What is Watercolor Painting?

Watercolor painting is an art form in which water-soluble pigments are used to create artistic representations, usually on paper. Oil soluble paints or dry pigment in sticks, such as pastels, are used in other types of painting. Most of us associate watercolor painting with children’s activities involving boxed sets of color pans; the colored blocks are swiped with a wet brush, and the pigment transfers to the wet brush, then to the paper. Adult watercolorists, on the other hand, use different paints. The children’s versions lack the pigment needed to achieve the effects that can be achieved with ‘artist grade’ watercolor paints.

Watercolor painting uses a palette that is unique to the medium: a large flat piece of plastic with depressions around the perimeter. Squeezed watercolor paint from tubes is poured into the depressions and left to dry. This is the equivalent of a set of dried colored cubes for kids. Some artists use ‘fresh’ watercolor paint right out of the tube, without letting it dry. They claim that if the paint isn’t allowed to dry before reaching the paper, the colors are more vibrant.

Watercolor painting uses a variety of techniques that are unique to the medium. The technique known as wet-in-wet, in which large portions of the paper are wet, either with an earlier application of a wash of color or with plain uncolored water, is perhaps the most distinctive. The color is dropped or stroked onto the paper with a brush loaded with pigment from the palette, allowing it to flow wherever it wants, blooming into interesting and unexpected patterns, merging with previous applications of other colors and forming new shades. Wet-in-wet watercolor painting is difficult to master, but it can produce some of the most rewarding results.

Treat yourself to truly “artist grade” tubes of watercolor paint if you want to try your hand at watercolor painting. Most paint companies have a’student grade’ line that is significantly less expensive, but these paints will not produce the same results, which can be discouraging for beginners. Rather than purchasing a larger number of lower-quality paints, buy a smaller number of higher-quality paints, as almost any shade can be created combining two or more other colors. Most watercolorists don’t even keep a tube of black watercolor paint in their paint box because they can make a truly dark black shade blending red and green pigments.