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10 Tips to Master Realistic Watercolor Painting: Techniques, Tools, and Inspiration

Taking your watercolor painting skills to the next level

Hey, are you interested in mastering realistic watercolor painting? If so, you’re in the right place. I´ve been painting realistic watercolors for more than 20 years, and I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve 😉

In this blog article, I’m going to share 10 awesome tips with you – AND my two best bonus tips! – that will help you master the art of creating realistic watercolor paintings.

Mastering the art of realistic watercolor painting can be a challenging feat that requires skill, dedication and practice. I know it can feel overwhelming, but with the right tools, techniques, and a bit of inspiration, you can learn how to create stunning watercolor works of art. So, let’s dive in and talk about how you can take your watercolor painting skills to the next level.

“Mastering the art of realistic watercolor painting requires skill, dedication and practice”

-Jessica Bolander

1. Start with high-quality materials

First things first, it’s important to start with high-quality materials. Using good quality watercolor paper and paints will make your artwork look professional and last longer. Choose paper that is specifically designed for watercolor painting and has a good weight and texture, like 100% cotton 140 lbs/300 gsm (or heavier) cold-pressed paper. Similarly, choose good quality paints that are highly pigmented and have good lightfastness.

Use good reference photos. There are no realistic animal or botanical artist that work straight out of their head all the time, we all use the help of good reference photos.

2. Learn the basics of watercolor painting

Before you can create realistic watercolor paintings, you need to understand the basics of watercolor painting. This includes understanding the properties of watercolor paint, such as how it behaves when mixed with water and how it dries on paper. You also need to understand the behavior of watercolor paint on paper, the properties of color mixing, and how to use different brush strokes.
But don´t get stuck practising techniques!
I believe that we learn to paint as we paint.
So paint what you love.
Paint animals and flowers, but start small. Paint small objects – petals, eyes – or details from larger ones – fur, paws, close-ups.

3. Practice color mixing

Color mixing is an important skill in watercolor painting. It allows you to create a wide range of colors and shades that bring life and realism to your artwork. Practice mixing the colors you can see in your reference photos. With practice, you will develop a better understanding of color theory and be able to create more realistic and vibrant watercolor paintings.

4. Experiment with different techniques

Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to experiment with different techniques. There are plenty of techniques you can use in watercolor painting to add depth, texture, and realism to your artwork. You can use wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, dry-brush, glazing, and lifting techniques, among others. Wet-on-wet techniques are great for creating soft and blended backgrounds, while dry-brush techniques can create more textured and rough surfaces.

5. Control your brushstrokes

Controlling your brushstrokes is key to achieving realistic watercolor paintings. Experiment with different brush sizes and shapes to create a range of strokes. Practice blending and layering your brushstrokes to create more depth and dimension. With practice, you will develop greater control over your brushstrokes and be able to create more realistic and detailed watercolor paintings.

6. Understand composition

Composition refers to how the elements in your painting are arranged, and is important when it comes to creating a visually appealing and captivating painting. The arrangement of elements in your painting can make all the difference. You can use different techniques such as the rule of thirds, balance, and symmetry to create a balanced and harmonious composition.

7. Pay attention to value

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It’s essential to create a wide range of values to create depth and contrast in your painting, so keep a close eye on your darks, mid-tones and lighter tones. Use different techniques such as glazing, lifting, and layering to create subtle variations in value. Don´t be afraid so go dark. There will be no light without darkness, right?

8. Be patient and take your time

Creating realistic watercolor paintings takes time and patience. Don’t rush the painting process and allow yourself to experiment with different techniques and colors. Take breaks when you need to, and come back to your painting with fresh eyes. Remember that creating realistic art is not about getting to the finish line as fast as possible, it is about enjoying the journey. Allow yourself to get lost in the creative process.

9. Learn from other artists

Learning from other watercolor artists is a great way to improve your skills. Study their work, techniques, and styles, and consider taking classes or workshops to learn from experienced artists.
Look for inspiration in art books, galleries, and online resources.
Joining a local art group or an online art community can also provide opportunities to connect with other artists and learn from their experiences.

10. Have fun!

Last but not least, remember to have fun with your watercolor painting! Experiment with different techniques and colors, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Each painting you create is an opportunity to learn and grow as an artist, so enjoy the process and embrace the journey.

“Allow yourself to get lost in the creative process”

-Jessica Bolander


Bonus Tip 1:

Don´t stop painting too soon. This is a mistake I often see beginners do. They are afraid to keep going because sometime someone has told them not to “over work” their paintings. Stopping too soon often means that the darker values are missing, which results in a flat painting without depth. So keep going, push through the ugly stages, and make sure you add those darks.

Bonus Tip 2:

Don´t be afraid to challenge yourself. You can´t grow by staying in your comfort zone. And it is only paper.

“You can´t grow as an artist by staying in your comfort zone”

-Jessica Bolander

I believe in you

I hope these tips have been helpful in your journey towards mastering realistic watercolor painting. I know it can be frustrating when things don’t turn out the way we want, but remember that practice is key, and every brush stroke brings you closer to your goal. It´s all about getting those brush miles in.

I believe in you and your artistic potential, so keep at it. You’ve got this.

Lots of Love!