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Shading with watercolor requires patience. Areas with the richest colors and deepest shadows will have the most layers. Each layer must be applied lightly and left to dry fully before a new layer can be started. If the paint is not completely dry it will bleed and behave unpredictably. Watercolors cannot be covered with more paint. The layer below it always shows through. However, there are ways to lighten and remove some of the unwanted colors from the paper. The paint can be best lifted from the painting, by blotting it while the area is still wet with a clean dry paper towel. This same technique can be used on paint that has already dried by re-wetting the area. The sooner these steps are done, the more color will be removed. Another option is to dilute and spread the color over a large area. Never wipe or rub wet watercolors - it will only spread the unwanted paint rather than remove it.

White areas of a watercolor picture are created by leaving the white of the paper. White watercolor paint should NEVER be used because it lacks the translucency of the other colors. If a lighter shade is needed, just add more water. Do not add white paint! There are several ways to protect the white areas of the paper. Methods include applying: crayon, candle wax, masking fluid, or rubber cement to those areas. Masking fluid and rubber cement are easily removed once the painting is complete.

Always paint using light layers. Remember to allow each layer to dry fully before adding new layers. To darken areas simply add more light layers to that area. This keeps the paint translucent and gives you more control over the outcome. When too little water is added to the paint, it will appear dark and heavy. The reason to use watercolor is to create a light translucent effect in the painting. If you can't see through the paint when it is applied then more water is needed.


When working with watercolor combine any two of these colors to create secondary colors.

Watercolor is a light translucent medium. Because of its delicate quality, a painting must begin with a good solid composition. This will ensure an end product that matches the initial vision. There is little opportunity to adjust placement once the painting begins because watercolor paints do not hide previous layers. The first step is to lightly sketch out where all the elements of the painting will be. The use of an H pencil is preferable.

Master Skill - Composition

The proper composition is an important part of keeping artwork dynamic and interesting. The rule of thirds is essential to a good composition.


Important compositional elements (ex. horizon line, focal point) should be placed along imaginary lines that split the piece into thirds.

Once the basic sketch is completed, the watercolor will be applied to the paper. One way of applying watercolors is with a watercolor pencil. Rather than applying the pigment with water and a brush, the pigment goes directly on to the paper dry. After the watercolor pencil is applied, a wet paintbrush is used to activate the color and spread the paint. The watercolor pencil marks will begin to vanish and create a translucent effect. The wetter the brush, the more diluted the color will become.

Understanding color is the basis for all painting. Watercolor has a much more ethereal quality than most mediums. Building up the color in thin layers is the best way to ensure the painting retains this delicate look. Learning to control the ratio of water to color is the first step. Less water creates darker, bolder colors. More water dilutes the color to remain translucent. 

The color wheel shows how colors are related to one another. Primary colors are the core of the color wheel. All other colors are made from some combination of these three.

If you would like to learn more about painting with watercolor, come in and see us. This is just one of the fine arts classes taught at 9Muses Art Center. Classes are taught by professionally trained staff.  Check our Calendar for more information.

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