Basic Watercolor Brush Strokes

Watercolor Basic Brush Strokes

Some basics before we get into techniques: A brush is NOT a pen or a pencil, you hold it in your hand so you can get the job done sometimes that means being able to roll it in your fingers or scrub away. We also use all surfaces of the brush not just the tip or end of the brush, this goes for all brushes whether they are flat or round. It is also good practice to hole the brush back at least mid way and better yet to hold it at the end not up by the metal ferrule, this will give you brush more action and your painting won’t look as tight. Save that for the final details.

Also, keep your brush relatively dry. If you rinse it, wipe it out with a paper towel to get rid of any excess water which can flow down off your brush and thin your paint so that it won’t cover the way you thought it would.

Brush strokes matter. They can tell your viewer a lot about the texture or the terrain even the direction or the shape of something, think about what you are painting and what you can do to make it look more authentic.

Dry Brush –Key things to remember are: Dry Brush means DRY BRUSH! If you rinse your brush be sure you have dried the brush so there is no water visible when you squeeze the bristles, water will hide up near the metal ferrule so be sure to dry the whole bristle area. It also means that there is little paint on those dry bristles so after you load your brush be sure that there are no globs of paint on the ends or sides, wipe it on a paper towel if you have to, to avoid having too much paint or water.

The other thing to keep in mind is pressure. If you press down hard on your brush, more paint will come off and fill in the area, the lighter you press down, the brush will only hit the high spots on the paper leaving little “holes” so you can see the under painting or the paper showing through.

Depending on what you are painting at the time dry brush can be used to add in some color such as mist or dust or when you are making waterfalls or the glimmer on the ocean or palm fronds.

Stippling – This is a good stroke when you are leafing out trees or creating bushes or distant flowers or even adding some texture, the pressure rule applies here as well but you can have more paint on your brush.

I usually use a flat brush for this technique but a round one will work. When I pick up paint I take my brush, on my palette I tap the end of my brush straight down on the mixing area, not so much to mix the paint if I have more than one color but more to “fuzz up” the end of the brush so it spreads out and looks all twisted, this is great for trees and bushes because it creates a random look to the area. I apply the paint by touching the end of the brush straight on to create the tree or bush or texture I need. Remember that the amount of pressure you use on your brush will determine how much paint comes off your brush. If the area is too congested with paint, you are too heavy handed. I have literally had the brush fall out of my hand because I was holding it so lightly when doing this technique.

The Liner Brush – This little brush makes great trees, branches, weeds, grass, fence wire, boat rigging…Any where you need a nice thin line the liner is the brush to use. It does take practice to master and mixing the right consistency of your paint is half the battle. The paint needs to be very ink-like. If you tip your palette it should run. Next you need to load it fully, really work the paint into your brush and as you lift it off your palette, roll it in your fingers.

Hold this brush as far back on the handle as you can and hold the tip slightly down so the paint will flow. If you are doing trees or branches, the harder you press the thicker the line, lift as you come up to get a thinner line and wiggle your brush a little to give the tree/branch/weed some character.

When doing grass, get your hand and brush moving in a circular motion before you get to the canvas, when you get the rhythm, touch the canvas on the upstroke. Big circles = tall grass, little circles – short grass.

Flat or Round Sable brush - You can create leaf shapes by loading your brush with a good amount of paint but it should be worked into the bristles then start by touching the edge (flat brush) or the end (round brush) then as you move the brush press and twist then twist and lift to finish. You can create all shapes of leaves and grasses using this stroke but it does take some practice.

Wet into Wet – The area to be painted is first painted with water to make the paper wet, when you add paint to this area the paint will spread on its own and will create soft edges and blends with other colors.

Wet on Dry – the paper is dry so when you apply the paint you will get hard edges.

Using a flat or an angle brush if you load the paint on the tip or a corner and work it into the brush you can get a nice graded stroke.

With a round brush to get a graded color working wet on dry, apply the color, rinse your brush and dry it and with a damp brush run it along the edge you want to soften.

These are just a few of the ways you can use your brushes and the watercolor but it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination the complete list. Watercolor is a very versatile medium it is up to you as the artist to find the ways it works best for you.