How to blend watercolors step by step

Learning how to blend with watercolors can be more challenging than blending with other mediums… At the same time, blending is an essential part of learning to paint with watercolors.

In this post, you’ll learn the basic techniques to blend with watercolors. I will break down each step with explanations and examples so you can try it out too!

Let’s get into it…

How to blend watercolors

Related articles:

How to blend wet on wet

The wet-on-wet technique is perfect for blending background washes or broad areas of the painting rather than detailed work. This is because more water equals more paint flow causing you to have less control of the wash.

Blending with one color:

To blend using the wet-on-wet technique, you’ll need to wet the paper with just enough water spread evenly creating a nice reflective sheen (not too wet). With your brush apply the color then rinse and remove the excess water on a paper towel. You want your brush to roughly have the same amount of moisture as the paper. Now you can spread the paint and blend it on the paper. Below you’ll find the detailed process: 

How to blend 1 color wet on wet with watercolor

Blending with two colors:

Once again, start with an even sheen then add your first color, do the same thing as above by rinsing the brush to reduce the amount of pigment. Then spread the paint and keep an eye out for how wet your brush is. Make sure to leave some space for the second color. Once you’ve blended the first color, repeat the process with the second color. 

Blending is all about judging the correct amount of moisture in your brush and paper, and being able to tell how much pigment you need in your paint mixture. The more you keep practicing the easier it will be to tell these two factors.

How to blend two colors wet on wet
How to blend two colors wet on wet step 2

Using the right amount of moisture for blending

The key to blending watercolor using the wet-on-wet technique is figuring out the right amount of water to use for the effect you want to create.

For example, using too much water will cause the pigment to flow outwards. When the paint dries, you’ll be left with saturated edges and pale centers. 

However, if you use too little water the paint will dry too quickly leaving you with little to no time to blend.

With the right amount of water, the pigment remains where it’s supposed to be and can be spread with ease.

Take the image below for example. The first shape shows an example of adding too much water, the second with just enough water, and the third with too little water:

The right amount of moisture for watercolor blending

How to blend wet on dry

Blending using the wet-on-dry watercolor technique is better suited to painting finer details and blending smaller shapes. This is because you have more control over the paint. 

Two ways you can blend wet on dry:

  1. The first is by painting the second color right next to the first color and blending the middle
  2. The second is by blending both colors through a gradient.  

Blending two colors next to each other

How to blend two colors by painting them next to each other wet on dry:

  1. Start by painting the first color. Don’t use too much or too little water, the key is to get it wet enough so there’s no puddle and there’s a nice even sheen to it.
  2.  While the paint is still wet, paint the second color next to the first. Try to make sure that your brush has roughly the same amount of wetness as the first color. If your brush is too wet it will repel the paint and cause a backrun (when all the pigment flows to the sides of the paper and forms a hard edge). If the brush has little to no moisture it will absorb and lift the paint off of the paper.
  3. Next, rinse your brush and remove the excess water onto a paper towel. Use the point of the brush to blend the middle of the two colors.

The images below show the step by step process:
How to blend wet on dry with watercolor.

Blending two colors through a gradient

How to blend two colors through a gradient, wet on dry:

  1. Begin by painting the first color, starting with a saturated mix. As you move the brush along, rinse it and gradually add less pigment. This should create a gradient from saturated to diluted.
  2. When you reach the end of the gradient, add a diluted version of the second color to the end of the gradient and slowly strengthen the intensity of the color as you move along.
  3. Rinse your brush and blend out the middle if needed.

The images below show the step-by-step process:

You can also blend the two colors in a gradient by adding the second color a space farther from the first and then diluting it towards the middle where the colors will meet.

how to blend wet on dry with a gradient

Remember, the key to blending is being able to judge how much moisture the paper and brush should have. The more you practice the easier it will become for you to judge how much water to add. It will eventually come naturally.

Blending to create soft edges/faded edges

Using a combination of soft/faded edges and hard/sharp edges in your painting can make a huge difference in your work. Now that you know the basics of blending, let’s learn how to blend your edges. To create faded edges you can:

  1. Re-wet and smooth the edges
  2. Slowly lighten the value by diluting the paint while it’s still wet.

To create a faded edge start by painting a saturated swatch of color. Slowly start spreading the paint then rinse the brush and continue lightening the value:

How to blend faded edge

The image below shows a second example of how to blend to create faded edges.

This time instead of painting the swatch and then spreading the pigment, try painting the swatch, rinsing the brush then painting clean water right next to the paint swatch.

You’ll see the pigment starting to bleed into the water. 

Once it starts to bleed, that’s when you spread the paint, then dampen the brush on a paper towel and blend it with the rest of the edge.

Blending a dried layer

How to blend an edge after the layer has dried:

Start by swatching any color of your choice then let it dry.

Rewet the edge you want to fade out with clean water. Once the pigment loosens spread it out with your brush.

You can also dampen the brush on a paper towel then lift and spread the paint. 

How to create a faded edge from a dried watercolor layer

Quality of paper

Sometimes the quality of your paper can affect how well your colors blend.

Blending on cheaper quality paper can be very difficult and yield the wrong effects. Ideally, cotton paper works best when it comes to watercolor.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive paper, just make sure to avoid super cheap quality paper.

If you’re interested, I have an article entirely focused on how to choose watercolor paper.

Practice and Explore

The blending techniques I mentioned above are the basics to help get you started.

However, many artists develop their techniques by experimenting until they find the ones they prefer.

My advice would be to keep practicing by applying these techniques in your painting. Eventually, you’ll develop an instinct to blend naturally!

Thank you for reading this post! I hope you found the information helpful.

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