How to create an interesting Watercolor Background

In a recent post, Watercolor Wisdom, I mentioned showing my watercolor teacher my first watercolor painting and her saying, “No, no, no, you’re drawing.” At the time, I was quite proud of my painting and didn’t understand what she meant. But as my familiarity with watercolor grew, I began to understand. She was telling me to allow watercolor to do its thing. To give up some control, and work wet! To not use watercolor like it’s a paint by numbers project.

How to paint interesting backgrounds in watercolor

You can create interesting backgrounds in watercolor by allowing the colors to bleed into one another. It’s easy and fun!

1. Tape down your paper. If you are going to work wet, you have to tape down your paper to prevent wrinkling and buckling. I use painter’s tape and attach watercolor paper to a piece of cardboard. I use the back of old drawing pads.

2. Lightly outline your shape. Draw any shape – a starfish, a flower…

3. Wet the background leaving your shape dry. You want the paper to be damp (it will look shiny) but not a puddle. Watch a video demonstration on my IGTV here.

4. Apply the first color. When you touch your brush (dripping with paint) to the wet background the color will bleed onto the paper. Brush the color around a little but leave some white areas.

5. Apply a second color randomly by touching your brush to the paper. Don’t forget the remaining white areas of the background.

6. Continue adding colors randomly with this touching brush to wet background technique. Don’t over blend the colors by brushing too much.

7. Add secondary colors (smaller amounts of color) by flicking or tapping your brush as it’s held over your painting. I use my other hand to block my shape (keep paint off it).

8. Remove puddles. If there is an area where the paint is puddling, use a dry brush to absorb some of the excess.

9. Let the background dry. Don’t start painting your subject until your background is completely dry. If you don’t wait when you touch the edge of the wet background the paint will be sucked into your subject, flooding it with colors you may not want.

10. Erase paint if needed. If paint accidentally got on your subject you can remove it by using a damp brush and then blotting the brush onto a paper towel to suck up the color.

11. Paint your subject

Online video lessons are available in my shop.

Read my Watercolor Wisdom post here.

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