Art History Lab

Mastering Watercolor: A Step-by-Step Guide to Painting Water

Watercolor painting owes its charming appeal to its transparent and luminous quality. It is a medium that is unmatched in its ability to capture the beauty of water and its shimmering qualities.

However, painting water can be a daunting task for an aspiring artist, especially when it comes to creating depth, texture, reflections, and movement. In this article, we will guide you through the process of painting water with watercolor step by step.

We will cover the materials you need, recommended techniques, tips, and tricks to help you paint convincing water scenes.

to Painting Water with Watercolor

There are several ways of painting water with watercolor. The first step in mastering this technique is to understand the basics of watercolor painting.

The medium is transparent and does not provide the artist with the ability to paint in layers or make corrections easily. Watercolor also requires a certain amount of planning and forethought before you start painting.

Going in with a general idea of what you want your painting to look like is helpful. Here are a few tips to get started.

1. Wet-on-wet technique

The wet-on-wet technique involves applying paint to a damp surface, allowing it to spread and blend into each other.

This technique is ideal for creating soft transitions, reflections, and movement in water. 2.

Wet-on-dry technique

Wet-on-dry involves applying paint to a dry surface. This technique is useful in creating sharp edges, details, and definition.

3. Building depth

Layering is a crucial technique in watercolor painting, especially when painting water.

Start with light washes and gradually build up the intensity of the color to create depth.

Necessary Materials

The materials you use when watercolor painting play an important role in the final outcome of your artwork. Here is a list of the most critical materials for painting water with watercolor.

1. Watercolor paper

Watercolor paper is a must-have and should be of good quality.

It’s also available in different textures. A rough surface is suitable for creating texture, while a smooth surface is ideal for creating sharp edges.

2. Paints

There is a wide variety of watercolors to choose from.

Consider investing in a few professional-grade paints to ensure your colors are vibrant. 3.


Watercolor brushes come in different shapes and sizes. A round brush is recommended for painting water, as it allows for graduating line widths.

4. Tape

Use tape to secure your paper before painting.

This ensures that your paper does not buckle or warp during the painting process.


Painting water with watercolor requires practice and patience. It can also be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

By using some of the techniques described in this article, you will improve your ability to paint water convincingly. Keep in mind that watercolor painting is all about experimentation and finding what works best for you.

So, go forth and create beautiful water scenes.


Before you start painting water with watercolor, it’s important to create a conducive environment and set up a workspace that will enable you to focus on your work. Here are some tips on how to prepare yourself and your workspace.

Creating a Conducive Environment for Painting

1. Choose a well-lit area

Natural light is the best light source for painting, but if that’s not available, use bright lights that mimic natural sunlight.

Good lighting helps you to see your colors more accurately. 2.

Avoid harsh lighting

Fluorescent lights can cast a harsh glare on your paper, making it difficult to see your colors accurately. It’s best to use soft, diffused lighting to minimize eye strain.

3. Minimize distractions

Choose a quiet, undisturbed space where you can focus on your painting without interruptions.

Turn off your phone or any other devices that might distract you. Gathering

Necessary Materials and Setting Up the Workspace


Cover your workspace

Cover your workspace with a plastic sheet or a tablecloth to protect your surfaces from paint spills and stains. 2.

Organize your materials

Having your materials organized and within reach saves time and keeps you focused. Place your watercolor paints, brushes, and other materials in a designated spot.

3. Test your colors

Before you start painting, test your paint colors on a separate piece of paper to ensure they are the correct shade and consistency.

4. Set up your palette

Fill your watercolor palette with the colors you intend to use.

Arrange the colors in a logical order, starting with the lightest shades first, to ensure a smooth transition between colors.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Paint Water

Now that you have prepared your workspace and have your materials ready, it’s time to start painting water. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to paint water in different scenarios.

Painting Water that Seems Close By

1. Create a light background

Start by creating a light wash of blue or green on your paper to serve as a background.

This should be done wet-on-wet to create a soft and smooth surface. 2.

Paint the highlights

Using a clean and damp brush, paint the highlights of the water ripples. Use a light color like white to create a shimmering effect.

3. Build the reflections

Mix a darker shade of blue or green and drag your brush across the paper to create the reflection of the surroundings.

