Watercolor Symbolism | Meaning for Artists and Viewers

Watercolor art, known for its delicate and luminous qualities, has captivated artists and art enthusiasts alike for centuries. The unique characteristics of this medium allow for expressive and evocative creations.

Watercolors can symbolize a range of emotions, ideas, and narratives through the use of color, technique, and composition. By mastering these elements, artists create unique visual languages that convey deeper meaning, allowing viewers to connect with the artwork on a profound level.

Symbolism plays a significant role in watercolor paintings, as it enables artists to convey deeper meanings and emotions through their work. By understanding the symbolism in watercolor art, both artists and viewers can appreciate the stories, messages, and experiences that are skillfully woven into each piece.

What Do Watercolors Symbolize?

1. The Language of Colors

Colors speak a universal language, and in watercolor paintings, they are often the driving force behind the symbolism conveyed.

Each color carries with it specific associations and meanings that can evoke different emotions and ideas.

For example, red is often linked to passion, love, and aggression, while blue can represent tranquility, stability, and sadness.

Green can symbolize growth, renewal, and harmony, whereas yellow embodies warmth, happiness, and optimism.

In watercolor art, the unique translucency and blending properties of the medium allow for an even richer exploration of color symbolism.

Artists can create subtle shifts in tone, saturation, and hue, which can greatly impact the emotions and meanings associated with their work.

By layering and mixing colors, they can develop intricate color harmonies that enhance the overall message of the piece.

Understanding the symbolic language of colors in watercolor paintings can help artists make deliberate choices about which colors to use, allowing them to effectively communicate their intended message.

Similarly, viewers can interpret and connect with the artwork on a deeper level, as they recognize the emotions and meanings conveyed through the artist’s choice of colors.

The Language of Colors

2. Watercolor Techniques and Symbolism

Watercolor techniques play a significant role in shaping the symbolism and overall impact of a painting.

Different techniques can create varied effects, enabling artists to further express their intended message or evoke specific emotions.

Wet-on-wet, a technique in which wet paint is applied onto a wet surface, produces dreamy, ethereal effects. The colors blend and flow together, creating soft, undefined edges and a sense of fluidity.

This technique is perfect for conveying emotions like tranquility, mystery, or uncertainty, as the resulting visual effect invites viewers to interpret the piece according to their own feelings and imagination.

On the other hand, wet-on-dry, which involves applying wet paint onto a dry surface, allows for more control and precision, resulting in sharper edges and distinct shapes.

This technique is ideal for creating well-defined symbolism or conveying a clear narrative within the painting.

By using wet-on-dry, artists can communicate specific ideas or emotions more directly and with greater clarity.

Layering, or glazing, is another technique that adds depth and complexity to watercolor symbolism.

By building up transparent layers of paint, artists can create a rich interplay of colors, textures, and tones, resulting in a multifaceted work that invites closer examination.

This technique can be used to convey complex emotions, hidden meanings, or evolving narratives within a painting, as the overlapping layers symbolize the various aspects of the story or message.

3. The Power of Composition

Composition is a critical element in watercolor paintings, as it determines how the various visual components interact to create a cohesive and engaging piece.

The arrangement of shapes, colors, and lines can greatly influence the overall message and symbolism in the artwork.

A well-planned composition can guide the viewer’s eye through the painting, emphasizing important elements and reinforcing the intended narrative or emotions.

For example, a focal point that draws attention can symbolize a significant event or emotion, while the repetition of shapes or colors can convey a sense of unity or harmony.

Whitespace, or the areas of the painting left unpainted, is an essential aspect of watercolor composition.

In watercolor symbolism, the effective use of whitespace can create balance, contrast, and a sense of visual rest.

It can also be employed to emphasize specific elements or evoke feelings of emptiness, solitude, or tranquility.

4. Famous Watercolor Artists and their Symbolism

Throughout history, several famous watercolor artists have used symbolism in their paintings to convey powerful messages and emotions.

Their innovative techniques and unique use of color have shaped the world of watercolor art and inspired generations of artists.

Georgia O’Keeffe, known for her large-scale depictions of flowers, skillfully employed symbolism in her watercolor paintings.

By magnifying the petals and abstracting their shapes, she encouraged viewers to see the beauty and complexity of nature, often evoking themes of sensuality and femininity.

J.M.W. Turner, a master of landscape painting, used color and light to create symbolic representations of nature’s power and transience.

His dramatic seascapes and atmospheric landscapes convey emotions like awe, fear, and wonder, illustrating the beauty and ferocity of the natural world.

Katsushika Hokusai, a renowned Japanese artist, employed symbolism in his watercolor works to depict the harmony between humans and nature.

His iconic “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” illustrates the immense power of the sea, juxtaposed against the vulnerability of human life.

5. Incorporating Symbolism in Your Own Watercolor Art

Incorporating symbolism in your watercolor art can add depth, emotion, and personal meaning to your creations.

Here are some tips for beginners to explore symbolism in watercolor and develop their own unique artistic language:

Study color theory

Understanding the emotional and psychological associations of various colors can help you make informed choices when incorporating symbolism in your work.

Experiment with different color combinations to evoke specific emotions or convey a particular message.

Study color theory

Practice various techniques

Mastering wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, and layering techniques can help you create a range of effects, each with its own symbolic potential.

Experiment with these techniques to discover which best conveys your intended meaning.

Observe nature and surroundings

Drawing inspiration from the natural world and your environment can provide rich sources of symbolism. Look for patterns, shapes, and colors that resonate with you and incorporate them into your work.

Reflect on personal experiences

Your own life experiences and emotions can be a powerful source of symbolism. Delve into your memories, feelings, and thoughts to discover symbols that hold personal meaning for you.

Develop a visual vocabulary

As you explore various symbols and their meanings, create a visual dictionary of images that resonate with you. This can serve as a reference when developing your unique symbolic language in your artwork.

My Personal Experiences with Watercolor Symbolism

As a watercolor artist, my journey began with an appreciation for the delicate and ethereal nature of the medium.

Over time, I discovered the endless possibilities for expression and communication through watercolor symbolism.

The exploration of colors, techniques, and composition has allowed me to develop a unique artistic voice that reflects my thoughts, emotions, and experiences.

In my own artwork, symbolism plays a crucial role in conveying the intended message or story behind each piece.

For instance, I often use shades of blue to evoke a sense of tranquility and introspection, while incorporating elements of nature, such as flowers or birds, to represent growth, freedom, and transformation.

These symbols, when combined with various watercolor techniques, create a rich tapestry of meaning that invites viewers to engage with the artwork on a deeper level.

By embracing watercolor symbolism, I have not only honed my artistic skills but also developed a deeper understanding of my own emotions and experiences.

This journey has enriched my art, allowing me to create pieces that resonate with others and tell stories that transcend the visual plane.


Understanding watercolor symbolism enriches both the creative process and the appreciation of the finished artwork.

By mastering the language of colors, techniques, and composition, artists can imbue their work with deeper meaning and emotional impact.

As you continue to explore and embrace symbolism in your watercolor art, you’ll develop a unique artistic voice that resonates with viewers and invites them to connect with your creations on a more profound level.

So, dive into the world of symbolism and let it inspire, challenge, and elevate your watercolor journey.

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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