Watercolor Effects

Here are some fun and easy ways to experiment with watercolor paints. The paints we used here at the library are liquid watercolors, but the same effects can be done with dry watercolors and water. Even though most watercolors wash out, it’s still a good idea to cover up or wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. That goes for whatever surface you’re painting on as well. These watercolor techniques are a lot of fun, but they are messy too! (But that’s part of the fun, right?)

Salt:

  • Paint a swatch of color, or paint the whole page, with a brush and a mixture of different colors. Make sure that the paint is wet (this means you need to work quickly!)
  • Sprinkle some salt over the wet paint – table salt works OK, but I found kosher salt makes a better effect due to the large size of the salt crystals
  • Allow the paint to completely dry before brushing off the salt, revealing a cool speckled pattern in the paint
  • The effect is caused by the salt absorbing the pigments in the paint.

Alcohol:

  • Paint a swatch of color, or paint the whole page, with a brush and a mixture of different colors. Make sure that the paint is wet (this means you need to work quickly!)
  • Fill an eyedropper with isopropyl alcohol (91% works best) and drip it onto the wet paint
  • If you don’t have an eyedropper, Q-tips are another option – just dip them into the alcohol and touch them to the paint.
  • Unlike the salt, the effects of the alcohol drops will take place immediately
  • Watercolor and alcohol do not mix, causing the colors to “run away” from the alcohol; this can also cause a fisheye effect.

Plastic Wrap:

  • Paint a swatch of color, or paint the whole page, with a brush and a mixture of different colors – just keep it wet!
  • While the paint is still wet, lay a piece of saran wrap over the paint.
  • Don’t smooth out the wrinkles – the more the better! You can move the wrinkles around overtop the wet paint
  • Let the paint dry completely before removing the saran wrap
  • The web-like effect is created by the pockets of paint caught in and outside of the wrinkles of the saran wrap.

Straws:

  • No brushes needed for this one! If you have liquid watercolors, you can pour some drops directly onto your paper. If you don’t have liquid watercolors, mix some water with the dry paint and drip it onto the paper
  • Take a drinking straw and blow hard over the paint – don’t touch the straw directly to the paper, but just about an inch or so above
  • Experiment by blowing the paint in different directions. See how a big puff through the straw effects the paint differently than a little puff of air
  • Be sure to rest in between breaths – it’s easy to get light-headed doing this!
  • The result reveals trails of colors spreading all over the page.

Proper brush cleaning:

  • Don’t let the brushes sit in water; this weakens the bristles and harms the overall integrity of the brush.
  • Use a mild soap on brushes – try putting some soap in your hand and gently move the brush in a circular motion on your palm.
  • Rinse the brush under warm running water until the water runs clear.
  • Pat dry on a towel – don’t squeeze too hard or pull on the bristles as this damages them
  • Set on a towel to dry

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