How to Paint a Watercolor Wash Background

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How to Paint a Watercolor Wash Background

Watercolors are so much fun to work with. I love making watercolor washes. They are perfect for handlettering, abstract art, gift tags and more. Follow me on Instagram to see what I do with these watercolor washes!

The best part about this technique is that it is virtually impossible to mess up! It's perfect for all ages and all skill levels!

Here's a video tutorial on how to paint a watercolor wash background:

Supplies Needed for Watercolor Wash:

Dr Ph Martens Bombay India Inks
Watercolor Paper
1 inch wide flat Paintbrush
Napkin or Cloth
Painters Tape
Palette or Paper Plate
Apron (I never wear one and sometimes regret it)


I am using Dr Ph Martens Bombay India Inks. They are extremely vibrant and retain most of their color during the drying process. They also dry kind of glossy. You can do this technique with any watercolors...but you will lose some of the vibrancy and some watercolors cause the finish to be chalky.

Step 1: 

First, cut paper to desired size. I love a great 5X7 inch, they are easy to frame later...fold as a card...or cut for a bookmark or gift tag.

Step 2: 

Then tape paper to a water proof work surface. If you aren't sure if you should be inking on your dining room table...then you shouldn't be! Get a scrap plywood board from the garage or the neighbor and tape your paper down on that. Then put down a plastic bag and work over that.

Step 3: 

Fill palette with Ink. It's very liquidy, is that a word? It's liquid, so use caution when filling the wells...a little ink goes a long way...I filled my wells nearly to the top and created more than double the watercolor washes seen on the picture below with it.

Step 4: 

Now use the paintbrush and clean water. Spread a layer of water on the paper. Do not fill the paper completely. I use an old tea cup for my water cup...then I don't accidentally drink from it while working!

Step 5: 

Now dip the paintbrush in the desired ink color and swipe it across the water on the paper.
Add additional colors as desired. (Again, watch the video above if this doesn't make sense)

Color Combinations:

Certain colors blend well together...others do not. Do you remember learning how to mix colors in primary school? You know, red and yellow make and yellow make green...and red and blue make purple. These are good colors to put side by side on the water, because they will blend into a new color.

It's better not to put complimentary colors together (the ones across from each other on the color wheel chart) red and green (although I did in the video), purple and yellow...and orange with blue.  These colors, when mixed, make brown...or mud, as we call it.

Another great blend tip is to use colors that are together on the rainbow...or groups of 3-5 on the color wheel. Red, orange and yellow on a page are stunning. Yellow, green and blue is my favorite. Blue, green and purple work too!

Get creative and just try it! Let the *older* kids play along too, for some hands on color theory. (disclaimer: my kids are baby is I might not remember what small kids are capable of...this is ink...and will therefore stain everything.)

Step 6: Now wait for the paper to dry completely. You can use a blow dryer to speed up the process...but I usually have plenty of other things I am busy multitask juggling, so stepping away for a few minutes is not a big deal.

The watercolor paper will curl a little as it gets wet. The tape is to help it hold its shape as it keep it taped down during the drying process.

Step 7: Finally remove the painters tape and enjoy the blended ink magic! I love how the colors swirl, shift and mix.


If you are finding this technique difficult...I am guessing that you aren't using enough water. It feels strange to layer water on the paper, but that is what makes this technique work.

Now, add some hand lettering quotes, use the as a gift tag, hang as art, cut into strips for a bookmark or fold into a handmade card. The colors bleed and blend beautifully!

What colors will you be mixing first?

That's it!

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