Water to paint ratio

Water to paint ratios

One of the first challenges I came across as a beginner was “How much water should I add?”

The short answer is….. It depends on what you are painting!

Now you might be thinking… Okay but how does that doesn’t help?  Stick with me to find out:

When learning about water to paint ratios you will quickly understand how you can achieve different values with one pigment. It all depends on how much water you add to it; more water and less paint will result in lighter values. Meanwhile, more paint and less water will result in darker values.

So back to the original question “How much water should I add?”,

If you’re painting something with a darker value you should add more paint and less water. However, if you’re painting something with lighter values you should use more water and less paint.

Lighter values

The more water you add to a pigment, the lighter the wash will be.

Darker values

When you use less water and more pigment, the wash will be darker.

Having different values will help you avoid a flat painting, instead, you’ll be able to produce paintings with more depth.

Finally,┬álearning about water-to-paint ratios will also show you that watercolors are transparent. Meaning if you add a layer over another, you may still be able to see the layer beneath! But more on this later…

In the beginning, you’ll probably have to pay closer attention to water-to-paint ratios. However, with more practice, it’ll eventually come naturally.

Just remember: go at you’re own pace, take your time and don’t be to hard on yourself if you make mistakes.

Let’s get started with the watercolor exercises below as promised!

Materials used: 

  • Watercolor paper(I’m using 10.5* 7.5 inches), you may choose a size you’re comfortable with
  • Watercolor paint (the color doesn’t really matter)
  • Round brushes (choose the brush size depending on the size of your paper)
  • Paper towel
  • Two jars of water.
  • Masking tape

Exercise 1:

Step 1

Make sure to tape down your paper so it does not move around. Next, draw 5 squares of equal sizes along the top of the paper.

Pick any color (preferably a darker one), below I have chosen prussian blue.

Simply activate the pigment by wetting it, you can use a dropper or a spray bottle…etc

Step 2

Next, take your brush, wet it then dampen it on a paper towel

Your brush shouldn’t be too dry or too wet. Pick up some of that pigment and take it onto your palette, that way it’s easier to see how much paint you are using.

Step 3

Time to fill in the squares. For the first square, I used less water and more pigment. If you have too much water then dampen the brush on the paper towel and add more pigment.

Step 4

As you fill in each square add more water. Use the image below as your guide.

Don’t worry about getting it exactly right, just roughly estimate and use your eyes to judge how much water/pigment there is. If you don’t get it right the first time that’s okay try repeating it.

Exercise 2

Step 1

Start by drawing two empty rectangles as shown below. Here I am using scarlet, but you can choose any color.

Step 2

Start by painting some pigment on the left side of the rectangle. As you keep going clean off the brush and adjust the water-to-paint ratio by using more water and less pigment.

You may have to work quickly for this exercise.

Bonus Exercise


Learning about water-to-paint ratios can be super useful when using the technique called glazing. Glazing is a technique in watercolor created by adding transparent layers of paint to build value. Hence some know it as layering.

If you’re feeling lost don’t worry I’ll show you how it works!


Start by painting a straight line as shown below. I’m using washed-down prussian blue.

Next, let it dry (you can use a hairdryer). It has to be dry so that it doesn’t bleed.

Finally, paint another brush stroke on top. Because the paint is transparent you can see the layer beneath. You’ll notice that the values become darker with each layer.

Above you can see how the value changes with each layer. This is called glazing.

You can have fun with this exercise by trying different colors and different paint-to-water ratios and see what comes up:

If you enjoyed this painting lesson/exercise and found it useful, I’m glad!! Be sure to keep an eye out in your email for the next one…