Blog

How to frame a watercolor painting

This article will show you how to frame a watercolor painting. There may be different ways but this is how I do it.

The first step is to ensure your watercolor painting is totally flat.

As I do not pre-stretch my watercolor paper it cockles or buckles a little so I flatten it before framing. I have posted a couple of YouTube videos on how to do this. For smaller works I use a steam iron and for larger paintings I use a different technique. Here are the links to the videos if you would like to look at them:

How to flatten a small watercolor painting with a steam iron.

How to flatten larger watercolor paintings.

Options for how to frame a watercolor painting

Most people take their watercolor paintings to a professional framer, which is often the easiest way to go. At the other extreme some people make their own frame and finish the process off by adding their painting.

I prefer a third option. I purchase pre made frames which include the frame, double mat board, glass, foam core backing board, screws and nylon hanging cord. I purchase these frames from my local framing store, usually about 5 or 10 frames at a time. By doing this I always have frames at hand and can frame my own work at short notice. Otherwise I would have to wait for my framer to do the whole thing which could delay the framing for up to two weeks. I also save a significant amount of cost as the framer can give me an additional discount as they do not have to install my painting in the frame themselves.

I prefer to use a silvery gold frame, with a double mat which is white for the inner and pale beige for the main “outer” mat. I have found this frame and mat combination works well with my watercolor paintings weather or not the paintings are warm or cool colored. The frames seem to go with most modern decors which is another benefit. A third benefit is that if a painting does not sell after a period of time I can easily replace it with a new one and the frame should work with my new artwork. In rare cases, however, I will digress from this frame/mat combination if the painting really warrants it.

Materials and tools needed to frame your watercolor painting

  • Frame kit from your local framing store – should include, frame, mat board (I use a double mat), foam-core backing board, d-rings and self-tapping screws, nylon hanging string, glass front.
  • Screwdrivers, you will probably need both a flat and a Phillips head type.
  • Framing tape to seal the back of the frame – helps keep bugs out, strengthens frame, and covers the sharp metal “points” used to hold the backing board in place.
  • Hanging tape, I buy my from my framer but I am sure art supply stores should have some available or would get it for you.
  • Uncluttered work area.
  • Sheet to protect frame while you are working on it.
  • Pair of scissors.
  • All boards and tapes should be neutral ph so they do not damage your painting over time.

Here is the watercolor painting I am framing for this demonstration. It was painted by one of my students, Chrysovalantou Mavroudis, who is already becoming quite a proficient watercolor artist. She took the photographs while I was showing her how to frame her work. As I am often asked by students about how to frame a watercolor painting I thought I would produce this tutorial.

Reference watercolor painting by Chrysovalantour Mavroudis used for how to frame a watercolor painting
Watercolor painting by Chrysovalantou Mavroudis

Here is an example of what I order from my local framing store.

Watercolor painting kit frame purchased from framer
Watercolor painting kit frame purchased from framer

The glass, mat and backing board are held in place with flexible staples called “points”.

Acid free mat and backing boards held in place with flexible "points"
Acid free mat and backing boards held in place with flexible “points”

I start by first wiping the front of the glass clean. I then flip the frame over and bend the flexible “points” vertically so I can remove the backing board and mat. I then clean the back of the glass. Notice how I use an old sheet on which to lay my frame on so it is not so easily damaged.

Clean the front and back of the glass of the premade watercolor framing kit
Clean the front and back of the glass of the premade watercolor framing kit

Fix watercolor painting to back of matt with hanging tape

I set the frame aside and pick up the watercolor painting I am framing. I lay the painting upside down and attach a strip of hanging tape (purchased from my framer) along the top of the back of the artwork. Do not press too hard as you only want the tape to stick to the painting and not the table top. The length of tape I use is about two thirds the length of the painting, with about half of the tape on the painting, the other half will be affixed to the back of the mat board.

Lay watercolor painting down and fix hanging tape of top two thirds of painting
Lay watercolor painting down and fix hanging tape on top of  your painting for about two thirds its length

I now flip the painting over and then lay the mat board on top. Do this lightly so the tape does not stick while you are finding the correct positioning for your watercolor painting.

