How to paint in Watercolor – This Week’s Hints and Tips

If there is ONE THING I am asked about above all others – it is “How much water to use when painting in watercolor”.

Becoming familiar with how much water to use in a watercolor painting will have a huge impact on so many aspects of your paintings.


This lesson will help advance artists of all skill levels.  No matter what stage we are at – understanding more about the flow of water and pigment will bring new wisdom and lift our skills to a more refined level – where we are in more control and in the driving seat!

Let’s begin with my mantra :  More Water = Less Control. Less Water = More Control

You will hear me say this over and over again in my workshops, art instruction DVDs and Videos, books, international art magazine articles – and in much of my teaching on my website.

Reducing the amount of water on your palette, brush and in your previous wash (any or all of the these places) will give you greater control over the flow of your paint. The paint will remain closer to where you place it.

Increasing the amount of water on any or all of these three places will allow your paint to flow more freely – therefore giving less control but a softer, more gentle flowing effect in your painting.

I use combinations of all these things to enable me to achieve all the effects I wish to capture in my work. When we want to become an expert watercolor painter – we need to be skillful and have a good grasp of the knowledge and understanding of how to use the right amount of water to achieve all the effects we want to capture and portray in our work.


So Let’s become experts!


Let’s also have some fun!  There is never going to be a test – it is not boring practice – it is an amazing opportunity for you to become proficient in watercolor – to refine your skills and to produce paintings that speak in your voice!

Invaluable practice:
Practice adjusting the amount of water in circles. This will advance your knowledge, skill level and you will soon become familiar with the ‘feel’ of how much water you have on your brush, mix and paper. This fun experimentation will allow you to know instinctively the effect you will gain with each ratio of water/pigment will bring you. You will find you will soon become proficient.

If you memorize my mantra – you will be able to recall it at those crucial moments in a painting when you feel unsure.

Along with the mantra I have written the information below to back it up:

Remember: the amount of water you introduce to you painting will have a huge impact on the look of each area in your watercolor painting. You have three sources of water to be aware of:

On your palette (within your color or mix)
On your brush
On your paper (it may be dry – or you may have laid in one or two clear water washes in preparation for your pigmented wash)
The amount of water you have in all of these places will affect the way your paint flows and settles.
Now let’s have some fun! Let’s take a look at the effects you can achieve by learning how to control the amount of water you are using:

Can you see ho I have let the amount of water paint this sky for me?

Using less water has allowed be to capture the gentle femininity of her hand

Now you can see how I have used a moderate amount of water to allow me to control how far my fabric colors have flowed.


I want to help you to understand the invaluable lessons here. The empowering skills you will learn all relate to how much water to use for each different effect you are after.



Create many circles – when teaching in my workshops, DVDs, etc – I often use an old film canister to use as a template for these circles. This gives an excellent size to work within.

In the first few circles watch and note what happens when you:

Lay in a lightly wet pigmented wash (paint and water) into a  lightly wet clear water underwash


how far the pigment flows from  the brush

how the edges form

how saturated the pigment remains on the paper

Makes notes for future reference


Now add more water to your underwash


Make more notes


Now use a lot more water

What happens?

How much control do you have?

What happens to the edges, pigment saturation, flow

Make notes next to each circle


Now reduce the amount of water to an average amount

Repeat the observations above.

Make notes.

This is an excellent time pause, take the time to practice.  Now you will start to understand the impact of water even more than you did previously because you have taken the time to experiment

I will leave this lesson here for now and extend on it in my post next week! Watch this space as I reveal all there is to know about how much water to use when painting any subject in watercolour.


I suggest you try a small simplistic study first as you take your new skills further and begin a painting. Maybe a piece of fruit. Gain confidence and then extend your repertoire and expertise once I have completed this lesson next week.  In no time at all you will be flying!

Please share this post with your artists friends. My posts take a long to write – but I love to share my skills with you all through my blog posts, art instruction DVDs, workshops and free lessons you will find within my website. So enjoy and please spread the word! I am very fortunate to enjoy a successful international painting and teaching career and now it is my pleasure to help you all on your journeys! I look forward to hear you are all soaring high!


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