Fixing a Bad Watercolor Painting | Method & Error Prevention

Watercolor painting is a beautiful yet challenging art form that requires skill, patience, and a delicate touch. It’s easy to make mistakes, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned artist. But don’t worry, even if your masterpiece doesn’t turn out as planned, there are ways to fix those mishaps.

To fix a bad watercolor painting, identify the issues, and assess whether it’s better to start afresh or fix the errors. Sometimes, starting over is a better option. Then try lifting paint with a damp brush or sponge, scrubbing and reapplying paint, using a magic eraser or white gouache, glazing and layering, or adding details with other media.

In this article, we’ll explore techniques to address common watercolor issues and turn your painting from a potential disaster into a stunning work of art. So, let’s dive in and learn how to fix a bad watercolor painting!

Assessing the Problem

Before attempting to fix a problematic watercolor painting, it’s crucial to assess the situation and identify the specific issue(s) at hand.

Carefully examine your artwork to pinpoint the areas that need improvement or correction. Common problems include muddy colors, unintentional color bleeding, uneven washes, or unwanted hard edges.

Once you’ve identified the problem areas, evaluate the extent of the damage. In some cases, the issue might be minor and easily fixable with a few simple techniques.

However, in more severe cases, it could be necessary to start over, especially if the paper has been damaged or overworked.

Be honest with yourself and consider whether the time and effort required to fix the painting would be better spent on a fresh start.

Remember, even if you decide to start over, it’s not a failure but an opportunity to learn and grow as an artist.

Take note of the challenges you faced during the painting process and think about how to avoid them in the future.

Reflect on the techniques and color combinations you used and how they contributed to the issue.

Assessing the problem and determining the best course of action will not only help you improve your current painting but also gain valuable insights for your future watercolor projects.

Whether you decide to fix the painting or start anew, remember that making mistakes is a natural part of the artistic journey, and overcoming them will only make you a stronger, more resilient artist.

Assessing the Problem
Picture Credit: rachelsstudiodotcom on

Techniques for Fixing Common Watercolor Mistakes

Watercolor painting mistakes can happen to anyone, but with the right techniques, you can turn those errors into opportunities for growth and improvement.

Here are five methods for fixing common watercolor issues:

1. Lifting unwanted paint

One technique for fixing watercolor mistakes is lifting or removing unwanted paint from the paper. To do this, use a clean, damp brush or sponge to gently dab or rub the area with the unwanted paint.

Be cautious not to scrub too hard, as this can damage the paper. Once the paint has been lifted, blot the area with a clean, dry towel or tissue to remove any excess moisture.

This method works best for lighter colors and when the paint is still relatively wet.

Lifting and various other watercolor techniques have been discussed in my in-depth guide on 18 Watercolor Techniques You Must Know About!

Lifting Watercolor Technique
Picture Credit: Maria Raczynska on

2. Scrubbing and reapplying paint

If lifting paint doesn’t provide the desired results, you can try scrubbing and reapplying paint.

Using a stiff brush and clean water, gently scrub the area where the mistake occurred to remove as much paint as possible. Blot the area with a clean, dry towel or tissue to absorb excess moisture.

Once the area is dry, reapply the desired paint color or wash to achieve the intended effect.

This technique can be particularly useful for fixing uneven washes, correcting color values, or removing unwanted hard edges.

Scrubbing and reapplying paint
Picture Credit: The Mind of Watercolor on

3. Using a magic eraser or white gouache

Magic erasers and white gouache can be helpful tools for removing or covering up mistakes in your watercolor painting.

In case you don’t know what gouache is and how is it different from watercolors, you can know about it all through my article comparing gouache and watercolors.

A magic eraser, which is a melamine foam sponge, can be used to gently lift and erase paint from the paper. To use it, dampen the sponge slightly and gently rub it over the area with the mistake.

Be careful not to press too hard, as it can damage the paper’s surface. White gouache, on the other hand, is an opaque water-soluble paint that can be used to cover up mistakes.

Apply a thin layer of white gouache over the problem area and let it dry. Once dry, you can paint over the gouache with the desired watercolor.

Using a magic eraser or white gouache
Picture Credit: Scarlett Damen on

4. Glazing and layering

Glazing and layering are techniques that involve adding thin, transparent layers of paint on top of one another to create depth, adjust color, or fix value issues in a watercolor painting.

To use this technique, wait for the existing paint layers to dry completely before applying a new glaze. This method can be particularly helpful for fixing muddy colors or adjusting the overall tone of a painting.

Layering and Glazing Watercolor Techniques
Picture Credit: The Mind of Watercolor on

5. Adding details with other media

Sometimes, incorporating other media into your watercolor painting can help fix mistakes or enhance the overall composition.

Using ink, colored pencils, or even acrylic paint can add details, create texture, or correct color and value issues in your painting.

For example, you can use a fine-tipped pen to add outlines or shading, or colored pencils to refine edges and add depth.

Experimenting with different media can lead to unique and exciting results while also helping to correct any issues in your painting.

Adding details with other media

Embracing Imperfections

Embracing imperfections is a crucial aspect of the creative process.

As artists, we must accept that mistakes are inevitable, and rather than dwelling on them, we should use them as opportunities for growth and learning.

Every challenge you face in your watercolor journey will help you develop your skills, refine your techniques, and expand your understanding of the medium.

It’s essential to cultivate a mindset of experimentation and openness. Not every painting will be a masterpiece, and that’s perfectly fine. Embrace the idea that your artwork, like life, is a work in progress.

By allowing yourself the freedom to make mistakes, you create a space for growth and self-discovery, ultimately leading to stronger and more expressive artwork.

Furthermore, imperfections can add character and depth to a painting, giving it a unique and personal touch.

Sometimes, what may seem like a mistake can become an unexpectedly beautiful element of your art. The key is to maintain a sense of curiosity and flexibility, allowing your creative journey to unfold organically.

Prevention Tips for Future Paintings

To minimize the likelihood of mistakes in future watercolor projects, keep these prevention tips in mind:

1. Plan ahead: Sketch out your composition and consider the color scheme beforehand to avoid unexpected issues.

2. Test colors: Before applying paint to your artwork, test your colors on a separate piece of watercolor paper to ensure they blend well and create the desired effect.

3. Control water: Use the right amount of water to prevent unwanted color bleeding or uneven washes. Remember, less water creates more control.

4. Work in layers: Start with lighter colors and build up to darker ones, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next to prevent muddiness.

5. Patience: Give yourself time to practice and develop your skills. Rushing a painting often leads to mistakes, so work at a comfortable pace and enjoy the creative process.


Fixing a bad watercolor painting is possible with the right techniques and mindset.

We’ve explored various methods to address common issues, including lifting paint, scrubbing and reapplying paint, using magic erasers or white gouache, glazing and layering, and incorporating other media.

Remember to embrace imperfections, as they are valuable learning experiences that contribute to your artistic growth.

By following these tips and prevention strategies, you’ll become more confident in your watercolor skills and better equipped to handle any challenges that come your way. Happy painting!

Mehak Verma

I love creating both traditional and digital watercolour art. Why? As a kid, transitioning from sketch pens to paint brushes and water soluble colours was a big deal. Hope you find what you're looking for on my website.

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