Art 101

Guide to Watercolour Painting

Read our guide to watercolour painting and find out about one of the art world’s oldest mediums used across the world.

By Rise Art

Read our guide to watercolour painting and find out about one of the art world’s oldest mediums used across world. If you’re looking for watercolour paintings for sale, take a look at our collection here.


What is watercolour painting?

Watercolour painting is a traditional method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. The artist typically mixes the pigments with water manually, and paints onto a specially designed surface. This is most commonly watercolour paper, although more unusual supports, such as papyrus, fabric, wood, plastic and watercolour canvas, are also possible.

The resulting paintings are both delicate and bright, offering a lightness that is not possible when using oils and acrylics. However, watercolours are notoriously difficult to work with due to their fluid consistency. This makes them unpredictable and means that mistakes are difficult to correct.


Trees At Beck Farm by Simon M Smith


Who is the most famous watercolour artist?

It’s difficult to name just one artist who can define the medium, as watercolour painting has been popular throughout history. Some of the earliest examples come from the Renaissance, when artists such as Albrecht Dürer famously used watercolours for their portraits and natural history illustrations.

In more recent times, artists from the Romantic Age such as Turner and Blake immediately spring to mind. Turner’s atmospheric landscape paintings have a hazy yet bright effect that could only be achieved through the medium of watercolour. On the other hand, Blake’s art often deals with religious themes, creating a sense of spirituality and mysticism through its bright watercolour wash.


Northern Lights by Max Naylor


What are watercolour techniques?

Watercolour has a long history, and as such artists have developed many different ways of working with the medium, each of which produce distinct effects. Some of these include:

  • Flat wash: Probably the most common technique that makes up the majority of watercolour painting, flat wash involves simply dipping the brush in water and spreading over a surface. The result is a single, solid hue on the paper that has an even appearance.
  • Wet-on-wet: The artist paints watercolour onto a wet surface, creating a soft and transparent appearance that’s well suited to painting landscapes or skies.
  • Wet-on-dry: In this technique, the artist paints onto a dry surface to achieve a more opaque and clearly defined effect. This is most commonly used for more detailed work, such as illustrative style watercolours.
  • Dry brush: As the name implies, dry brush involves taking a (mostly) dry brush and dipping it in paint. The resulting marks on the paper are highly textured, making this a popular choice for depicting fur or hair.


Beach Tide by Annabelle Shelton


Are watercolours permanent?

When adding a new piece to your collection, it’s natural to wonder about longevity and whether your watercolour painting will fade. It’s a common assumption that watercolour will fade faster than other mediums such as oil paints, but several other factors are in fact more important:

  • Pigment quality: Higher quality pigments will last for longer, and most professional artists will use these.
  • Surface: Acid-free paper is best for preserving the painting and avoiding any fading.
  • Framing: Some frames use acid in the material, which can have an impact on longevity.
  • Light exposure: If you want to ensure that your painting lasts for longer, avoid leaving it in direct light. This applies for all paintings, and even high-quality pigments can be degraded by exposure to sunlight. You can offer your paintings extra protection with UV glass, also known as museum glass.


Commuter (Man In Black Coat) by Georgia Peskett


Are watercolour paintings valuable?

Like with any painting, the value of a watercolour piece will depend on a variety of different factors. You’ll have to consider things such as the quality of the materials used, the size of the artwork and also the artist’s career when deciding on the worth of any artwork.


Kitchen Of Flat-Share by Tou Toa


History of watercolour paintings

In Europe, watercolour painting emerged during the Renaissance period with advancements in papermaking, which makes it more readily available. Albrecht Dürer developed new methods of working with watercolour paints, highlighting its luminous transparent effects. However, for some time it remained largely isolated to preparatory sketches, except for botanical and wildlife illustrations, where its striking effect lent a real-life appearance to these natural subjects. They proved popular also in map making and were deemed especially effective for rendering the topography of an area.

It was not until the 18th century that watercolour paintings really took off in Western art, flourishing especially in England where Paul Sandby used watercolours for his landscape scenes. It was at this time that watercolour painting become established as a serious and expressive art medium. J.M.W. Turner, a Romantic landscape artist, led the movement and experimented with available synthetic mineral pigments. Turner was inspired by the work of Thomas Girtin who pioneered the use of watercolour pigments for large-format, Romantic and picturesque landscapes – he explored both the expressive nature of the medium and its technical aspects.

By the mid-1800s, the English art society had seen the establishment of the Society of Painters in Water Colours (1804) and the New Water Colour Society (1832). Impressionists were inspired by the unique effects of light and freer brushwork created by the English schools of watercolour painting and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries watercolours emerged as a medium used by many prominent artists.


Big Bang by Pol Ledent


Contemporary watercolour artists

While it may be one of the oldest mediums around, there are plenty of contemporary artists working with watercolours today. Browse our collection and discover high-quality artworks to add to your collection.

Georgia Peskett is a British artist who creates watercolour paintings of the city. The fluid nature of the medium allows her to capture some of the movement of the city, as she depicts hurried commuters and everyday street scenes.

For a more delicate and pastoral look, Simon M Smith creates his landscapes using mainly watercolours. These paintings are simple yet peaceful, made with soft washes and subdued colours to capture the calm of rural surroundings.

Although he mainly works with oil painting, Pol Ledent is also known for his watercolour works. Adopting an eclectic and abstract style, Pol creates canvases that filled with sweeping brushstrokes and bursts of colour.

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