As someone who loves to travel, I have definitely come to love watercolor paints as the ideal medium to capture the mood and subtle colors of the places I visit. Another thing I love is that there are so many simple watercolor techniques you can experiment with just by using items you have around the house. Everyday items are perfect for introducing simple watercolor techniques for beginners!
Watercolor for Beginners
First, the right materials can make all the difference! It can be rewarding and encouraging if you use quality watercolor brushes and watercolor paper. Arteza Expert Watercolor Paper, for example, has the absorbancy you need. You don’t want watercolors to sit on your watercolor paper too much. Also, be sure to paint on the more textured side for the right results.
Next, start off with just a pea-sized amount of paint and equal parts water. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish with your painting, you’ll want to add more water to either the painting tool, palette, or the surface.
Lastly, warping is a big risk when it comes to painting with simple watercolors. If you’re using something like mixed-media paper, you will want to tape down the sheet to your table or a board (especially if you want the dripping effect) using masking tape. Leave an even margin all the way around. This will prevent the paper from puckering, as long as it stays taped down until your piece is completely dry.
Watercolor Techniques Using Household Items
Paint on water (wet on wet)
Adding water to your surface is an easy way to change how your watercolor paint performs. Dip your brush in water and begin by drawing a shape, like a triangle or a circle, with a clean wet brush. Then, apply your watercolor paint and notice how the water on the paper helps to create a kind of barrier for the paint. The paint will want to move within that space and not go beyond it. You want to make sure you’re using a thin layer of paint. After it sets, start painting again and you can get layers in different shades on the dry surface around your wet-surface design. For a more advanced method, wet the paper under running water.
This is one of the simple watercolor techniques where practice makes perfect. Practice going from dark to light by simply laying down swatches of color side by side with varying amounts of water to dilute the pigmentation. One watercolor for beginners tip is to sketch out your gradient. This way you can designate where you want the gradiation to occur.
Etch the watercolor paper with a sewing needle
To achieve really intricate and interesting details, take a sewing needle (this task is better suited for adults) and scratch into your paper with only enough pressure to create an indentation. It is important that you do not puncture the paper and avoid making small tears. I brushed paint over the surface of my drawing and picked up the excess water. After I let the paint dry, I could see the subtle and detailed impression of a small face I had etched into the sheet.
Dry brush techniques
For dry brush painting, keep in mind that you should mix your paint as usual, but then get a dry brush to apply. This is especially effective for creating natural-looking blades of grass or wheat. I used an angled brush to pick up the paint, then brushed it along the paper. You definitely want to take care of your watercolor brushes, so keep in mind that if you push hard onto the surface with your brush you may get a great looking effect, but the brush may suffer a bit. So, I definitely recommend an angled or flat brush over a round brush to achieve the look of “hairs” more effortlessly.
Paper towels & tissues
One of the best things about working with simple watercolors is getting subtle and unique textures. Using a paper towel or a tissue that has a quilted design, crumple the paper in your hand and gently press down on the wet paint. Even if the pattern of the paper does not appear on the surface, the folds will create interesting impressions that you can manipulate by simply adjusting your hold on the tissue.
One of the techniques I frequently use to create sky scenes is sponge painting. Dampen a sponge and squeeze it until no more water comes out, or take a dry sponge and spray it with some water. Dip it in your paint and press across the surface you want to cover. If you’re using a kitchen sponge that has two sides, I encourage you to experiment with both to create varied textures in your art!
Watercolor painting with plastic wrap
One of the more unique watercolor techniques that I enjoy using is working with plastic wrap. This can turn simple watercolor paintings into fun and inventive creations. For unique lines and tunnel effects, wash your paper with a single color. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the washed area with the paint still wet. Move your finger around over the plastic, and you’ll see that a suction effect begins to happen over the color. Set your timer for 10 minutes and when it’s done, gently pull off the plastic to reveal cool wrinkles and folds. For added effects, you can mix a drop of oil into the paint before applying the wrap.
Waterdrop for simple watercolor painting
All you need is a dropper to try this fun technique. To see the effect that water drops had on my paint, I experimented with both an opaque and transparent shade. I brushed over the surface with the opaque shade and made a few drops using a water dropper. The result was round moon-shaped jellies. With the transparent paint, the border around the drop was less pronounced and thinner than with the opaque color. Also, the color had more “hairs” that emerged around the perimeter.
Simple watercolor techniques with woodless pencil shavings
Using my ARTEZA woodless colored pencils, I sharpened them without the casing right over my watercolor paper. Then, with my wet brush, I brushed the water over the shavings and watched as they transformed into richly pigmented colors. When I first attempted it, it left some clumps on the paint, so I gave it another go (even us experts don’t always get it right on the first try). On my second time around, when the shavings fell onto the surface, I gently ran my finger over them until they became a more even dust. When I ran the wet brush over it, I got a smooth, vibrant color with little to no sediment.
