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5 Top Tips to Improve Your Watercolour Techniques

Updated: Jul 3

If you’ve read our first blog in this series, Getting Started with Watercolours then you’re most likely ready to take in some tips to help improve your watercolour technique. Here are our top five tips to help you and your budding artists on your way!


Mixing: The biggest issue when it comes to using watercolour is knowing when you need to add more water, or more paint pigment. Simply put, if your colour is too light or runny, you need to add more pigment. Or another technique is to gently stroke your brush on the side of your mixing palette to remove the excess paint. Less wet paint on your brush means it won’t bleed as much on the page.


On the other hand, if you're finding that your paint is very dark, or too thick (so that your brush strokes feel dry on the page, rather than smooth) then you need to use more water in your mix. It takes a little bit of practise getting used to the mix of water and pigment you need, but just keep experimenting and you’ll be a mixing wizard in no time!


Excess Paint or Water: A key piece of equipment to have to hand is a piece of kitchen roll. This may seem obvious but many paintings have been saved by having a bit of tissue to hand, to mop up any excess paint or water. You can dab the area and watch as the huge watery blob that has fallen and bled into the wrong place, magically disappears, which is one of the best things about watercolours! This can happen if you have too much paint or water on your brush. A way to avoid this is to gently stroke your brush on the side of your mixing palette or water pot before you put brush to page. Another cause is having a brush that is too big, which is why it’s a good idea to have a range of brushes if you can. You can use smaller brushes for detailed parts of a painting, therefore not risking any more paint going on the paper than necessary.


Bleeding: Another cause of bleeding (where paint spreads across the page where you don’t want it to go) is because the layers of paint around the section you're working on are still wet. It’s crucial that unless you want elements deliberately to blend, let your painting dry before adding another layer or section of paint. As watercolours dry very quickly, this won’t take too long! You can always go onto another part of the painting and work on that, while waiting for the other parts to dry.


A Word About White: One very important thing to remember is to avoid the white pigment in your palette if you want paler tones (but still want nice bright colours). The reason for this is because the white pigment blocks the shine of the paper coming through the watercolour paint. The white of the paper is enough to create light within a painting, and adding white pigment actually gives it a thicker look and therefore makes it duller. So if you want to make a colour paler, add more water to it when mixing the colour. We can see this being used in John Singer Sargent’s piece, White Ships (seen below). Here is a very light-filled piece of work, but he has achieved this amazing lightness by working with the paleness of the paper, and very light washes of colour.


Mixing: As for mixing different colours, there is an infinite amount of combinations out there, which you can mix using just a few basic colours to start with. A good thing to have nearby is a colour wheel to jog your memory about how the colours work together. Knowing whether to add a little bit more yellow or blue to that green to get just the right shade for your piece, is such an important skill to take your painting to the next level. This again takes practise, so just take your time and explore the different variations; altering the amount of one pigment and the next to get your desired colour.




White Ships

John Singer Sargent


Once you’ve got to grips with the above, we highly recommend you check out our blog Mastering Watercolour Techniques for Different Effects.



We’d love to see your watercolour works, share them with us on Instagram @cygnetsartschool #cygnetsartschool or add to our Facebook page’s wall here.If you have any questions about any art mediums, drop us a line on hello@cygnetsartschool.com



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Cygnets is an art school franchise based in the UK for ages 6-106. Our focus is on the teaching of traditional skills such as drawing, painting & sculpture, combined with unique projects; experienced teachers, and professional quality materials.

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