Studio Saturdays: Wonderful Watercolor

Watercolor is taking the mixed-media world by storm, showing up on art journal pages, in collages, and in hand lettering. Artists are discovering that it’s incredibly easy to get stunning results with this gorgeous medium.

Watercolor art journaling
Watercolor and art journaling were made for each other!

I used three easy watercolor techniques in my art journal to get very different effects: I painted a dry-brush background, used a frisket to make a free-form design, and created a starting point for some doodles. If you’re not convinced of watercolor’s potential, I hope this will persuade you to pick up a brush and get going!

Let’s start with the dry brush technique. I used tube watercolors, which are pigment-rich. A little goes a long way, so I mixed just a drop of magenta with some water in a palette. I dipped the bristle ends of an inexpensive hake brush in the paint, dabbed the brush lightly on a paper towel to remove the excess, then dragged the brush across the page. This dry-brush technique produces a nice feathery effect and great visual texture, and you can change it up by adding more paint, dragging the brush in different directions, and layering colors. I brushed magenta across the page first horizontally, and brushed bright yellow over it vertically.

Watercolor dry brush technique
This dry brush technique creates great visual texture on the page.

I then stamped a Stampendous! N*Studio Fashion Dame stamp on the page, colored the clothes with more watercolor, and added a hand-lettered quote from Coco Chanel: “You can have anything in life if you dress for it.” This dramatic background can be used as a base for pretty much anything: collage, doodling, sketching, or more painting.

Watercolored stamped image
Watercolor was added to a stamped image to make it pop.

Quick tip: Knowing I wanted to use watercolor in my handmade journal, I made pages from 140-lb. cold-press watercolor paper. Cold press paper has a slightly bumpy texture, while hot press is smooth. Experiment with different weights and textures of paper to see what you like best.

The second technique was even easier. Using my Winsor & Newton watercolor set, I painted several basic shapes on the page in bright colors.

Watercolor shapes
Basic shapes were painted in bright watercolor.

When the paint was completely dry I used the shapes as a base for some doodling, using a black permanent pigment ink pen and a white gel pen. So easy. I always love practicing doodling, and this is a really fun way to do it. You can also turn the shapes into faces, animals—anything you want.

Doodle watercolor
Doodles were added with black and white pens.

For the third technique, I started with page in my journal that was already covered with old book pages. I brushed on a coat of Daniel Smith Transparent Watercolor Ground, which is an amazing medium. It allows the paper you’re using to behave more like watercolor paper, so the paint blends and pools beautifully. Without it, the book pages would have quickly degraded and not shown off the paint well.

Watercolor ground
Book pages are much easier to paint on after a coat of watercolor ground.

When the ground was cured, I painted on some frisket, which creates a resist. The fine-tip applicator on the bottle was great for creating intricate designs, and you can use it for writing, too.

Frisket layer
Frisket was applied and left to dry.

When that dried completely I covered the page with a messy rainbow of colors, waited for them to dry, then rubbed off the frisket. This is what remained:

Watercolor over frisket
After the frisket was rubbed off, the pattern remained.

I loved the way this page looked at this stage, but I also wanted to add some sketches. Seeing the swirly frisket lines as vines, I drew a bird and some flowers with a black permanent pen, then added some journaling around the border.

Drawing over watercolor
I drew over the watercolor with black permanent pen.

If you’re new to watercolor, start with the best supplies you can afford, including watercolor paper, brushes, and, of course, paint. As you progress you’ll get a feel for what works for you. Don’t forget to also try watercolor pencils!

Quick tip: Whenever I get new watercolors I like to create swatches, which becomes a handy reference guide. Here I’ve glued the labels onto my journal pages and painted swatches underneath, then added doodled frames around each one.

Watercolor swatches
Having watercolor swatches helps with color mixing.

Ready to pick up a brush? 

Check out these resources to get you started!


Watercolor – Making Your Mark No Excuses Watercolor Workshop
Art Lessons 2014 Vol. 9: Peerless Watercolors with Jane Davenport
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Expressive Watercolor on YUPOÆ: Painting Flowers with Jodi Ohl Creative Girl Workshop: Watercolor Illustrations with Danielle Donaldson
Fearless Watercolor for Beginners eBook: Adventurous Painting Techniques to Get You Started
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