This should be done wet-on-dry to create sharp edges. 4.

Create texture

Using a dry brush or a toothbrush, splatter paint over the surface to create a textured effect. This adds depth and interest to your painting.

Painting Water that Seems Far Away

1. Paint the horizon

Start by creating a light wash of blue or gray at the horizon line.

This should be done wet-on-wet to create a soft and seamless transition. 2.

Build the sky

Create a darker wash of blue and paint the sky above the horizon. Blend it into the lighter wash to create a smooth gradient between the two colors.

3. Use a large brush

Using a large and flat brush, create horizontal strokes to simulate the water’s surface.

4. Add depth

Using a darker shade of blue or green, create the reflection of the sky and surroundings.

The reflections should be weaker than usual due to the distance of the horizon.


Painting water with watercolor requires practice, patience, and creativity. The techniques discussed in this article, combined with a conducive environment and well-organized workspace, will help you create convincing water scenes.

Remember to experiment with different mediums, colors, and techniques to find what works best for you. With enough practice and dedication, you’ll be painting realistic water scenes in no time.

Tips and Tricks for Watercolor Painting

Watercolor painting is a beautiful medium, but it can be challenging for new artists. Here are some tips and tricks to help you paint water with watercolor effectively.

Importance of Taping Down the Paper and Having Two Jars of Water

1. Taping down your paper

Taping down your paper keeps it secure and prevents it from buckling or warping.

Use painter’s tape on all four sides of your paper to hold it in place. 2.

Two jars of water

Having two jars of water, one for cleaning your brush and the other for clean water, is crucial. This prevents dirty water from contaminating your clean water and ruining your colors.

Emphasizing the Process of Layering and Creating Ripples

1. Layering

Layering is the most important technique in watercolor painting, especially for painting water.

Layering adds depth to your painting and creates a sense of realism. Start with a light wash of color and gradually build up the intensity.

2. Creating Ripples

To create ripples, use a clean and slightly damp brush to remove some paint from the surface.

Apply the brush to the surface of the water to create the ripple. Be mindful of the direction of the ripples and the size of the brush strokes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Different Watercolor Techniques

1. Wet-on-wet technique

This technique involves applying paint on a damp surface, allowing it to spread and blend together.

This technique is used to create soft and seamless transitions. 2.

Wet-on-Dry technique

This technique involves applying paint to a dry surface, creating sharp edges and details. 3.

Dry Brush Technique

This technique involves using a dry brush to move the paint across the paper. It can be used to create texture and lines.

Techniques for Painting Water in Watercolor

1. Creating Layers

Start with light washes and gradually build up the intensity of your colors to create depth in your water.

2. Adding Texture

Splatter paint or use a dry brush to create texture in the water.

This adds interest and depth. 3.

Mixing Colors

Mix colors from similar families to create a natural-looking surface. Experiment with blues, greens, and grays.

Tips for Painting an Easy Watercolor Landscape

1. Choosing Simple Subjects

Choose simple subjects to start, such as mountains, trees, and lakes.

This will help you focus on your technique and avoid becoming overwhelmed. 2.

Color Palette

Select a limited color palette to ensure cohesiveness. Three to four colors are typically enough.

3. Layering

Create depth by layering your colors.

Start with a light wash and gradually build the intensity of your colors.


Painting water with watercolor can be challenging but with practice and patience, it can be well worth it. The tips and tricks outlined in this article, combined with a good understanding of the techniques involved, will enable you to create convincing water scenes in no time.

Always remember to have fun and experiment with different techniques and colors. In this article, we covered the process of painting water with watercolor, from the necessary materials to step-by-step techniques.

We emphasized the importance of creating a conducive environment and organizing your workspace. Taping down the paper and having two jars of water were highlighted as essential practices.

Additionally, we discussed the significance of layering and creating ripples in achieving realistic water effects. We also provided tips and tricks for watercolor painting, including the use of different techniques and advice for painting landscapes.

By following these guidelines and practicing with patience, you can master the art of painting water and create captivating scenes that showcase the beauty and fluidity of this element. Keep exploring and experimenting with watercolor techniques to further enhance your skills and create unique and memorable artwork.

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