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Basic Watercolor Art Techniques That Will Make You a Better Artist

Contrary to conventional wisdom, watercolor painting is often more difficult and challenging than painting with acrylic or oil. For one, the process of watercolor paint drying on paper can have a very dramatic impact on the final composition - colors tend to fade, and different types of paper can lead to different textural effects. Add in the fact that watercolors by their very nature are very difficult to control with any amount of precision (especially for beginners), and it’s easy to see why most people tend to opt for rolling landscapes and cloud-filled skies when initially painting with watercolors. But if you master the following art techniques below, you’ll soon find yourself painting some pretty impressive watercolor drawings.

Master the long, flowing strokes

If you’re painting landscapes or skies, then you’ll want to master the art of applying wet paint to a wet surface. It’s exactly this type of “wet-on-wet” composition that leads to the type of texture and detail that many people associate with rolling hills, surging waves, hazy sunrises and drifting clouds. Just check out the famous watercolor paintings from the English artist JMW Turner, considered to be one of the best watercolor artists of all time. These paintings offer a wonderful example of how landscape, sky and sunlight can be achieved with watercolor:

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Move on to defined shapes

From here, you’ll want to move to painting wet-on-dry. In other words, you will move from painting with wet paint on a dry surface. This will enable you to create much more defined shapes, as well as to move on to watercolor illustrations. Instead of hazy, atmospheric effects, you can start to create very distinct objects.

Learn to build up color

There are various techniques that watercolor artists use to create certain details, and one of the most common is steadily “building up a color” by adding different values of the same color to the same object. If you’re painting a flower, for example, you’ll want to experiment with different shades and values of color for the petals, and different shades of green for the stem and leaves. Mix, match, and experiment until you get it just right:

 water color art supplies gradients techniques

Practice with color gradients

One common exercise for aspiring watercolor artists is learning how to create a color gradient. This means moving from one color to another color, very steadily and precisely. For example, you might practice moving from white to gray to black. First start by painting white and black, and then paint a gray object midway between these two. From here, work from the inside out, as you move from gray to white and from gray to black. This will give you much tighter control over color gradients.

Learn to master precise shapes

Finally, you will want to practice painting around the edge of a shape, so that you can make an image as defined and detailed as you would like. Since watercolors tend to run, this is actually a lot harder than it sounds, since you simply can’t get the same type of precision as if you were using acrylic or oil paint.

By following these steps above, you can create some very compelling and interesting watercolor creations. In fact, you might just find that watercolor is the perfect way to express yourself or to share a certain emotion or feeling. If it worked for the likes of John Singer Sargent, JMW Turner and Vincent Van Gogh, then it can work for you as well.

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