Fundamental watercolor techniques

  1. Flat wash

Whether it is for the background or any large area painting, flat wash is the fundamental technique of watercolor as normally it is the first step of the painting. Once we master the technique to paint a smooth, nice and neat flat wash, we can change this technique a little bit for gradient wash.

Tilt the painting board slightly and with a large flat brush or round brush, pick up plenty of well mixed pigment, paint horizontally (normally from left to right if you are right hander). While it is still wet, paint the second stroke below and overlap slightly with the first stroke. Continue the next stroke and repeat the process until the end. Use tissue or dry brush to absorb excessive water at the bottom. Because each stroke is wet and overlap with previous stroke, the paint will mix together naturally and form a nice and even wash.

  1. Graded wash

Now that you’ve learned how to do a simple flat wash, the next step is to add a gradient wash. It can be a graduation of tone or of different colors blending into one another

Tilt the painting board about 10 degree. Wet the whole paper, pick up the well mixed pigment and paint from the top horizontally. Add more water to dilute the paint and same as flat wash, continue with second stroke below and overlap slightly with first stroke. Continue the process and gradually mix more water with each stroke.

With this technique, you can also paint from bottom to top, left to right or right to left to create the desired gradient.

  1. Overlay washes (Glazing)

This technique utilises the transparent characteristic of watercolor to create different tones by overlapping washes.

In this technique you let the paint to dry completely before adding successive layers of the same color. Each additional layer darkens the color and can be used to create shape and shadow. The effect of this technique is hard edge between layers.


Glazing is basically overlaying washes of different colors. With glazing, you can create different tone and color with each overlaying layer. It is important to let the paint completely dry before applying the next layer to avoid the colors to blend and running together. If you are overlaying different color, it is important to know how these colors will interact with each other.

  1. Wet-in-wet

Pre-wet the paper with water or some light & watery paint, mixed the pigment and apply it on the wet paper. The pigment will blend with the water and your stroke will diffuse and spread and the edge will become softer and softer. With wet-in-wet, you will never 100% sure what is going to happen as the result depends on the wetness of the paper, the thickness of the paint, etc. but this is actually the fun and attractiveness of watercolor.

We can use thick paint as well as thin in to create different effects.

It is also possible to rewet certain area and use the wet-in-wet technique to create defused object against the sharp edged base.

  1. Splatter

This is a fun technique to explore and when use correctly it will create naturally looking painting for area require random shape & color. Load your brush with adequate amount of paint and tap or knock the brush against your finger or another brush handle, let the paint splat onto the wet or dry paper to create different look. Do this for light color first and using larger brush first before moving to darker color and smaller brushes. This technique requires some experiments to see the effect and to see how the paint will splat.