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5 Quick and Easy Watercolor Backgrounds

In this stage of the Beginner’s Guide to Watercolor we will be going over some basic techniques by making easy watercolor backgrounds useful for card making, lettering, and more.

Whether you are a watercolor beginner or an old pro, these backgrounds are a great way to practice technique.  These backgrounds utilize several basic watercolor techniques.

So gather your supplies and let’s get painting! If you have questions on basic supplies and setting up, check out the first four parts of the Beginner’s Guide to Watercolor series on on supplies.

Supplies:

  • Watercolor Paint
  • Paint Brushes. I will be demoing a variety of brushes in the videos and explain the pros and cons of each.
  • Watercolor paper
  • Water
  • Optional: Masking Tape and hard surface to tape to

I’m going to be working with 5×7” sheets of 140lb (300gsm) watercolor paper. I’m using Canson XL (the blue cover) that I’ve cut down to size.  I am show casing a variety of paints and brushes and talking about some do’s and don’ts along the way.

Graded Wash

A graded wash is a gradual change in the intensity of a color.  The color will be stronger at the top and lighter towards the bottom, (or flipped if you choose to use it that way!) We’ll start with picking our color and getting a really wet and saturated brush. It should be very well loaded, but not so loaded the paint drips off.  We’ll be laying down a line of color near the top or at the tape line if you taped. Spread the color across the top of the page evenly keeping it fairly wet but not soggy. Before your brush and page run dry dip in for more color and water, adding more water than color each time you get more. By the time you get to the bottom, your color should be fairly diluted.

The trick to evenly spreading the paint down the page is not to let your brush run dry before picking up more paint and water. This can take some practice, but you can always go back in with a little more paint or water to even it out as long as the paper is still wet. Finally, you can air dry, or speed up the process with a blow dryer.

Do’s and Don’ts

In this video I am using a medium size round brush from the brand Grace Art and Artist Loft watercolors. This paint has a chalky texture, similar to gouache. It can dry very quickly, and be difficult to blend. To combat this, I mixed the paint very thoroughly with water in a separate dish. I had to go back over my paper a couple times with a wet brush to more evenly blend. The brush I used was small for this purpose. Having a flat wash or mop brush is very helpful for this technique when cover over larger areas.

Also, this technique may be difficult on paper not suitable for watercolor. The more you work over paper the more you will raise the fibers and tear up the surface.

Variegated Wash

A variegated wash is very similar to graded wash, but we will transition between two or more colors.  I’ve selected red and yellow. I started just like I did with the graded wash, with a good amount of paint on my brush at the top and work my way towards the center, using more water as I got to the center. I went just past the center point leaving it a little wet still.

Repeat the previous steps with the second color working up from the bottom. If it is easier for you, you can turn your paper around and work from the top again. As I got to the center, I have less paint, and more water again.  I blended over the red with my yellow, making a shade of orange where they meet.

Do’s and Don’ts

If you find your blending isn’t even enough, just use a lightly wet brush and rub over the transitions to soften the line between colors. In this video I am using a large Royal & Langnickel Zen round mop brush and Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolors. The paint is much easier to work with, but the size mop brush is just too big for the paper size I’ve chosen. It holds way too much paint and water to effectively control and I end up having to go back in a few times to correct it. Also, because of the amount of excess water I have, I end up having a small bit of buckling in the center, making the paint pool.

Wet on Wet Bursts

This is a fun technique, allowing watercolor to do what it wants with a little guidance. I make circles with just water and then drop wet paint in each circle allowing it to spread and flow. Not all paints flow as well as others. When you have a stubborn color, just add more water to the paint to increase it’s viscosity. Alternatively, you could add a little ox gall to your paint water to increase paint flow.

Do’s and Don’ts

I’m using Mijello Mission Gold watercolors and Grace Art round brush again. Some of my circles I used a little too much water. This can create an effect called blooming when it dries. The paint will pool closer to the edges of the puddle and be darker there when it dries. This can be fun to do, but if you don’t want this to happen, then you are probably using too much water.

Splatter

Splatter is so fun, but can be messy! For this one you can experiment with different brushes to see how they splatter. One of my favorite brushes to splatter with is a cheap craft brush with terrible stiff wiry bristles. An old toothbrush works well also. There are three general techniques with splatter. The first is to put the wet paint on your brush and rub across the bristles angled at the paper with your finger. The second is to load your brush and strike it across a solid object such as a stamp block, credit card, chipboard, etc. The third is to hold the paint loaded brush and to tap it with a second brush or object.

Do’s and Don’ts

The tapping method generally produces larger splotches than the rubbing/flicking method. All three work great and mixing them gives great results. I’d spread out some newspaper, or drop cloth, if you are concerned about paint overspray. I often end up with paint splattered glasses.

Wet on Dry  + Wet on Wet Rosesettes

This technique so fun! It can have varying effects depending on the paint, brush, and amount of water you use. I like to use a round brush as it can give varying line thickness resulting in the rosette look. The idea is you want to paint in circles, or spirals, just working your brush in a circular motion. You spread these out around the page. To add interest you can drop in other colors, or paint with other colors overlapping as they dry.

Do’s and Don’ts

I am using Dr Ph Martin’s Radiant Concentrated Water Color and a Daler-Rowney Simply Simmons round brush size 12. You can see when I used too much water it is difficult to see defining lines that form my rosette. You can vary your stroke type. Start from the outside with large strokes moving into the center with small strokes. Start from the inside with small strokes, using just the tip of the brush, moving outside of with larger strokes and more pressure.

 

Make a project

You now have 5 awesome backgrounds to use for lettering, card making, gift tags, doodles, and more! Share your projects with me by tagging @paintandletters on Instagram and using the #paintandletters.