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 »

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