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Helpful Watercolor Tips To Follow

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Gold Tulip Wrap

Gold Tulip Wrap


Working on paintings for the fun of it, there are always a few things that keep coming up such as:

How to make a painting that has something more than most; how to give it charm and character; how to make it easier to paint. Here are a few tips to consider.



Asking Questions

  • Remember that some of the best art in the world is art that leaves you asking questions. The artist has left something of a mystery in his style, in his composition, in his subject matter.
  • If you stand back and ask yourself, "Who lives there" or "Where does that path go" or "What are they talking about" or "How does that blue take my breath away," that's great art because the viewer has become emotionally involved.
  • When you paint, try to leave a little mystery, a little left unsaid, a line or two missing. This is why many experts say there is a point at which the painting has become "overworked." We artist tend to be perfectionists, but in this one instance restrain yourself. You will love your work more for it.
  • The paintings in this article were developed from either en plein aire, from life or still life, or photographs.
  • It is a good practice to keep photographic references for future use. I keep my photos in plastic sleeves in binders so they are easier to locate and they won't get damaged if I should splash paint on them.
  • Many times I will find something new in an old photo that didn't inspire me before. But even so, my photos are only a starting point for me.
  • You should never try to copy a photo exactly, that's what we have cameras and computers for. Let the photo inspire you and then be creative and spontaneous from there.
Sponged Trees

Sponged Trees

“It’s like golf. The fewer strokes I can take, the better the picture.”

— John Marin

Sea Sponges

  • These make the best texture for trees, flowers, rocks.
  • They are relatively inexpensive and last a very long time.
  • Sea sponges come in many "grades" or textural smoothness. "Silk" grade has very small holes and smooth texture; not very good for our purposes but excellent for work with ceramics. "Natural" is okay but still, the holes are too small to be of use for paintings. "Wool" sea sponges have large holes and are best for painting, I found.
  • Once you have tried one you will not want to do without it.
  • To use a sea sponge, get it wet. I know. This sounds elementary, but you can't imagine how many people get their first dry sponge, dip it in the paint and try to make it work. It's a sponge. It really needs a little water.
  • Once you have a nice soft wet sponge, wring out all the water; or at least as much as you can squeeze out. Believe me, there will be plenty left.
  • Now choose your color and dap the rough texture part of the sponge in the paint.
  • If the paint is dry make sure to add a couple of drops of water and wait about 5 minutes before applying your sponge.
  • Once you have some paint on your sponge, dab it onto the paper.
  • Don't drag it or shift it on the paper. You want the texture pattern and not a streaky pattern.
  • When you need to reload paint don't add any more water to the sponge (like you would a brush), just dip it in the paint and dab again.
  • Practice on a sample paper first.
  • Later when you are done, wash the paint out of the sponge before letting it dry completely.


  • Any salt will work: sea salt, rock salt, iodized salt, table salt, even Epson salts.
  • The salt must be sprinkled on while the paper is still wet.
  • There is timing involved her because if the paper is too wet the salt completely dissolves and leaves no pattern. But if the paper is too dry the salt merely sits there and does nothing.
  • The salt takes 10 to 20 minutes to make its patterns and after it is dry you can brush the excess salt off. Only the pattern remains.

“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”

— Mozart

White Crayons, Wax, Paraffin, or Candles

  • The technique of wax-resist requires wax.
  • Crayons are the best since they are already shaped for drawing. However, any wax will work.
  • Many artists use a heating device, which will drip or drag hot melted wax in thin lines as directed by the artist.
  • The crayons work fine without heating, however, the lines are thicker and the artist has to press very hard to make sure of coverage.
  • Light wax lines will not show well once the paint is applied.

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt. Poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.

— Leonardo da Vinci

Plastic Wrap

  • Like salt and alcohol, the plastic wrap must be applied when the paper is still very wet.
  • It only takes a few minutes (3 to 5 depending on the humidity in the air) and when you pull the plastic wrap off, a pattern will remain.
  • This effect is good for erosion on mountains, ocean waves, or just interesting texture on rocks or special effect boxes.
  • What happens is that the paint soaks into the paper where the plastic is touching it. It almost bruises the paper there and nowhere else.

Rubbing Alcohol Spray

  • Like the salt, rubbing alcohol can only be applied to its best advantage with the paper wet.
  • It can be sprayed from a spray bottle, dropped from a dropper, or painted on with a brush.
  • The effect is very interesting and has many uses. I like it for backgrounds behind flowers.
  • Don't overdo it. After the first couple of sprays, the paper gets over saturated and the effect doesn't work anymore.
  • Hold the spray bottle at least 9 to 12 inches from the paper or you won't get a mist but an unattractive "splat".
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Before a child talks they sing. Before they write they draw. As soon as they stand they dance. Art is fundamental to human expression.

— Phylicia Rashad

Splatter Effect

  • An old toothbrush, or even a stiff bristle acrylic paintbrush, make for a good splatter brush.
  • Load the brush with paint and pull the bristles toward you to make the splatter land on the paper.
  • If you pull the bristles toward the paper the splatter goes straight up to your face and clothes.
  • Splatter adds some interesting tone and detail to rocks, sandy beaches, backgrounds or even decorative paper. I love the effect on barnyard scenes.

Final Thoughts

I hope these few things will add something to your paintings. Give them a try and see what you can do with them. Feel free to ask any questions and suggestions in the comments below.




Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 19, 2019:


Thank you very much. I really like that one too. I've sold it and the second one too, but I sell digital downloads so you can make prints from them. People seem to like them. I love working in watercolor. The other paintings I posted are much smaller studies done quickly in less than an hour. Those first two I spent many hours on and I guess it shows. Thanks for commenting.



Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 18, 2019:

The techniques that you've shared sound and look very interesting. Your paintings are lovely, expecially the first two. I think the first one was a great choice to introduce the article. It's beautiful.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 17, 2019:


I enjoy the techniques and I'm glad you think they are worth trying. That was my intent. Thanks for commenting.



Lora Hollings on July 17, 2019:

I love to do watercolors for relaxation! Your paintings showing these techniques are wonderful. A great article for showing how different materials can result in much more fun and interesting textures in watercolors! Thanks for sharing these awesome tips. I will have to try them soon.

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