10 Watercolor Texture Techniques

Texture refers to both the feel and appearance of a surface, and it is one of the elements that can make a watercolor painting successful by rendering it more believable and by establishing a sensorial connection with the viewer.

Watercolor Texture ExamplesUnlike oils and acrylic, watercolor is a medium that doesn't have any thickness to it, so the quality of the paper (rough, cold press or hot press) will be an important factor to consider when rendering textures. A simple flat wash can be textured on rough or cold press paper as some of the larger pigments will settle into the indentations of the paper. This is called granulation.

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To create texture, watercolorists can use a variety of additives and tools, here are 10 of the most common watercolor texture techniques, but really, your imagination is the limit.

Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.

salt on watercolor

1. Salt on a wet wash

Salt is sprinkled on a wet wash and starts to gather the watercolor pigments. The wash has to be still wet but not too shiny. The effect will vary depending on the size of the grains of salt and the wetness of the paper. Brush off the salt when everything has dried.

wrapping paper texture

2. Wrapping paper on a wet wash

Crumple wrapping paper and lay it on a wet wash. Once it has dried, remove the wrapping paper.

lifting off paint on a wet wash

3. Lifting off color on a wet wash

Color can be lifted off with a tissue paper and a thirsty brush can be used to carve lighter areas in a wash to add texture. Lifting off paint on a wet wash is a great technique to paint clouds in a sky.

alcohol on a wet wash

4. Spattering, dripping or spraying rubbing alcohol on a wet wash

Alcohol repels water, pushing the paint away and creating interesting white circular shapes when spattered or dripped. Spraying alcohol will have the same effect but the texture will be thinner. This technique works better when the wash is still wet but has lost its shine.

water dripped on a wet wash

5. Spattering, dripping or spraying water or paint on a wet wash

This technique can add texture to washes and provoke the formation of back runs. Splattering water can also be done after a painting has been completed and is dry to achieve a loose painting style.

watercolor sponge textures

6. Painting with a sponge on dry paper

A textured sponge can be a very handy tool to paint foliage in trees, old walls or sand on a beach. You can use a sea sponge or a regular household sponge (new), dipped into your color wash and then pressed on the paper.

dry brush technique

7. Painting with a dry brush on dry paper

Painting with a brush loaded with a bit of pigment and not too much water on dry paper will produce a texture on paper and some of the color underneath will show. This technique can be used to paint old walls and grass, and it also works very well to render the shimmering effect of light on water. For it to work, you need some texture on the paper so a rough or cold press paper will work better than a hot press.See also our post on how to enhance your paintings with the dry brush technique.

scratching off paint with a blade

8. Sanding a dry wash or scratching it off with a blade

This technique is done on a dry wash and works very well to retrieve specks of the white of the paper. It's also often used to render the effect of light on water.

lifting off color

9. Lifting off color on a dry wash

This can be done quite effectively with a simple eraser or by lifting off color with water and a stiff brush. You can carve out lighter areas to build texture.

building up textures with washes

10. Layering washes

It's possible to give the appearance of texture by carefully layering several washes, usually from light to dark. The paper has to be completely dry in between washes and it's better to use a soft brush as to not lift the previous layers of color to avoid muddying colors. The texture inside this lemon was achieved by layering washes.

Create Amazing Watercolor Texture & Effects!

Watercolor for beginners

Learn how create rich and vibrant pieces of art by mastering watercolor textures, effects and techniques with our FREE guide to watercoloring.Get My FREE Guide »

13 Comments

JMM

I find the information and ideas you put on Facebook very interesting and helpful. I’ve already tried a few of thee before but you’ve reminded me and given me new ones to try. Thanks

Reply
Artbydianne

Thank you so much for the “texture techniques”! These techniques make watercolor so much fun. I’ve used them before and it was great to review them 🙂

Reply
Hope

I love to spritz, spatter and spray. I spritz colors onto my painting using an old toothbrush. To create the appearance of snow in my paintings I use Chinese White on an old toothbrush that I save for this method only. I spatter on paint with my brushes. I love to do this into an area where the paint is wet like a sky or grass. I especially like to put the impression of many many birds in the sky by spattering then in with my brush. To block out areas of my painting I use facial tissues so that the spatter goes where I want it to go. Lastly, I fill small spray bottles with a mixture of watercolor paint and water. I shake up the bottles to create an even mixture and test out my color mixtures on an old piece of paper before I spray them. These spray bottles are readily available on line(a few in a package) or in the travel products area of your local pharmacy. They’re also available in discount hair product shops. I keep the usual colors like red, yellow, blue and green. I make sure to have a few empty ones on hand to mix a new color that I might decide to use in a particular painting. When the fall comes I grab a bunch of interesting leaves and use these small spray bottle to make spatter print paintings. Ginko leaves are great for this method and so are intricate Japanese maples leaves. People love to purchase these leaf prints!

Reply
Rosemary

I saw the preview of the David Hockney Show at the deYoung Museum in SF Thursday night. Among his amazing talents are watercolor, but also exhibited were charcoal drawings, oil paint, multimedia photography, and works using the iphone and ipad. It was AWESOME! I would recommend everyone who can, see it!

Reply
Karin Johannesson

I’ve used all of them, but my favourites are salt, alcohol, and lifting off colour (I use that one the most).

Reply
Anwar Momand

I would like to find this product, Can anyone help to open a business.

Thanks
Anwar

Reply
Bob

I’m getting an interesting texture by first feather painting a clear acrylic. Once dry then washing with any dark water color. The water color gathers in all the nooks and crannies. Acrylic washes can be used too but basic water color has the advantage of allowing the high spots of the clear feather paint to be cleaned and brightened later by dry brushing the high points.

Reply
Bob

I’m getting an interesting texture by first feather painting a clear acrylic. Once dry then washing with any dark water color. The water color gathers in all the nooks and crannies. Acrylic washes can be used too but basic water color has the advantage of allowing the high spots of the clear feather paint to be cleaned and brightened later by no paint dry brushing the high points.

Reply
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Kundanika Borgohain

thank you for this techniques…………..
I would like to find this product………:-) 🙂

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