Fix watercolor painting to back of matt with hanging tape
Fix watercolor painting to back of mat with hanging tape

Once I am happy with the positioning of my artwork I use my clean lint free rag to press down on the mat over the taped area. This sticks the tape to the mat but only a little. I then gently flip the mat over and then with my fingernail rub all over the hanging tape to make sure it sticks firmly to both the watercolor painting and mat.

Use fingernail to press hanging tape to watercolor paper and mat board
Use fingernail to press hanging tape to watercolor paper and mat board

The mat board with the attached watercolor painting can now be placed in the frame. You may want to give the glass on the inside another quick clean in case any dust has settled on it.

Mat board with attached watercolor painting placed in frame
Mat board with attached watercolor painting placed in frame

On top of the mat you now place the foam core backing board.

Foam core backing board placed on top of artwork and mat
Foam core backing board placed on top of artwork and mat

Now carefully hold the frame from both sides so that you stop the sections coming apart, watch out that you do not cut yourself on the flexible “points” however as they are sharp. For bigger watercolor paintings you may need to bend some of these “points” down at this stage to help keep all the pieces in the frame. Then flip the frame over and have a look from the front to make sure there are no bits of dust or fluff that can be seen from the front. If so flip it over, lift up the painting, etc. and remove the offending particle. This can be quite annoying at times, it is best to make sure your work environment is relatively dust free.

Checking for dust -how to frame a watercolor painting
Flip frame over and check that no bits of dust or fluff are showing on the mat or painting. Careful not to cut yourself with the “points”

Once you are happy the surface of the mat and watercolor painting are dust free, flip the frame onto its front and bend down the “points”, I usually use a flat screwdriver as my finger cannot press the “points’ down firmly enough. Don’t press so hard that the points damage the backing board surface.

Press "Points" back down with a flat screwdriver
Press “Points” back down with a flat screwdriver

The next step for “How to frame a watercolor painting” is to seal the back of the frame with framing tape.

Often you will find that the frame and its backing board are at different levels. This causes a little problem as the framing tape may not seal the back of the frame properly. If the frame and backing board are at the same height then the tape can be just laid flat.

Frame and backing board not at the same level - how to frame a watercolour painting
Frame and backing board not at the same level

This is the process I use to properly seal the back of a frame which is higher than the matt board:

First run a piece of framing tape along one side of the frame with half of the tape over the backing board and the rest on the frame. Do not let the tape touch the backing board at this stage. Just fix it to the frame with a little pressure of your hand.

Run framing tape along one side of the frame but do not let it touch the backing board
Run framing tape along one side of the frame but do not let it touch the backing board

Then cut the tape along the adjoining frame length edge. It is easier to see what I mean by looking at the photo below.

Cut framing tape along both edges of the frame as in the picture above
Cut framing tape along both edges of the frame as in the picture above

Now press down on the tape along the edge of the frame and onto the backing board. Run you hand over the tape to make sure it is fixed to the frame and backing board firmly.

Press down on the tape along the edge of the frame and onto the backing board
Press down on the tape along the edge of the frame and onto the backing board

Repeat the process for the frame length on the opposite side of the frame.

Framer's tape on each end
Framer’s tape on each end

Now place tape along the other lengths. Again, first only fix the tape to the frame not the backing board.

Cut and fit tape to other length but only fix to frame not backing board first
Cut and fit tape to other length but only fix to frame not backing board first

Now make a diagonal cut from the corner of the frame at 45 degrees. Ensure you only cut through the top layer of tape not the one below it.

Cut diagonal from corner of frame at 45 degrees. Only cut through top tape layer.
Cut diagonal from corner of frame at 45 degrees. Only cut through top tape layer.

Once the diagonal cuts are made at both ends of the tape you can press the tape down onto the backing board to stick in down. Start from the middle of the tape along the edge of the frame, that way the tape will sit nicely on the backing board with no crinkles.

With diagonal cuts made, press tape down onto backing board
With diagonal cuts made, press tape down onto backing board

This process gives you a nice clean and professional looking finish on the back of your frame. Obviously if the backing board comes up level with the frame then these extra cuts are not required.

