Watercolour Brush Strokes

Discover some of the more popular paint brush strokes in watercolour painting

In watercolour painting, since the watercolour medium is very light, you will have to master various paint brush strokes to achieve the effect you desire. Most watercolour paintings use a combination of puddles or washes of colour, which are eventually smoothed out with a narrow or wide, flat-tipped brush.

Read on to learn a little more about some of the popular paint brush strokes.

The two main types of brush strokes you will use as a beginner are described below.

Dry Brush Strokes

Most master watercolour painters use conventional broken dry-brush strokes. Dry brushing involves wetting just the tip of the brush in watercolour. You would have to use a filbert brush or a round brush and simply drag the brush across dry paper. Experiment with various angles and with applying varying amounts of pressure.

With a certain amount of practice you will see that textures and shades show up on your paper. When you stand away from your painting and look at it, you will notice that certain sections have developed a 3-D effect.

A scumbling effect can be achieved by jabbing the brush right into the paper and rolling it around. Ensure that you apply this technique firmly yet delicately. You would not want to damage your drawing before it is complete now, would you?

Wet-In-Wet Brush Strokes

Another commonly used brush stroke is the wet-in-wet one.

  • First wash a large section of the paper with a thin coat of watercolour.
  • Now load your brush with colour and paint right into the area.
  • Move your brush swiftly across the paper and feather the strokes out into the slightly wet area that you had flat-washed earlier.

In this example I first wet the whole sheet with clear water adding a touch of yellow ochre to the centre to give a warm glow near the horizon. Also I added a bluish grey in the top corners ,allowing the colour to blend and blur with the damp wash.You can practice your brushstrokes over nearly-dry areas or those that have fresh wet washes. Make sure that the paper is not dripping wet however as that will only ruin your drawing as the colour will spread more than you want it to.

This technique calls for a certain amount of practice to help you control the flow of paint. At a more advanced level, you may like to note that it is best to use smooth paper or hot-pressed paper for wet-in-wet strokes.

Other Types of Brush Strokes

Long Straight Brushstrokes

These brushstrokes can be created by dragging your brush right across the paper in one movement. Remember to “lock” your wrist and your arm movement should be what does all the work. The width of the strokes can be varied by using either the edge or the point of the brush. If the object that you are painting has a curvature, curve your strokes to match its flow.

In the painting above I used long ‘one off ‘ brush strokes to indicate the waterline and the middle and foreground land mass.


This can be effective in the latter stages of a landscape or coastal scene, to indicate random detail ,pebbles , land texture etc. Some painters use an old toothbrush to apply the pigment in this technique.


You can also create criss-cross hatching by overlapping brush strokes to define textured or shaded areas more effectively. Aim at giving your painting a finished look by altering the angle of the brush as you paint along.


This technique that makes the use of tiny dots of colour can be used for form-building in your painting. This technique is used in pen and ink drawings as well.

Repeated rhythmic dabbing of dots of paint will help you add a new dimension to the picture. Dip the brush constantly in watercolour but ensure that you are using only the tip and not the entire surface of the brush in this technique. You can also use dots of pure colour alongside.They will mix optically as you move away from the painting.

Impressionist as well as post-impressionist masters including Van Gogh and Paul Signac used this technique very effectively in their paintings.

Layer Building

Another technique is layer-building. For this you have to use multiple layers of strokes. These could either overlap each other completely or partly depending on what you are colouring.

Summary – The Perfect Mix Of Paint Brush Strokes

Before you can create that perfect picture you will have to experiment with using various textures and colours. Watercolours are rarely meant to be thick or textured and the beauty of this art lies in the fact that even seemingly “thin” paint can be used very effectively to create exceptionally arresting paintings, all with the use of practiced brush strokes.

Controlled brushwork is a very important aspect of watercolour painting. Any picture that is created in an uncontrolled manner will end up looking  incomplete.

If you having a tough time achieving the result you are aiming for, then It could be that you need some help with your brush strokes. I am always willing to help – either by email (maybe with a scanned image of some of your work), or in person if you  choose to attend one of our group watercolour painting sessions.