If you like painting with watercolors and want to create some interesting textures and patterns for your compositions, try these fun tricks. You don’t need any special equipment, just items easily found at home.

Trick #1: Salt on Wet Wash

The texture of the surface of the moon was created by sprinkling salt on wet paint.  Student work  by Angela Davis 
The texture of the surface of the moon was created by sprinkling salt on wet paint. Student work by Angela Davis 

Color an area of your paper with pigment mixed with water, and while it’s still wet, sprinkle a pinch of table salt on top. The salt absorbs the water and draws the pigment up, creating a speckled effect. Once the paper is dry, wipe or brush the salt off gently.

This trick can be a good way of adding texture in abstract paintings, or to give the impression of the surface of the sea, a rocky landscape, or sand.

Trick #2: Rubbing Alcohol on Wet Wash

Dropping rubbing alcohol onto pigment creates circular patterns.
Dropping rubbing alcohol onto pigment creates circular patterns.

Soak a cloth in rubbing alcohol, and keep it nearby. Paint your watercolor paper with a wash of pigment—this effect works best if you have a strong pigment and don’t water it down too much. While the surface is still damp, drop a few spots of the rubbing alcohol over the paper. The alcohol will create a somewhat random circular pattern across your paper.

Trick #3: Paint Splatter

The splatter effect can be used to depict a starry night sky.
The splatter effect can be used to depict a starry night sky.

Take an old toothbrush and dab it into your paint. This effect works best if the paint is quite wet, as thick paint won’t splatter as well. Raise the brush and run your thumb across the bristles, causing the paint to splatter over the paper. You won’t be able to precisely control where the splatters go, or how big they will be, but that’s part of the fun of this splatter technique!

Trick #4: Color Lift

The color lift technique removes pigment from select areas of the painting.
The color lift technique removes pigment from select areas of the painting.

Often used as a way of removing small mistakes from watercolor paintings, the color lift technique is a way of removing some of the pigment for a non-uniform distribution of color. 

Paint your surface, and then take a tissue and dab away some of the watery pigment. You can also wrap objects in tissue and dab them onto the painting. For example, to lift a circular area (such as to give the impression of a full moon in the sky), wrap a coin in tissue and dab that onto your wet paint.

This will only work when the surface is still wet, and watercolors dry quickly, so work fast and have your tissues within easy reach before you start.

Trick #5: Plastic Wrap on Wet Wash

The background of this daisy painting was created using the plastic wrap technique.
The background of this daisy painting was created using the plastic wrap technique.

Paint your surface, then take a piece of scrunched up plastic and press it into the wet surface of the paper. Art cellophane can be used, but so can any number of soft, scrunchable plastics, such as food wrappers (make sure they’re clean!) 

Wait for the paper to dry and remove the plastic to reveal a pattern of textures and lines.

In addition to these techniques, you can also experiment with other ways of creating texture, using string, leaves, stone, textured fabrics, and more. Have fun!

Learn to Paint with Watercolors

Modern Watercolor Techniques: Beginner’s Level.