Notice the nice finish to the back of the frame’s inner corners
Notice the nice finish to the back of the frame’s inner corners

The final step of how to frame a watercolor painting is the fixing of the support string.

I measured about 6 inches from the top of the frame (about the length of the metal portion of my Phillips head screw driver which I use as a guide). I use a gimlet to start the holes for the screws which attach the d-rings. A gimlet is a tool of starting holes in timber in case you hadn’t guessed. The distance from the top of the frame to the screw holes varies depending on the frame size. This framed watercolor painting was about 23” x 19”.

As a guideline place the d-rings, and therefore the string a little less than a third of the way down the frame. If you come down too far the frame will lean forward too much when hung.

The d-ring should be screwed in the middle for  moulding for strength, unless for some strange reason your frame is very thin at that point.

Gimlet used to start screw holes with length of screwdriver used as a positioning guide
Gimlet used to start screw holes with length of screwdriver used as a positioning guide

I then screw on the d-rings to which the sturdy hanging string will be attached. If you look at the photo below you can see why they are called d-rings.

Various d-rings for used in framing. The ones on the left give it its name!
Various d-rings for used in framing. The ones on the left give it its name!

The d-rings are fixed to the frame with self-tapping screws.

D-rings are attached to the frame with self-tapping screws
D-rings are attached to the frame with self-tapping screws

You can now attached the nylon picture hanging cord to the d-rings. Make sure you use a good knot so that the cord does not come loose or your frame could fall down when hung. I also wrap a little piece of framing tape around the loose end of the cord for a neater finish as can be seen in the image below.

Securely attach nylon hanging cord to d-rings - How to frame a watercolor painting
Securely attach nylon hanging cord to d-rings

I also cover the d-rings with some framing tape to minimize the chance of damage to other paintings that may be placed against mine. This courtesy not only helps others but could also help your own work. I once delivered 5 paintings to a school art exhibition and the handler started stacking all my paintings on top of one another – she was quite inexperienced but if I had not noticed, and not had tape over my d-rings, the damage to my frames could have been extensive.

Cover d-rings with some framing tape
Cover d-rings with some framing tape

The framing is now complete. I hope you have found this brief tutorial on how to frame a watercolor painting useful.

Framed watercolor painting
Framed watercolor painting

Figure 26: Framed watercolor painting

Paint watercolors like a child

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up,” Picasso.

All too often artists seem to fall into the trap of taking their work too seriously. If their watercolor painting doesn’t work they feel let down, if they don’t win a prize they feel they are not progressing, or that the judge picked the wrong painting.

I was recently talking to one of my students about this problem when I realized that when I was a child, and when I have observed children play with their paints, they never sit there and say look how terrible this is, or that they are not progressing with their work. No, a child just has fun painting. They are happy with every one of their creations, weather each drawing or painting is the same or quite unique. My youngest son, when he was about 4 years old, started drawing a particular bird. He must have drawn the same one, with small changes in color, about 50 times. He loved everyone and would run in to show us each one. He was just enjoying drawing his birds.

I had one student who painted this way. He had a very highly stressful internet technology job but when he came to class he just had fun. He was not trying to create masterpieces, even though he did create some nice work, he just loved painting with watercolors. I don’t think I ever heard him complain about any of his works, even the ones which obviously didn’t work. This is a great state to be in as an artist.

The more serious things become the less we get out of it in the end. So enjoy your painting, have fun, and you will no doubt be surprised with what you create.

If you find yourself getting serious about your watercolor painting, just tell yourself you are going to spend a few sheets of watercolor paper just playing, then see how you feel. Just throw the paint around, see how the watercolor paints flow into one another on you wet paper, see how different colors mix, etc. You are just playing, with no end product in mind.

Enjoy yourself when you paint watercolors!

The very first time I tried watercolors I asked my teacher what should I do. He said just wet the paper and play with them. I did, and still have that little painting today.

Have fun when you paint watercolors. The first watercolor painting I ever - just playing!
Just playing -have fun when you paint watercolors.

I think this is what Picasso meant by his quote:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Easy watercolor painting using salt

This easy watercolor painting is primarily an exercise I created for my students on how to use salt to create believable textures.

