Are You Making These 5 Common Watercolor Mistakes?

Whether you’re just starting to learn watercolor or you’ve been working with it for a while, mistakes are inevitable. Mistakes let you you explore the medium and its endless possibilities. Still, sometimes, you want to avoid mistakes to achieve the right look.

Here are 5 mistakes artists make when doing a realistic watercolor.

Sometimes it takes only one wrong brushstroke for a watercolor painting to lose its freshness and luminosity. When you find yourself adding more and more details and touch ups, it’s probably time to stop. It’s better for a painting to be underdeveloped than overworked.

Here are a few tips to avoid overworking:

  • Don’t be too focused on details.
  • Try to avoid fussing and correcting, such as lifting the color and scratching the paper.
  • Don’t soften a dried edge.
  • Don’t apply too many layers. The fewer the layers, the fresher the painting.

Mistake #2: Painting into damp washes with a watery brush

Another common mistake is going back into a damp wash with a watery brush. In this scenario, the unwanted back-runs may occur, and you risk ruining the under wash. (Note: Back-runs can be a good thing!)

The painting below shows what happens when you add a watery wash when the first wash is damp. What is supposed to be a form shadow, turns into a pale back-run. 

Painting into dump wash

So, if you need to apply a new layer, you should let the previous layer dry completely.

Note: You can add color to the wet wash, but only if it’s wet enough and your brush is loaded with a lot of pigment. In the sketch below, I added a form shadow to the apple while the first wash was still wet. It blended in very well, because I had more pigment and less water on my brush.

Adding color to the wet wash

Mistake #3: Outlining the objects

When painting a background around objects, beginners tend to outline the objects with dark color. This method makes objects look unnatural and cut out.

To avoid this, make sure to follow these simple rules:

  • Vary the color and value around your objects.
  • Alternate the direction of your brush strokes.
  • Combine hard and soft edges.
Outlining the objects

The above picture illustrates how it works. In the first sketch, the petals are painted with hard edges only, and evenly outlined with green color. The flower looks like it’s stuck to the background.

The second sketch, on the other hand, demonstrates the above rules in action. The combination of different colors, values and edges gives depth and focus to the image.

Mistake #4: Muddy colors

Muddy colors occur when you try painting on top of a damp layer. You should only add paint when the paper is either completely dry or very wet.

Another mistake that leads to this problem is mixing two or more opaque paints. If you have a tendency to get muddy colors, try to exclude opaque paints and minimize the number of colors you mix together.

Finished painting

Mistake #5: Giving up too soon

At a certain stage of your painting process, you might be unhappy with how your painting looks. As a matter of fact, it’s an absolutely normal situation experienced by many artists, so don’t rush into tearing your unfinished artwork apart and starting over. Keep working and you may be surprised at how well your painting turns out!


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13 Responses to “Are You Making These 5 Common Watercolor Mistakes?”

  1. Rita j. Dole

    Looking forward to the info on watercolor, my favorite medium.

  2. Angela Roberts

    I am a beginner and would appreciate any help I can get

  3. Loretta

    Thank you for any help!!

  4. Catherine Rae

    Beginning my watercolor adventure!! Appreciate any and all the help I can get.

  5. Donna L Savage

    <strong>Thank you

  6. Donna L Savage

    Thank you#

  7. Carol Avent

    Thank you very much for these helpful tips. I am a complete beginner in watercolour painting. Could you send me your free guide, please?

  8. Marianne

    Please send me the free guide for watercolor painting.

  9. Janina Maria Pia Regan-Jasinski

    Thanks for those tips; they’ll come in very handy. PS: lovely painting samples 🌼

  10. LINDA

    Exactly what I am doing..thanks for the reminders!