Scumbling Watercolor Technique (Everything to know for Beginners)

When it comes to watercolor painting, there are so many techniques to help you achieve different effects. That’s what makes this medium so much fun! In this post, you’ll learn all about the scumbling watercolor technique, including what it is, how to scumble, and a few examples at the end!

Let’s get into it…

Scumbling watercolor technique

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What is scumbling in watercolor?

In watercolor, scumbling is a technique where you paint with random, irregular brushstrokes, almost as though you’re “scrubbing” the paper, to create an impression of texture. This technique can be adjusted depending on how close the strokes are painted next to each other, and how much water and paint you add to the mixture. 

Scumbling in watercolor vs oil painting

Scumbling in oil painting is done by painting a thin layer of paint with a dry brush in a “scribbling” action. That way the previous layer can still be seen through the scumbled one. It is a technique that adds highlights, softens the transition between different colors, and creates texture.

How to use the scumbling technique in watercolor

Remember, the key to progressing with your painting skills is by practicing and exploring your techniques! So when you practice the scumbling technique, make sure to test it with different water-to-paint ratios, patterns, colors, and subjects.

Materials you’ll need

What you’ll need for this tutorial:

  1.  Watercolors- Any color of your choosing
  2. Watercolor Paper- Cold pressed (any brand)
  3. Watercolor brushes- Round brush
  4. 2 jars of water
  5. Paper towel
  6. Masking tape

Scumbling watercolor technique process

How to scumble with watercolors:

  1.  Start by taping down your watercolor paper into three sections and activating your paints.
  2. Next, mix any color of your choice with a 50:50 ratio of water to paint.
  3. In the first section, paint random irregular lines with the point of your brush. Paint the brushstrokes close together with narrow spaces between each stroke. You can also try moving the brush in circular motions.
  4. As you move down the first section, Dilute the mixture to make it lighter then continue scumbling. You can also use the brush at different angles. Toward the end, I used the side of the brush.
  5. For the second section, mix a ratio of more paint and less water then remove any excess water from your brush by dabbing it on a paper towel. (Similar to the dry brush technique)
  6. To scumble, start painting in irregular patterns, it should look like you’re almost “scrubbing” the paper. Repeat the same angles you did in the first section (use the side of the brush, and the point).
  7. For the last section, paint straight uneven linear brush strokes. Paint some lines shorter and thicker, others thinner and longer…etc You can even overlap them to make them look more uneven.

That’s how you use the scumbling technique in watercolor! The images below highlight each step so you can follow along:

How to scumble with watercolors step 1
How to scumble with watercolors step 2
Watercolor scumbling technique with linear strokes

Scumbling wet on wet

You can also scumble into wet paper! The result will be different and create softer edges. Simply wet the paper with clean water then scumble with your brush. Make sure to leave a little more space in between strokes because the paint will bleed.

How to scumble with watercolors wet into wet

Examples of scumbling

Below are a few examples of when you can use the scumbling technique to create texture:

Grass and Foliage

Trees, bushes, and grass can have very irregular patterns. Let’s face it, you’re not going to paint a stunning tree if you try to paint every leaf. The key is to create form by noting the shapes and values, and then adding texture! Scumbling is an excellent technique you can use to paint foliage as shown in the examples below:

How to paint grass and foliage with scumbling step 1


Another example of when to use scumbling is when painting dirt or sand! The texture of sand can be difficult to replicate with watercolors, with the scumbling technique you can paint the underlayer then scumble with your brush to add texture. 

Painting dirt using the watercolor scumbling technique

You have reached the end of this post! Hopefully, you now have an understanding of how to scumble with watercolors!! If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful be sure to sign up for my email list below for access to more watercolor recourses:

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