Need some inspiration or ideas for your next watercolor pieces? Try a few of the following suggestions for a slightly different approach:
1. Paint wet-on-wet
Painting directly onto an already wet surface will allow your paint to run more freely and may help your work look a little “softer” if you have a tendency to be tight while painting with watercolors.
This wet-on-wet technique will often result in soft edges that allow colors to mingle, which works great for the first stages of a painting or for a background. Keep on painting as your paper dries, and you will see your edges becoming more defined.
I find that it is always interesting to have a variety of soft and hard edges in a watercolor painting.
“Self portrait at the window” – Watercolor on paper
In the portrait above I painted on wet paper for general shading, then added details as the paper was drying, allowing me to paint specific details with a crisp edge.
2. Add gouache or ink to your watercolors
There are a lot of media you can mix with your watercolors. One of my favourite is gouache, also called “body color.”
Gouache is like an opaque watercolor paint. You can mix any watercolor with white gouache to make new colors. The advantage of using gouache is that your painting will show a variety of different transparencies. Some areas will be transparent (painted with watercolors) and some will be opaque (painted with gouache).
“Profile Portrait of Sophie” – Watercolor and gouache on paper
In Sophie’s watercolor portrait I mixed some white gouache with cobalt blue watercolor to paint the background.
You can also add watercolor crayons, acrylic, wax crayon resist, India ink, etc.
“Some flowers bloom in winter” – Watercolor, India ink & watercolor crayons on paper
3. Splash your finished watercolor with water
I really like this technique although it can seem a bit scary at first to go over your finished work with lots of water. I use a spray and a dropper, and occasionally just my hands to add water to the painting.
Dripping water on the finished painting
Once the painting has been splashed, the paint will start moving on its own, forcing you to let go of a bit more control over the finished result.
You can always dry up areas you don’t like with a tissue paper while they are still wet, or brush them off with a stiff brush and water once they are dry.
“Early this morning” – Watercolor on paper using this technique
4. Experiment with a new support
Try Yupo paper, or regular gessoed paper or board.
Basically, any support that presents a bit of water resistance will allow your paint to move more freely and will give you some beautifully unexpected textures. This is the case with yupo paper but you can also prepare your own water-resistant support by painting gesso or medium on paper or board.
“Juste avant l’escalade” – Watercolor on yupo paper
5. Tell a story, or try a whimsical theme
This is a great way to make portraits more interesting. Imagine your figure as an actor playing in the story you want to tell. The title of the painting is also a way to give your viewers more insight into that story.
“Georgia, the Spanish dress and the Eclectus Parrot” & “Hair Balloons” – Watercolor & mixed media on paper
6. Incorporate some drawing in your painting
Paintings don’t always have to be JUST painted. . . you can draw either on top of a painting at any time. That is what I did in “Mixed” below. I started by painting the face and applied a very light wash on the areas I wanted to draw. Then I used watercolor crayons to draw the hands and the swimming suit.
“Mixed” – Watercolor and mixed media on paper
7. Let the paint drip, or leave some areas unfinished
You can see an example of dripping paint in the piece above. It often adds a bit of magic to a painting when you can see part of the painting process because there are some areas left unpainted. It breaks the illusion of a perfect 3D image, but it also makes a statement that this is a painting that was made by hand, starting from a blank white sheet of paper.
8. Accentuate some edges
This can give a nice graphic touch to your images.
One way to accentuate your edges is to paint your background with a very bold color, and then paint a second layer on top (either with acrylic or gouache) leaving some space along the edges so your background color will show through. This is what I did in “Indigo mania” below.
You can also use dry pastels on top of your painting to accentuate edges.
“Indigo Mania” – Watercolor & mixed media on paper
9. Sew on paper, add collage, etc
Your imagination is your only limit. . . It can be fun to work with different papers and then collage them to your watercolor paper as you are painting. Different papers will have different properties of transparency and water absorbency, adding quite a bit of variety to your finished piece.
Sewing paper onto your painting will produce a nice crisp line that looks a bit like you’ve drawn it with fine felt. (Keep in mind you are limited by the length of your machine arm, so you might only have access to the sides of your painting.)
“A bird’s eye view of Louise” – Watercolor, mixed media & sewing on paper
10. Mix dry pastels with your watercolors
This is another fun way to incorporate mixed media into your watercolors. You can draw right over the top of the painting with dry pastels, or around the edges of your subject. If pastel is mixed with water it will look a bit like gouache and that can make some interesting effects as well.
When using dry pastels you must fix them with a fixative, however, so remember as you use them that the fixative will end up darkening your colors quite a bit.
“A bird’s eye view of Charlotte” – Watercolor, acrylic, watercolor crayons & pastels on paper