both notable
20th century watercolorists, an indication that in the modern era, too, watercolor has been appreciated by artists
regardless of their nationality or movement.
Into the 21st century, artists have taken advantage of this unique medium to create striking works of art. Above all,
watercolor painting is versatile, alternately offering rich, vivid tones or soft, soothing forms. Take a look at the watercolor
paintings showcased in Agora’s online galleries, and you’ll see the versatility and beauty that watercolors have to offer.

Watercolor Painting Techniques

Flat wash

A flat wash makes up a majority of watercolor painting; it’s such a basic technique that you don’t even realize you’re
doing it. Simply dip your brush in water and paint and then spread it over your intended surface. (This is called a wash.)
The important thing to remember is to make sure that your color looks even—a flat wash should appear as a single, solid
hue on your paper.

Wet on dry

Wet on dry is another fundamental approach. It’s created by painting a wash on paper. After it has dried, apply paint on
top of it. Because watercolor is translucent, you will most likely see the bottom layer behind that stroke.

Graded wash

A graded wash shows a transition from light to dark. Start by painting dark—load up your brush with the most pigment—
and then drag it across the paper. On the next pass, add less pigment on your brush and swipe it across the paper so that
it slightly overlaps with your first line. The two groups will begin to converge and eventually look like one. Repeat this
process, adding less and less pigment, until you’ve got your desired tonal range.

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.

Dry brush

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.

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.


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.

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.

Scratch off

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.


IThe 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.