8 Steps to Make a Watercolor Painting | Actionable & Simple

Welcome to the simplest step-by-step process to creating a beautiful watercolor painting. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist looking to refine your skills, this guide is designed to help you navigate through the process with ease. Here are what the steps to make a watercolor painting look like in a nutshell:

Gather materials like paper, paints, brushes, water, and palette. Set up a well-lit workspace, sketch your subject lightly, apply a basic wash using wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry techniques, build up layers for depth, add details and textures, apply finishing touches, and protect your artwork by drying, storing, and framing it properly.

From gathering materials and setting up your workspace to adding the final finishing touches, we’ll cover each stage in detail to help you create a captivating piece of art. Let’s dive in and explore the wonderful world of watercolor painting together!

Steps to Make a Watercolor Painting

Step #1 – Gather your materials

Start with high-quality watercolor paper, preferably cold-pressed or hot-pressed, as it will significantly impact the final result.

Next, select a range of watercolor paints, either in tubes or pans, and choose a variety of colors to suit your artistic vision.

You’ll also need a set of brushes in different shapes and sizes to achieve various effects and strokes.

Don’t forget a jar of clean water for rinsing your brushes and diluting the paint, as well as a palette for mixing colors.

Having all these materials at hand will ensure a smooth and enjoyable painting experience.

Step #1 - Gather your materials

Step #2 – Prepare your workspace

Setting up a comfortable and efficient workspace is key to a successful watercolor painting experience. First, find a well-lit area with natural light, if possible, as it will help you accurately perceive colors.

Choose a sturdy table or easel to support your watercolor paper and ensure it’s at a comfortable height to prevent strain while painting.

Organize your materials by placing your paints, brushes, water, and palette within easy reach, but make sure they don’t crowd your workspace.

Cover the surface with a protective layer, such as a plastic sheet or an old cloth, to catch any spills or splatters.

Finally, keep a clean cloth or paper towels nearby to dab excess water or paint from your brushes. A well-organized workspace will allow you to focus on your creativity and enjoy the painting process.

Step #3 – Sketch your subject

Before you dive into painting, it’s essential to create a light and accurate sketch of your subject on the watercolor paper.

This foundational sketch serves as a roadmap, guiding your brushstrokes and helping you plan the composition of your artwork.

Use a light hand and a soft pencil, such as 2H or HB, to ensure your lines are easily erasable and won’t show through the transparent layers of watercolor paint.

Take your time to observe your subject, focusing on its proportions, shapes, and angles. Use light, gentle strokes and avoid pressing too hard on the paper, as it may damage the surface.

Remember, the goal is to create a subtle guide that will help you bring your vision to life while maintaining the delicate nature of watercolor painting.

Step #4 – Apply a basic wash

A basic wash is the foundation of your watercolor painting, and understanding different techniques can help you achieve stunning effects. Two primary techniques are wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry.

The wet-on-wet technique involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface. First, wet the paper with a clean brush and water, then apply your paint.

This technique allows the colors to flow and blend naturally, creating soft, fluid transitions that are perfect for backgrounds or atmospheric elements.

In contrast, the wet-on-dry technique is achieved by applying wet paint to a dry surface. This method provides more control and precision, resulting in sharper edges and defined shapes.

Wet-on-dry is ideal for details or areas where you want to maintain distinct boundaries between colors.

Experiment with both techniques to discover their unique effects and enhance your watercolor painting skills.

Wet on Wet and Wet on Dry
Picture Credit: Paintinghyun on YouTube.com

Step #5 – Build up layers

Layering is a fundamental aspect of watercolor painting, allowing you to create depth, dimension, and complexity in your artwork.

Building up layers involves applying multiple transparent coats of paint, each one gradually adding richness and detail to the composition.

To achieve depth through layering, start with lighter colors and build up to darker ones, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next.

This approach helps maintain transparency and prevents colors from becoming muddy. Be patient and work in thin washes, as overloading the paper with paint may result in a heavy, opaque appearance.

Layering can also help you correct mistakes or make adjustments, such as intensifying colors or refining shapes. With practice, you’ll master the art of layering to bring your watercolor paintings to life.

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

Step #6 – Add details and textures

Incorporating details and textures can elevate your watercolor painting, adding visual interest and depth to your artwork. There are various techniques to achieve this, such as dry brushing and using salt.

Dry brushing involves using a brush with minimal water and more pigment, applying it to the paper with a light, swift motion.

This technique creates a rough, textured appearance, perfect for depicting surfaces like tree bark, grass, or aged wood.

Another creative method is using salt to create unique, crystalline textures. While the paint is still wet, sprinkle a small amount of table salt or coarse sea salt onto the surface.

As the paint dries, the salt will absorb the water, leaving behind intricate patterns. Once completely dry, gently brush off the salt to reveal the stunning effect.

Experiment with these and other techniques to add captivating details and textures to your watercolor paintings.

Step #7 – Finishing touches

Once your watercolor painting has taken shape, it’s time to add the finishing touches that will bring your artwork to life.

Pay attention to areas that may need final adjustments, such as enhancing highlights or deepening shadows.

To add highlights, you can either use a clean, damp brush to lift paint gently from the paper, revealing the lighter paper beneath, or apply a touch of opaque white gouache.

This will create a sense of depth and contrast, making your subject appear more three-dimensional.

For darkening shadows, mix a darker hue using complementary colors or a touch of black, then carefully apply it to the desired areas.

This will enhance the contrast and create a more dynamic, visually appealing composition.

Take a step back, assess your painting, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure your artwork is balanced and complete.

Step #7 - Finishing touches

Step #8 – Protect and Preserve Your Artwork

After investing time and effort into your watercolor painting, it’s essential to protect and preserve your artwork for years to come.

Start by allowing your painting to dry completely; this may take several hours or even overnight, depending on the thickness of the paint and the humidity of your environment.

When storing unframed paintings, place them in a protective sleeve or cover them with acid-free tissue paper, then store them in a flat, dry location away from direct sunlight, which can cause colors to fade.

Framing your artwork not only enhances its visual appeal but also provides protection from dust, moisture, and potential damage.

Use acid-free matting and UV-resistant glass or acrylic glazing to shield your painting from harmful light and preserve its vibrancy.

By properly drying, storing, and framing your watercolor painting, you’ll ensure its beauty and longevity for future enjoyment.

If you want a much more detailed guide on what we’ve talked about, do check out my article on Watercolor Painting For Complete Beginners.

Proper storage of watercolor paintings
Picture Credit: Lorraine Watry on YouTube.com


Embrace the exciting journey of watercolor painting by following this step-by-step guide and experimenting with different techniques, textures, and color combinations.

Remember that practice is the key to improvement, and each painting you create is an opportunity to learn and grow as an artist. Be patient with yourself, and most importantly, enjoy the process.

As you continue to explore the captivating world of watercolors, you’ll discover your unique artistic style and develop a deeper appreciation for this beautiful and versatile medium. 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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