If you are just a dabbler in watercolour painting, you may be asking yourself; what makes a good painting? When you’re browsing paintings on the internet, sometimes you see what looks to be a good painting, but there appears to be something wrong with it, but what is it? It is often the absence of what are called design elements or good composition. Below is a list of some of them to watch out for. There are always some exceptions to these rules.

There are things to keep in mind when approaching your initial drawing of your subject matter. They are as follows:

You may have heard of the rule of thirds. It’s when you divide your blank page into three equal spaces, and put your focal point in the upper third quadrant on the right or left hand side, or the lower quadrant on the lower right or left hand side. See diagram below.
Using a landscape painting as an example, you would want your house, barn or whatever you are choosing to paint in one of those areas. Also keep in mind your sky should be two thirds of the painting or one third of the painting. It should never be one half of the painting. Typically, landscapes do not look good: half sky and half land or water.

Rule of thirds photo

Rule of Thirds

Below is a good example of the one third sky and 2 thirds land and water concept. Also, my focal point is the boat, located in the top left side upper quadrant. This is a painting I did of Pictou Harbour, Nova Scotia. The boat is called “The Hector”. It brought over Scottish immigrants in the 1700’s.

Pictou Harbour

Pictou Harbour


Another element that makes for a good composition is repetition of colour. The painting above is a good example of this. The pyrrole red, quinacridone gold, and Phthalo blue, are repeated in both the buildings and the boat and rocks. This repetition of colour makes for good balance in a painting.

Something else to keep in mind is to have each corner slightly different. The painting below is a good example of this. This is also a great example of colour repetition. The wine colour is repeated in the grapes, the glass, and the table along with other colours which are also distributed throughout.

Glass of Wine

Glass of Wine


A good painting will have contrast; contrast in lights and darks and contrast in the size of shapes in the painting. Watercolour can be a challenging medium to get good darks because the colours dry lighter, therefore, it’s important to make sure to go over areas that can be made darker. The painting becomes more captivating when it is very dark against very light as you see in the wine glass painting above. Below is an example of good contrast in shape size. You see a larger plate and cup accented by the smaller shapes of the cookies, leaf and lemon wedge. This painting is called “Mrs. MacGregor’s Shortbread Cookies”. When I was in Pictou, Nova Scotia, I visited this little shop and bought some of the cookies. They were the best shortbread cookies I have ever tasted!

Mrs. MacGregors Shortbread Cookies

Mrs. MacGregor’s Shortbread Cookies


Wherever you are at in your watercolour painting journey , just remember, there is no failure in the painting process. Every step whether successful or not, is a learn or a win! Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Most of all, don’t forget the ‘why’ of the painting process. Why do we paint? We paint because it brings joy and fulfillment. Believe in yourself, never give up.