One of the secrets for successful watercolors?!

I just managed, right now, to express something that I have probably been started to grasp for a few months… And putting it into words will be a great help, I am pretty sure!! That’s why I want to share it with you (hoping that helps ☺).

So, here is my new secret for amazing watery yet strong watercolors… 😉😀

Use enough water when you paint on dry paper. 

And use enough pigment when you paint on wet paper!! 😝

I am pretty sure this seems obvious for some of you… It seems almost obvious to me, now, but it wasn’t, a few months ago. Plus, I think it’s not always pretty obvious in my painting practice, so I am going to work on it now that I have this mantra in my head. 😊 

Btw, when I say “on wet paper”, it can mean that you work wet on wet, wetting your whole paper first like some watercolorists do, OR that you put your brush again on an area you just painted (so, on a wet wash). 

The idea behind my today “secret” 😉 is not new, for sure, but I don’t think I ever read it expressed that way so I thought it was worth sharing. 😊

  For this quick tulips sketch, I painted the leaves on dry paper, trying to use enough water to create some nice effects with the Daniel Smith Green Apatite Genuine I really love. Then, I started “painting” the flowers with a really pale pink wash (just dark enough to see it 😉) before adding some strong red and pink pigment on the wet wash to create this soft melted variations of colors. 😊



The explanation for my new mantra 😃 is : 

  • If you don’t use enough water (when painting on dry paper or adding some colors to an ink sketch), you end up with a “coloring in” look : even boring washes, no interesting watery effects, no granulation, not great colors melting or splitting…
  • If you don’t use enough pigment, when the area where you apply your brush is wet, the too diluted stroke you add achieves nothing (that’s rather obvious in some stop motion videos I made of myself painting!! 😬). You just pretty much dilute your previous wash! Sometimes, you end up with some unwanted backruns or cauliflower effects (I like them but I guess you don’t always want it…). Adding strong pigment on a wet surface, however, is one of the best use of watercolor we can do, in my opinion! 😀

Trying to paint a wave from life, in Portugal… Watercolor is, above all, water!! The top and the bottom of the sketch are rather wet, showing melted colors (wet enough washes on dry paper). In the green part of the wave, I added some strong blue pigment in a still a bit wet area.



 Portugal sketch, again. 😍 That’s a fast and furious one, done within a few minutes in a crazy wind (blowing my palette away) in Sagres, cape St. Vincent. The use of enough water, on dry paper, gave me the chance to create nice effects, especially a crazy granulation of French Ultramarine in the sky. Please note the almost straight from the tube paint I used for the birds (strong pigment on wet paper) (btw, we can notice where the paper was still wet and where it has already dried when I added these birds).



For this sketch, I started by wetting the whole page first, to achieve a soft melted rendering for the sky reflecting on the sea. Then, I had to use enough blue pigment to get a strong color on the wet paper (because the blue paint I was applying was diluted by the water absorbed by the paper).


What do you think about that? Are you used to apply these principles? Were they clear in your head? Or in your brush? Or both?! 😊 

Or is it a new secret, for you too, that may help you to create more successful watercolor sketches?  ☺

Thank in advance for sharing! 😘 I wish you a nice creative week end! 

14 thoughts on “One of the secrets for successful watercolors?!

  1. Super Anne-Laure! These are principles I know, but forget when I’m in a mad rush to capture something Plein air. This is such a nice mantra, as you say, to help remember to put into practice! Thank-you!

    • Thank you Robin! There are so many things to think about when we paint…
      It’s great to have nice landmarks not to get lost. ☺️

  2. Very helpful. I know to do this but don’t always as i am relatively new to watercolor. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Susanne! I am happy you found it useful.
      Tell me if you think about it when you paint! 😉

    • Oh, great! I was not sure either, even if I read many books about watercolor.
      Each person has his or her own way to express things and topics he or she especially wants to insist on.

      This way to evoke the amount of water to use with the paint makes it become so obvious that it seems almost useless to say it but… that’s maybe why it’s a nice mantra, don’t you think?! lol are you still following me?! 😉

      Thank you for sharing your opinon, Ros.

    • Oh, great, Nancy!
      I hope you will tell me if that’s helps you to get more “watercolor effects”. 😉

  3. Crrr Crrr ccrrr…Ca c’est le petit bruit des rouages dans mon cerveau…Tu resumes en deux phrases plein de reflexions que je me suis faites depuis un mois et demi que je me suis remise à l’aquarelle. C’est trop top, merci!

    • Hihihi, décidément, tu cogites dur en ce moment ! Désolée de te rajouter du grain à moudre !!
      Mais c’est vrai qu’exprimer certaines choses aide à comprendre et pratiquer donc, continuons le brainstorming, yeah!!

      Merci pour ton com’ Delphine. ☺️

  4. Wonderful article, and gorgeous tulips btw! I have experimented painting something (a leaf, a flower) and then dropping pur color into it and like yourself I love the effect even if I can’t control what happens. As a semi-beginner, I haven’t put this to use yet but your article makes me want to!! 😀

    • Thank you so much, Royce! ☺️

      Dropping colors is so fun…
      And that’s great not to control everything too, I think. It’s a good “letting go” learning!

      I read again in Hazel Soan book, today, that the less amount of water you use in your brush, the less the pigment you add will travel far in your previous wash, with the same idea than my mantra (enough pigment but not too much water, on wet paper). And it’s true.
      She reminds, too, the importance of gravity. If you don’t want your strong pigment to travel too far, keep your paper flat, and if you want it to move in a given way, tilt your paper the good way! 😉

      That’s things we understand after some time but it’s always good to have some reminders and some ways to express it.

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