Rather than just experimenting with salt and watercolor I felt it was just as easy to end up with a nice little painting. This painting is part of my series of simple watercolor paintings for relatively new watercolor artists.

The first step was to do a variegated watercolor wash.

Watercolor materials used

  • Winsor and Newton artist’s quality watercolor paints: cobalt blue, cadmium orange, permanent alizarin crimson, French ultramarine, and burnt sienna.
  • Quarter sheet ( approx. 37cm x 27cm or 14.5” x 10.5”)of Arches 300 gsm (140 lb) cold pressed paper.
  • The paper is taped onto a piece of Gator Board or another waterproof board.
  • Common table salt. You can try some rock salt for a different effect.
  • Round watercolor brushes. Sizes 24, 16, and 8.
Finished easy watercolour painting with salt demonstration
Figure 12: Finished simple watercolor painting with salt demonstration.

 

Easy watercolor painting steps

The trick to creating a nice clean watercolor wash is to use a fully loaded brush with lots of water and pigment. A fully loaded brush is one which will drip if head vertically with the point down.

For this painting, because I wanted a noticeable transition between the colors, I only had my board at about a 10° angle. I started at the top with my cobalt blue and a touch of permanent alizarin crimson mixture. Into the bottom of this cobalt blue and alizarin stage I then went in with my cadmium orange mix. This was followed with the alizarin crimson and then burnt sienna.

I cleaned my brush between the cobalt blue and cadmium orange stages, but not between the two other transitions.

You can see the result of this initial under painting in the photograph below. You can see how wet the watercolor wash was from the shine on the surface of the paper and the amount of pigment beading at the bottom.

graded watercolour wash as under painting
Figure 1: Start with a graded watercolor wash.

I find that the best time to sprinkle salt is just as the shine is beginning to leave the surface watercolor paper. It should still be quite wet however. This is something that you learn with a little testing.

If you have not used this technique before I suggest you try it on some scrap watercolor paper first. Try sprinkling salt when the test paper is very wet, then when it is just losing its shine, and finally when it is barely damp.

If you sprinkle the salt when the paper still has a lot of shine on it and you move your painting the moving water and paint on the surface will remove much of the effect of the salt crystals.

However if you wait too long very little salt effect will occur.

Sprinkle salt over wet watercolor painting.
Figure 2: Sprinkle salt over wet watercolor painting.

I sprinkled the salt around the alizarin Crimson and burnt sienna, transition area. Do not sprinkle from too great a height or some of the salt crystals will bounce and end up all over the place. I sprinkled from about 2 inches above the painting surface. You can see from the image below that I varied the amount of salt I sprinkled to create a more interesting patent than just sprinkling a uniform straight line of evenly distributed salt.

Sprinkle salt in an interesting pattern
Figure 3: Sprinkle salt in an interesting pattern.

You can see from the close-up image below how the salt crystals absorbed watercolor pigment and moisture from the painting surface.

Detail of salt absorbing watercolor pigment on surface of easy watercolor painting
Figure 4: Detail of salt absorbing watercolor pigment.

You need to leave the salt crystals on your watercolor paper for quite a while to let them absorb significant quantities of pigment and water. This is what I refer to as the salt effect.

You can see, in the image below, the initial stage of salt crystals working. I leave my paper untouched until it achieves the effect I am after.

Initial stage of salt absorbing water and watercolor pigment
Figure 5: Initial stage of salt absorbing water and watercolor pigment.

Once the salt has created the effect I was aiming for I dry the painting using a hairdryer. Make sure you do not use the hairdryer so close to your painting that it roughs up the wet surface. Otherwise you can lose some of watercolor painting’s beautiful translucency.

You can see from the image below the stage at which I dried my painting.

Once the required salt effect is produced dry your watercolor paper thoroughly
Figure 6: Once the required salt effect is produced dry your watercolor paper thoroughly.

After the painting had totally dried I rubbed off the remaining salt crystals with a tissue.

Watercolor painting after dry salt brushed off
Figure 7: Watercolor painting after dry salt brushed off.

You can see more detail of the final result from using salt on the watercolor surface in the close-up image of a section of my painting below.

Details of salt effect on watercolor paper
Figure 8: Details of salt effect on watercolor paper.

