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Wrinkled Paper Watercolor Effect

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

A wrinkled paper watercolor angel, I call this Hummingbird.

A wrinkled paper watercolor angel, I call this Hummingbird.

The Wrinkled Paper Effect

Watercolor has its own set of challenges and difficulties. Most people steer clear of it for fear of messing up. But there are so many things that watercolor does that no other medium will do. One of these is the wrinkled paper effect. I love to use this watercolor effect with flower paintings and my angel series. It gives it a background that is not too busy but has lots of character. I think it gives my angel series the look of a stained glass church window.

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.

— Wayne Dyer

The model was a neighbor girl who posed for me.  I painted her as an angel.

The model was a neighbor girl who posed for me. I painted her as an angel.

Drawing in Pencil First

Use paper that is not too heavy for this effect. Paper that is 300 pound or thicker will not wrinkle very well and not give the great broken glass look like 140 pounds or lighter.

First, draw the picture in pencil. Then wet the paper thoroughly front and back. I like to take the paper to the sink or bathtub to wet it thoroughly. It works to paint the paper with water using a large mop brush, as long if the paper isn’t so large that it has time to dry before you can finish front and back. After the paper is wet, wad it up as if you were going to throw it away. You must be careful not to tear it. Wet paper is easily torn. Then carefully unwrap the wadded paper and spread it out to paint it. It may look as though you have ghost images from your pencil drawing, but ignore these as they will disappear as soon as you begin painting. Use a large brush, 1 inch flat or better, and paint the background with any colors you desire. It will bleed into the main subject slightly but that is not a problem. Make sure you have not left any holes without color.

You might not make it to the top, but if you are doing what you love, there is much more happiness there than being rich or famous.

— Tony Hawk

Rose Angel

Rose Angel

Paint The Background

Once you have painted the background, put it somewhere to dry undisturbed. This may take a couple of hours as you have saturated the paper with water. After it is completely dry you can paint the main subject. It will be a little challenging to paint around the wrinkled paper but not impossible and well worth the effort. This technique gives you a three-dimensional quality you could not achieve any other way. You will be impressed with the results. Try a flower for your first project and you will be very amazed.

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

— Leonardo da Vinci

Primroses.  My photo reference had a misspelling and I left it there because I thought it was funny.  Perhaps I should call this "Folks at RiteAde Don't Know How To Spell".

Primroses. My photo reference had a misspelling and I left it there because I thought it was funny. Perhaps I should call this "Folks at RiteAde Don't Know How To Spell".

Photo References

It is important to use good photo references for realistic paintings. Even flower paintings are helped by having the best photo references. You can take your own photos or use some from the many free stock photo sites to use. I like to use Pixabay and Morgue File. Even with good references try not to copy the photo exactly.

There are several reasons for not copying a photograph exactly. One of the main reasons is that no camera can capture the whole of a scene exactly or perfectly. Even if it is staged, there will be something that an artist can do to change it (make it perfect) that a camera cannot. Another reason is that many times a camera will distort the perspective in a building or a certain low or high angle of the scene that only an artist can correct (or sometimes Photoshop). I find it more fun to put parts together. The sky from this photo with the trees from that photo and the house or people from another. The only thing an artist must be careful about is making sure that the light and shadows and perspective match on the final picture.

Jewel Box

Jewel Box

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

— Pablo Picasso


You will find it useful to have a 1-inch or better mop for large areas. The mop holds lots of water, spreads it smoothly and far without having to reload paint often.

A 1-inch flat is also useful to get into corners and where straight lines are needed such as ocean horizon lines. Sometimes it is helpful to have a one-inch flat as well for little things like bricks on walls or woven basketwork. But his is not as versatile a brush and therefore not as essential if you are on a budget.

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A #10 or #12 round is the most versatile brush. It makes a nice point and can then make some wide lines and fill in large areas without having to change brushes.

It is handy to have at least one fine line brush for your signature and other fine details. I suggest you not get anything smaller than #4 or #5 round as you will find yourself constantly reloading smaller brushes. Try not to get a rigger, which is a long hair-fine line brush. These are hard to handle and master unless you have already worked with one and know how to manage it.

My favorite brushes

My favorite brushes

Student Grade Paper Vs. Quality Archival Paper

Paper comes in lots of weights and colors. Even white has several shades of white to choose from. Avon White, Bright White, Natural white, Eggshell white, etc. In my classes and for many of my wrinkled paper paintings, I liked to bring Classic Laid Natural White at 80-pound. The natural white has a little color to it, sort of an ecru white or off white. The Bright White is too white to stare at for long. I buy these in "parent sheets" which refers to the paper straight from the manufacturer before it is cut into reams. The parent sheets are 23" x 35". Classic Laid is a brand name but also refers to the deckle that was used in creating the paper. A deckle is like a giant sieve that strains the thin layer of paper out of the vat of water. In the Laid deckle case, it has long wires crossed by one every inch or so. This leaves a distinctive pattern on the paper. I chose the Classic Laid because it has texture to hold the paint and has a finish so the paint doesn't soak directly into the paper too quickly. The good watercolor paper keeps most of the paint on the surface and doesn't allow it to soak through. However, the Classic Laid is a wood pulp paper, which makes it affordable for students but not great for the masterpiece you want to keep longer than 50 years. It will yellow with age.

Bunny Angel

Bunny Angel

Final Thoughts

I hope these few hints have been helpful and motivating for you to try this technique for the fun of it. You may find it is your new love on those days where you need something to lift your spirits and engage your creative side. Let me know below if you have any questions or comments.

Baby Angel

Baby Angel


Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 16, 2019:


Thank you. I'm glad you like my paintings. It is a fun technique and adds a little bit of a challenge but is really unique and different to do. Thanks for commenting.



Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 15, 2019:

I love your paintings. The technique that you've described sounds and looks very interesting.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 14, 2019:


Thank you so much for the kind words. I love doing it. Thanks for commenting.



Besarien from South Florida on July 14, 2019:

Wow, Denise! Your art is beautiful! I have seen this technique before, though not utilized as effectively. I love what you are doing with it.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 14, 2019:

Rachel LAlba,

I'm so happy you like my pictures. Thanks so much for commenting.



Rachel LAlba on July 14, 2019:

Your pictures are beautiful and unique. You have a talent. Thanks for sharing.

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