Using table salt in watercolor techniques
Everyone has table salt at home. I happen to have Pink Himalayan Sea Salt. Whatever kind you find in the cabinet, from refined to coarse salt like Kosher Sea Salt, you can add a really cool texture to your paint. Here’s how I did. I applied a coat of paint to my watercolor paper. I did not brush it on evenly, so some areas were thicker than others. The salt I used comes in a small plastic grinder, so I ground it over the surface of my paper. The salt provides instant texture. I tried to scrape it off after an hour, but I realized that the salt had actually slowed down the drying process and I got paint all over my hands. I decided to move on to other experiments. It wasn’t until a day later that I went back to the salted paint and brushed it off with ease. I was surprised to see the really beautiful effects that happened on the areas where the paint was not thick. Therefore, keep the layer of watercolor thin, and give it PLENTY of time to dry.
Wax resist technique with crayon
This was a lot of fun! First I took a white crayon and wrote my name on the paper. Then, I brushed paint evenly across the paper. Instantly the paint pooled away from the letters revealing my name from a sea of blue. I rinsed my brush, and dabbed on the letters to pick up the dots of paint that had settled over some parts of the crayon. For thicker areas, gently dab over them with a paper towel to better reveal your design.
Another wax-based technique I used incorporated birthday candles. This was really great. I took some colorful birthday candles I had in the kitchen - orange, green, and yellow. I lit one at a time and held it over the paper while the wax dripped (again, this one is better for adults). After the colored wax had set, I washed it over with paint. Depending on the quality of your paper, and whether it is for mixed-media or watercolor, it will absorb more or less of the wax. Using a palette knife, I very gently scraped off the top of the wax for a final product that had an interesting texture and unique color.
Stippling for simple watercolor painting
Stippling is an advanced technique that I really enjoy practicing. It allows you to make 3D effects by creating designs using a series of dots. It requires a lot of patience and there isn’t too much room for mistakes, depending on what you want to achieve, but I find the process very soothing. To stipple, grab an ARTEZA detailing brush, dip it into your paint and create a small impression either in the form of a dot or by bending the tip of the brush slightly. In the areas where you want more color, simply apply more dots. In the areas that are closer to the “light source” of your image, apply fewer. Experiment with like colors to achieve amazing gradient tones that pop off of the page.
Watercolor paint splattering
Creating splatter effects can definitely be fun, but make sure you’re wearing your painting clothes. Also, if the kids want to experiment with this, be sure they’re ready for the clean up that comes with it. I tried splattering a few different ways. First, on dry paper I used a brush that I had dipped in water and then in paint and steadily shook my hand over the surfaces. This created varying sizes of blobs on the paper. Another splatter technique I really enjoyed was using a toothbrush. This gives you two distinct effects. When the toothbrush is dry, dip it in paint, and firmly run your thumb over the bristles to create a light mist of paint over the surface. If you wet the brush before dipping it in paint, you will get heavier dops when you run your finger over the bristles. I really enjoy using both techniques using varying shades of blue to create a dazzling galaxy effect!
Indenting watercolor paper
The trick to successful indenting is to find the right tool, use quality paper, and apply the right amount of pressure. The goal is to create a mark on the paper without ripping it. To create hash marks, for example, I used a kitchen fork with rounded tips. A fork that is too sharp may go through the paper. Another kitchen utensil you can work with is a serrated butter knife. Press the serrated side onto the surface using even pressure. Then, go in with a thick wash of paint and brush any excess away from the grooves. As it dries, you’ll notice the darker shades appear within the pattern of the indentations.
Watercolor painting with plastic wrap
For unique lines and tunnel effects, wash your paper with a single color. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the washed area before it starts to dry. Move your finger around over the plastic, and you’ll see that a suction effect begins to happen over the color. Set your timer for 10 minutes and when it’s done, gently pull off the plastic to reveal cool wrinkles and folds. For added effects, mix a drop of oil into your paints before applying the wrap.
Where to use these awesome techniques
One of the best things I’ve found when exploring a new art technique is that I can often transfer what I’ve learned from one medium to another. So, if painting with watercolors isn’t your preferred method of creativity, there is still so much that you can do with these watercolor techniques. Here are just a few of the ways I’ve used my at-home products with watercolors:
- Art journals
- Backgrounds for collages and other paintings
- Homemade cards
- DIY artwork for my walls
- I’ve used several techniques on paper and cut them out for collage projects
- Cute little paper ornaments
- Paper sculptures
Get the Right Supplies to Support Your Watercolor Journey
One of the best lessons you can learn from these simple watercolor techniques or any other form of art is that art isn’t about perfection, but the more you paint, the better you’ll get at expressing your creativity! I hope you’ll have as much fun as I did trying these unique and inexpensive simple watercolor painting ideas.