These salt shapes suggested to me flowers blowing in the wind or seed heads of flowers such as dandelions. So in the next step I placed various colored watercolor dots in a number of the flowers’ centers.

Paint flower centers with small dots of different water colors.
Figure 9: Paint flower centers with small dots of different water colors.

While these dots representing the centers of flowers were still wet I dribbled water from my spray bottle over the area of flowers. This made some of the colors run. I also used my size 8 round watercolor brush to add some additional colors to the various flower heads.

Using some of the burnt sienna mix that was still in my palette I added some French ultramarine and use this to create the stems of flowers. Notice how I varied the spacing between these flower stems and their shapes and colors to add interest. You can see this watercolor painting step below.

Use water spatter and brush work to finish flower impressions and stems.
Figure 10: Use water spatter and brush work to finish flower impressions and stems.

This easy watercolor painting was nearly finished. All that was required now was to place an image representing the moon the top left-hand quadrant of my painting.

This was achieved by first lightly drawing a circle using a coin as a template ( I used an Australian 10 cent coin). I then used white gouache to create the impression of the moon within the circle. The gouache was painted on about one third of the area along one side of the circle. I then used a wet brush to soften this edge which spread a very small amount of gouache to the non-sun lit part of the moon. Once the moon shape was totally dry I erased any remaining pencil marks.

Painting the moon in top left quadrant of painting with gouache
Figure 11: Insert moon in top left quadrant of painting with gouache.

I finished this simple watercolor painting by signing it on the right hand side to balance the work.

Finished easy watercolour painting with salt demonstration
Figure 12: Finished simple watercolor painting with salt demonstration.

Here is another version of this same painting.

Another version of this easy watercolour painting using salt
Figure 13: Another version of this easy watercolor painting using salt.

One of my students ended up with some pretty harsh cauliflowers because of some excess pooling of water. However when I looked at her painting it suggested to me a series of mountains in the distance. So with her permission I quickly painted a wash of French ultramarine and some alizarin over the cauliflowers shapes. This was the result:

Easy watercolor painting of a mountain range using salt
Figure 14: Easy watercolor painting of a mountain range using salt.

This technique can be used for both easy watercolor paintings and more complex ones.

A common question asked by students is does the salt damage the painting. I honestly do not know however I know of artists that have used salt in paintings 20 years ago with no noticeable damage to their work. Also as salt is often used as a preservative I suspect it will not cause any lasting damage to the work. However I leave it to you to make your own decisions on the matter, I am a watercolor artist not a chemist!

Angle of watercolor painting easels

What should the angle of watercolor painting easels be? This is a very common question of beginner watercolor artists and one I was asked recently by a visitor to this website. It requires a more complex answer than just to say about 25 degrees. The real answer is: “It depends on what effect I am trying to create.”

Before looking at question of easel angle in more detail let us first think about what happens on the surface of your watercolor painting. Also why we even need to talk about the easel’s angle.

angle of watercolor painting easel about 20 degrees
Angle of watercolor painting easels. Mine is usually at about 20 degrees.

The most important ingredient in watercolor painting is water. Water flows faster or slower depending on the angle of the slope it is on.  It also depends on how much water is on your watercolor paper, and the texture of your paper. It will flow faster on smooth paper and not so fast on rougher paper. If only a thin layer of water is on your paper then it will not flow very fast no matter what angle your board is set to. On the other hand if you have a lot of water on your paper then the steeper the angle the more your watercolors will flow.

At a step angle a wet watercolour wash will drip but a not so wet one will not.
At a step angle a wet watercolor wash will drip but a not so wet one will not.

For most of my regular watercolor paintings I just set my easel at between 20 and 30 degrees. It doesn’t make much difference to me. I find that for my own work this angle allows the watercolor paints to flow at just the right speed to give me nice clean washes.

Reasons to change the angle of watercolor painting easels

Sometimes there are reasons to place your watercolor easel at a different angle. Here are some of the reasons why you might do so:

  • When I am painting plein air (outdoors) if the weather is cool I quite often use a more vertical angle so I can paint with less water. I do this so my work dries faster.
  • If the weather is hotter I will use a flatter angle so I can have more water on my paper which will slow down the drying time.
  • Some watercolor artists paint almost vertically because they like having dribbles of paint flow down their work. You can see an example of this in the image above.
  • Other artists paint almost vertically because it is hard on their back when painting with the board in a more horizontal angle, especially when painting large works. In this case the artist will probably reduce the amount of water in their brush to stop the paint from running down the page too fast, if at all.
On the left you can see that if you paint with a watercolor wash which is not too wet it will not run down the page no matter what the angle of your board is. On the right you can see that the very wet wash is just about ready to drip!
On the left you can see that if you paint with a watercolor wash which is not too wet it will not run down the page no matter what the angle of your board is. However on the right you can see that the very wet wash is just about ready to drip!
  •  If I am doing a dramatic sky with warm colors but with bright highlights I will paint with my board completely horizontal. I do this because I will need to use lots of water but at the same time I don’t want all the watercolors to completely run into each other as I want to keep some soft highlights.
Dramatic sky painted with watercolor board kept flat to retain highlights
Dramatic sky painted with watercolor board kept flat to retain soft highlights
  •  Sometimes I will vary the angle of my board as I progress with a painting. I change the angle depending on the effect I am trying to  produce at a particular stage in my watercolor painting.
  • Once the flowing watercolors achieve a particular effect I am after I will often just lay my board flat to let it dry. Otherwise the paints would continue to flow and I would lose what I had created.
  • Sometimes I will pick up my board and turn it diagonally to cause the watercolor paints to flow in a different direction.

Hopefully the above will help you make up your own mind about, “What should the angle of watercolor painting easels be?” It is not a complete list but should be enough to help you understand the question and its answer. Certainly the more proficient you are with your watercolor painting then the steeper an angle you can paint at. As I have mentioned above the steeper the angle the less water you are likely to paint with, unless you want to see lots of paint dribbles running down your watercolor paper!

I think you can see that there is no right or wrong angle for everyone or every painting situation. It depends on the artist and the watercolor painting he or she is painting at the time.  By all means start with about 20 to 30 degrees when you first start your watercolor journey. With observation and experience you will see how you may need to change the angle of your easel to suit your particular needs.

Please let me know if you have any further questions on this topic.

Wet street painting with reflections

This wet street painting was inspired by a photo I took one morning while I was leaving Bathurst. It had been raining earlier but the rain had stopped and the sun was just breaking through the clouds. I love painting wet weather scenes as it opens up some exciting design possibilities.

Wet street painting with reflections by Joe Cartwright
Wet street with reflections watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright

Reference photo for wet street painting

Here is my reference photo for this watercolor painting. I have obviously made changes to aid my composition. The Church on the right is The Uniting (Methodist) Church. William Street, Bathurst.

Wet weather watercolor painting: Reference photo of William Street, Bathurst.
Wet weather watercolor painting: Reference photo of William Street, Bathurst.

Watercolor Materials

  • Watercolor paper: quarter sheet (37cm x 27cm ) of 300 GSM Arches cold pressed paper.
  • Brushes: round, sizes 24, 16, 12, and 8. Rigger.
  • Palette with large areas.
  • Artist’s quality watercolor paints: French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red, Cobalt Turquoise, Raw Umber, and Aureolin. White gouache. All paints are by Winsor and Newton.
  • Old piece of old towel to take moisture out of watercolor brushes.
  • Box of plain tissues.
  • Easel or something to support the board at an angle of about 20 to 30°.
  • Masking tape to fix watercolor paper to board.

Drawing the street scene

The first step is to draw the street scene. The key point is to start with eye level and then draw your objects relative to that. What do I mean by this? Well, when drawing with perspective, objects above eye level will appear to move down to it the further away they are. While objects below eye level will appear to come up to it as they move away.

Another point about eye level which is important is that it basically tells you approximately how tall people are – hence eye level. You can then make all your other objects, cars, awnings, posts, fences, etc. , relative to that height.

The drawing of the street scene prior to watercolour painting
The drawing of the street scene prior to under painting

Watercolor under painting

For the sky I used a weak mix of Cobalt Blue with a little Cad Orange for the warmer parts of the sky. I ran the blue and light orange mix down to the foreground. I painted around the bodies of the main figures and around the windscreen of the two closest cars.

While the sky area was still wet I dropped in a mix of French Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson for the distant hill. I added a small amount of Cobalt Turquoise and Aureolin into the hills to give them a little tinge of green.

I used a similar mix, with the addition of a small amount of Burnt Siena, to paint the blue grey surface of the road, making the mix stronger as it came forward in the picture plane. This had to be done while the previous sky based wash was still wet as I wanted soft edges on the road surface. I left parts of the road very light to enhance the impression of a wet street.

Watercolor Under Painting of street scene
Under wash for our wet street painting.

I let this stage dry thoroughly!

Painting distant buildings with watercolor

Next we paint the buildings on the other side of the road.

The watercolors used are French Ultramarine, Burnt Siena, and Alizarin Crimson.

Notice how the buildings in the distance are very indistinct with more detail showing progressively as I come forward. The distant colors are also much bluer and lighter.

Lightness in watercolor painting is achieve by adding more water to your mix. Even though distant images are barely distinguishable I still kept varying my colors to add interest. Most of the details were left for the church and the building next to it.

The distant cars had some of the local building color merged into them to fix them tonally at a particular spot in the picture plane.

The trees behind the church were painting with a mix of Cobalt Turquoise, Raw Umber, Aureolin, and some French Ultramarine. Later I used a similar mix to paint the tree behind the horizontial roof line of the church.

Watercolor painting the distant buildings
Watercolor painting the distant buildings

The near trees and buildings

The buildings on the left hand side are barely distinguishable however I again I used some softer and lighter edges in the distance with stronger and sharper edges in the foreground. This area of the painting was painted with various mixes of French Ultramarine, Burnt Siena, and Alizarin Crimson.

Before the vague building shapes are dry I start placing the trees. I used a size 8 round watercolor brush in combination with a rigger brush for the distant tree. Notice how much lighter the distant tree is to the one in the foreground. This is important to create space in the painting.

I finished this side of the road by painting the darkest tree with much less water. I used a size 12 round brush for most of the tree with some rigger work for the finest branches.

Once this was dry I loosely painted the fence along the bottom.

How to paint the near buildings and trees with watercolor
How to paint the near buildings and trees with watercolor

Painting the people and cars

The cars and people are painted next. As they will have their reflections on the wet street you have to paint them before you can do their reflections.

I do not dwell on which colors to use for the people and cars. I mix some Raw Umber with Cad Red for the figures heads. For their clothing I just pick colors that will harmonize with the rest of the painting or in the case of the woman in red in the distance a color that will attract the eye and add some interest.

The cars are painted with mixtures of French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, and some Burnt Siena. The important thing is not the colors you choose but the tone (how dark or light a color is) of the object. It is tone that mostly gives my painting a feeling of depth, which is what I always try to achieve.

I painted the lamp posts and power lines at this time.

Watercolor painting of cars and people prior to doing road reflections
Watercolor painting of cars and people prior to doing road reflections

Finishing the painting – reflections

To finish off this wet street painting we need to add the reflections. In fact a watercolor painting such as this always feels incomplete until the reflections are done.

To paint the reflections I start by mixing the colors for the reflections. This is basically the same mixture as that used for the buildings, people, cars, etc.

Once the colors are mixed I wet most of the road surface with clean water. I use a lot of water to do this so that I leave the surface with a shine on it. I do leave part of the road dry – under the two people walking across the road and beside the car on the left. This allows me to place some sharp edges under the two figures and beside the main car.

I then drop in the reflections and let them run down the page. The reflections should appear directly below the object being reflected but the actual shape does not have to be too accurate as the road surface is not like a true mirror. The road has bumps and undulations on it as well as its own color which combines with that of the reflected color.

The reflections also obey the rules of areal perspective becoming stronger in tone as they move closer to the viewer.

The reflections of the tail lights are pure Cadmium Red painted into the wet surface. The headlight reflections were done with some white gouache.

For the two people with umbrellas I painted their reflections lighter as they were in the distance.

After signing the painting it is finished!

Wet street with reflections watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright
Wet street painting with reflections

If you liked this wet street painting demonstration you may like to look at some of my other watercolor painting demonstrations.