Basic watercolor techniques for beginners to know

Watercolors can be a tricky medium especially if you are a beginner, it can get frustrating and make you want to give up all together. I disagree, I believe that with some practice, assistance and guidance anyone can master this medium. That is why I have written this post explaining some watercolor techniques that can help you improve and better your skills. I hope you enjoy!!

Wet on wet technique

  • Wet on wet technique – pre-wetting the paper with clear water before you add your first layer of pigment.
  • This technique creates a soft, dispersed look and is more suitable to use in situations when covering a large portion of the paper at a single time.
  • Use watercolor paper- Only because normal paper will get worn down by the water and will become wrinkly.

The image below shows the end result after using the wet on wet technique. I simply pre-wet the paper with clear water before adding a layer of Prussian blue.

Wet on wet technique

Wet on dry technique

  • Wet on dry does not require you to pre-wet the paper. Instead you just add the paint directly on the paper after adding water to it
  • Wet on dry technique can be used to create rough textures and to add finer details to your painting. This is because it creates an effect of having sharp edges.
  • The paper absorbs the pigment and you have more control.

The image bellow shows the result after using this technique. You can see the edges are sharper because the paper was not previously wet.

Wet on dry technique

Combining the two

Both techniques I mentioned above can be used together when creating a watercolor painting. The wet on wet technique can be used to create a soft effect while the wet on dry can be used to add the finer details.

In the image below you will see an example where I combined both techniques; I used the wet on wet technique to create a blue background. After letting the paint dry, I then used the wet on dry technique to paint the the trees.

Dry brush technique

  • The concept behind this technique is fairly simple. It involves applying paint onto the paper using a damp or close to dry brush (or a very dry brush). This technique is ideal when creating rough texture as shown in the images below.
  • In order to improve the results of this technique try this:
    • Your thumb on one side of the brush and the other four fingers on the opposite side
    • Try hold it at an angle lower than 90° against the paper. Feel free to try different angles.

Lifting vs dropping

Dropping- dropping is basically adding a new load of paint to a wash that has not yet dried. The idea is that the two pigments will subtly blend on their own. This technique can get tricky because if you add water to a wash that has begun to dry then it will cause a backrun.

Lifting- Involves picking up pigment from the watercolor paper using a material that will absorb the watercolor. This technique won’t work if the paint is dry, in that case you may rewet the paper and lift the pigment this way. However, I recommend lifting the pigment before the layer dries as some watercolor paints stain the paper more than others and you could ruin your painting.


Backruns are caused by adding water to a wash that is still damp causing the pigments to separate and move to the outline of the water. They can be accidental when water droplets fall from the brush unintentionally causing the pigment on the paper to break. However you can use backruns as a technique in order to create different textures. An example can be when painting the sky, adding a backrun can help express the different textures of the clouds.

Although it may take some practice and of course trial and error, using backruns as a technique can produce some fabulous results.

The first Image shows how I added the first layer of paint, and the second shows how I created a backrun by adding a streak of clear water across the orange with my brush.

The final result:

Sunset with backrun technique
Backruns as a watercolor technique

In the painting above I also used smaller backruns in the sky aswell as in the sand just beneath the palm tree.


Learning how to blend correctly is important when it comes to creating any watercolor painting. Blending is what happens when you cause two colors to have a soft transition on your paper. It allows two different colors to simultaneously stay next to each other; for example the blue, orange and yellow in a sunset painting.

Blending involves causing a color to fade softly instead of having a hard edge.It is achieved though the combination of the movement of the paint brush and the right timing when the layer of paint is just the right level of dampness.

You can create a blending technique by:

  • Adding a streak of watercolor pigment on your paper. While its still wet, quickly clean off your brush and use a small amount of clear water to soften the edges.
    • Using clear water will cause the pigment to become lighter.
  • Using wet on wet technique: Here you just pre wet the paper with clear water. Add a watercolor pigment on one side of the paper and add the other pigment next to it. Clean off your brush then use it to slowly guide the pigments allowing them to blend the way you want.
    • Try not to use large amounts of water when pre-wetting the paper. Instead add a subtle wash and this will give you more control of where the pigment flows.

We have come to the end of this post. Now its time to try out these techniques and practice 🙂

FREE Beginners Watercolor Package

What you get if you sign up:

1. Beginners map to watercolor painting (64-page PDF ebook)

2. Ebook topics include: supplies, color mixing, techniques, and mini exercises to get you started.

3. Gain access to my 3-day watercolor landscape exercises.

You will also receive updates on new posts on watercolor tutorials, tips, and techniques.

You can unsubscribe anytime.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.