How not to overwork your watercolour paintings is a question I get asked by most first time painters. Overworking your watercolour paintings happens when you put so much paint on your page, it loses its sense of light and spontaneity. If you are first starting out, your paintings will likely look overworked. The more painting you do, the better you will become at identifying how not to overwork your painting. Go easy on yourself! You likely will not paint any masterpieces when you first embark on your painting journey! It takes time and commitment to become a better painter.

There are a variety of ways not to overwork your watercolour paintings. I will explain one way with examples of my paintings. Below is my painting “Polly the Parrot”. If you examine the painting closely, you will see I intentionally left white areas on my page. These areas are not white paint, they are areas of the paper, where paint has NOT traveled. You will notice areas of white on the beak and the right breast and wing of the bird. I intentionally left the white of the page (also called a highlight) in order to create visual interest and excitement in my painting.

Polly The Parrot

One of the beauties of watercolour painting is the medium’s transparent quality. Allowing the white of the paper to show through in some areas of your painting enhances this.

Let’s take a look at another painting in which I left white to create interest. In the painting below, “Purple and Blue Iris”, I was able to capture the white on the edges of the petals along with some white areas on the greenery portions of the flower.

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One of the great things that happens when there is white left on the paper next to a darker area is, you get high visual contrast between the light and dark which draws the viewer’s eye into the painting. My painting below, “Puffin”, is a good example of this high contrast.

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In the next example, I am going to show you a simple circle shape so you’re able to compare the difference between what is overworked and what is not overworked. You can try this simple exercise at home. All you need are your watercolour paints, water, a rag, a brush, pencil and watercolour paper. Draw two circles on a scrap piece of watercolour paper using your pencil. In one circle just paint one colour wet on dry. I’m using Phthalo blue incase you are wondering. On the other circle, wet out the shape first using a clean brush and some water, then drop in colour and move it around leaving a little bit of white on the page. Can you see how dramatic the difference is? Which of these shapes do you find more interesting to look at? Which one looks overworked?

Blue Circles

I hope you have found value in this article and you can apply it in your watercolour painting journey. If you enjoyed reading this post, you may enjoy signing up for one of my online painting classes. Check out my “Polly the Parrot” painting class here: