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Mastering Watercolour Techniques for Different Effects

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

If you’ve read our first two blogs in this series, Getting Started with Watercolours and 5 Top Tips to Improve Your Watercolour Techniques then you’re most likely ready to learn a few different styles and techniques.

Hopefully by now you’ve mastered how to mix the colour you want and get the right consistency of the paint, which means you can go on to use these skills to create wonderful masterpieces! To help show what I mean when talking about different techniques, I’m going to use images from professional artists to illustrate.

One technique is the use bold bright colours in big blocks to show different parts of the landscape (like Georgia O’Keefe does below). Even with a very small amount of colours, she has expressed what was in front of her perfectly. She has added a few light washes of colour, let these dry and then added darker, more concentrated colours on the top of each section to illustrate details like the trees and shadows. She has also left a thin line of white paper near both the bottom of the page, and where the sky meets the top mountain, which just lifts the whole painting. Stunning.

Red Mesa

Georgia O’Keefe

This is a perfect illustration of the amazing simplicity of watercolours. Although the painting only uses a few colours, O’Keefe has been able to express the depth and texture of the landscape, by layering each colour on top of itself in different tones, resulting in a complex scene. To try this simple trick that will push your paintings further, you can layer similar colours on top of each other; the same colour in different strengths, or even exactly the same colour and strength but on top of a dried layer.

As a contrast, we can look at J.M.W.Turner, in particular The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, where he has used layer on top of layer of different colours to create this ethereal piece of work. Here is a good example of how to use thin watery layers on top of each other to create something new. You’ll need to know what effect the layer below will have on the layer you're about to put on, which does take a bit of practise! He was the master of light, and the master of watercolour landscapes, so whilst his work can be intimidating, it does give us clues to what can be achieved and how to go about it. By creating lots of light washes, he is able to produce depth where the layers build up. Also, the strong shock of blue in the middle of the page draws the eye into the lake and through the mountains on either side. By judging where to put more pigment, and more layers, he is able to show the misty mountains and deep blue lake perfectly.

The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen


With the contrast of these two pieces, hopefully you can see the wide range of styles you can use when creating your own masterpieces. I have shown you two landscapes which are very classical, but you can do so much more with this material! We’ve given some more examples of artists’ work below; take a moment to look online at the various amazing ways artists have used watercolours throughout history and today.

We’d love to see your watercolour works, share them with us on Instagram @cygnetsartschool #cygnetsartschool or add to our Facebook page’s wall here.If you have any questions about any art mediums, drop us a line on

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