What is watercolor

An Introduction to the World of Watercolor

Watercolor painting is a beautiful and unique form of art enjoyed for centuries. It is a medium that requires patience, skill, and creativity. Whether you are an experienced artist or just starting, watercolor can offer a world of possibilities for self-expression. This article is an introduction to the world of watercolor, how it differs from other mediums and the importance of watercolor in the art world. 

Table of Contents

What is watercolor painting?

Watercolor painting is a painting in which pigments are mixed with water and applied to paper or another absorbent surface. The pigments are water-soluble, meaning they can be dissolved in water and then applied to the surface in a fluid and transparent form. This creates a unique look and feel that is different from other forms of painting, such as oil or acrylic painting.

Watercolor paints come in tubes, ink or pans made from a combination of pigment, binder (such as gum arabic), and water. Adding water to the paint creates a smooth, fluid consistency that quickly spreads and is easy to blend. The paper or other absorbent surface supports the paint, and its fibers help create a natural texture and grain in the painting.

What makes watercolor painting different from other painting mediums

Watercolor painting differs from other forms of painting, such as oil or acrylic, in several ways. Some of these differences include the following:

  • Transparency: One of the most noticeable differences between watercolor and other forms of painting is its transparency. Watercolor paint is water-soluble, meaning that it can be easily dissolved in water and applied in a fluid and transparent form. This allows the paper’s white or other surfaces to show through, creating a light and airy feel. In contrast, gouache, oil, and acrylic paints tend to be opaque, meaning they cover the surface where they are applied.
  • Layers: Because of its transparency, watercolor paint allows the artist to build up layers of color, creating depth and dimension in the painting. In gouache, oil, or acrylic painting, the artist may use opaque underpainting techniques or glazing to achieve a similar effect.
  • Working from light to dark: In watercolor painting, the artist starts with a light color and then builds darker colors. In gouache, oil, or acrylic painting, the artist may begin with a darker color and then add lighter ones to create a similar effect. The watercolorist’s ability to layer transparent washes over one another allows infinite variation in value and tone. Painting with watercolor requires careful planning before applying the first brushstroke, as you want to preserve the white of the paper for the lightest values.
  • Drying time: Another difference between watercolor and other forms of painting is drying time. Watercolor paint dries relatively quickly, in a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the amount of water and the humidity. In contrast, oil paint can take days or even weeks to dry completely.
  • Unpredictability: Watercolor paint has a fluid and somewhat unpredictable consistency, as the amount of water used to mix the paint can significantly affect its texture and flow. In contrast, oil and acrylic paints tend to have a more consistent consistency, making them easier to control and manipulate.

While each form of painting has its unique set of challenges and benefits, watercolor painting is a medium that offers a world of possibilities for self-expression and creativity. 

Watercolor portrait

Importance of Watercolor in Art

Watercolor painting has a rich and storied history and has been a beloved medium by artists for centuries. Watercolor has created some of the most beautiful and impactful works of art, from the delicate botanical illustrations of the Renaissance to the bold and colorful abstracts of modern artists. 

Role of watercolor in the art world

Watercolor has played a significant role in the art world for hundreds of years, from its early beginnings as a medium for botanical illustrations and topographical maps to its rise as a favored medium for landscapes and portraits. Over time, watercolor has become famous for its fluidity, transparency, and versatility. Artists have used it to create a wide range of works, from delicate and nuanced paintings to bold and striking abstracts.

In the world of fine art, watercolor has long been recognized as a valid and respected medium, with many renowned artists using it to create some of their most famous works throughout history. Watercolor has also found its place in the commercial world, with illustrators and graphic designers using it to create everything from advertising illustrations to children’s books.

Despite its long history, watercolor continues to evolve and adapt to new trends and styles and remains a vital and dynamic part of the art world today. 

Watercolor flowers

How watercolor painting has evolved over time

Watercolor painting has a rich history that spans hundreds of years, and it has evolved and adapted in response to changing styles, techniques, and artistic trends. Some of the key milestones in the evolution of watercolor painting include:

  • Renaissance: During the Renaissance, watercolor was primarily used for botanical illustrations and topographical maps. Artists of the time used the medium to create precise and detailed renderings of plants and landscapes.
  • 18th and 19th centuries: During the 18th and 19th centuries, watercolor gained popularity as a medium for landscapes and portraits, with artists such as J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and William Blake using watercolor to create some of their most famous works.
  • Modern Art: In the 20th century, watercolor experienced a resurgence in popularity, with many modern artists, such as Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee, using watercolor to create abstract and impressionistic works.
  • Contemporary Art: Today, watercolor continues to be a vital and dynamic part of the art world, with contemporary artists exploring new techniques and styles to create works that push the boundaries of what is possible with this medium.

Watercolor continues to be a popular medium for artists today because it offers a unique set of properties and benefits that sets it apart from other forms of painting. Some of the key reasons why watercolor remains popular include:

  • Versatility: You can use watercolor for many styles and techniques, from photorealistic landscapes to abstract and impressionistic works. This versatility makes watercolor popular for artists experimenting with different styles and techniques.
  • Transparency: The transparency of watercolor allows for the creation of luminous and ethereal works, with light and color interacting in a way that is impossible with other forms of paint.
  • Layers: Watercolor layering can create depth and complexity in a painting, with each layer of paint building on the previous one to create a rich and textured work.
  • Spontaneity: The quick-drying nature of watercolor allows for a more spontaneous and intuitive approach to painting, with artists able to respond quickly to their intuition and create fresh and immediate works.
  • Affordability: Compared to other forms of painting, watercolor is relatively inexpensive, making it a popular choice for artists who are just starting or want to experiment with a new medium.
Watercolor leaves


Watercolor painting is a unique and versatile medium that offers artists a range of benefits and possibilities. Watercolor remains a popular choice for artists today from its versatility and transparency to its layers, spontaneity, and affordability. With its rich history and enduring popularity, watercolor painting is a medium that continues to inspire and captivate artists and art lovers alike. Although, it’s not the easiest medium to use!

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