Dry Brush Watercolor Technique : Also known as Broken Edge

Dry Brush Watercolor Techinique

This edge, samples of which can be seen in figure 7, is created by sliding the brush quickly across the surface of your watercolor paper. There are a number of variables however which affect the final result you achieve. If you are using a round brush as in these examples, you can use the point of the brush, the side of the brush with the point touching the paper as well, or use you use just the bulb part of the brush without the point touching the paper. Other variables when using dry brush or broken edge watercolor painting techniques are the angle of the brush to your paper, the texture of your watercolor paper ( Rough, Medium also know as Cold Press or NOT, or Smooth), the brush you are using and the amount of water in your brush (how wet it is). The speed of your brush stroke will also greatly affect the dry brush result.

Watercolor Painting Dry Brush Technique
Figure 7: Dry Brush Watercolor Painting Technique

Dry Brush or Broken Edge brush strokes are great ways to add texture to a scene, such as sparkle on waves at the sea, rough bark on a tree, texture on a road surface, etc, etc. The more you practice creating dry brush strokes the more you will use them to add interest to your watercolor paintings.

Continue to: Modified Dry Brush watercolor Technique

Watercolor techniques: wet on dry

Wet on dry watercolor painting technique

Wet on Dry is the watercolor painting technique you use when you want to place a hard or sharpe edge on your painting, though you can also use it to cover an area with a nice clean watercolor wash, see figure 6.

With the wet on dry technique the paper is dry when you lay down your watercolor wash, think of moping a floor and leaving it wet as you wash it.

The trick here is to make sure you have enough moisture on your brush that the paint mixture will freely flow out from the brush and onto your watercolor paper. It should be fluid enough that once on the paper it forms a bead of paint at the bottom edge of your brush stroke. You use this bead to continue painting down the paper to create a smooth clean looking finish.

Wet on Dry watercolor painting technique, produces hard or sharp edges
Figure 6: Wet on Dry watercolor painting technique, produces hard or sharp edges

Use the bead to help paint a smooth wash. The technique for creating a smooth wash is to keep this bead of watercolor paint flowing down the page. After you lay down your first confident brush stroke with a full loaded brush (a fully loaded brush is one that if you hold it vertically with the point facing down, the paint will drip out of it, but if you hold it horizontally it will not drip). You then reload your brush and your second brush stroke just touches the lower edge of this bead of watercolor causing it to flow down the page before creating a new bead at the bottom of this next brush stroke. It is this continuous flowing of water color down the page that leaves behind a nice smooth finish. Think of it like the sand at a beach as a wave recedes it leaves behind a smooth sandy surface.

If you have a look at my flat wash demonstration, you will see an example of this wet of dry technique.

Now if you create a watercolor wash and while it is still wet you go back into it with another color (this is often referred to as charging by some watercolor artists) then the rules of wet on wet apply.

Continue to: Dry Brush or Broken Edge Watercolor Technique

Watercolor Painting for Beginners

When discussing watercolor painting for beginners, you generally start with what materials you will need and why.

Painting with Watercolor can be a little daunting for beginners starting out with this wonderful medium but there are steps you can take to make learning it as easy as possible.  These steps will also ensure you develop good habits which will make your watercolor painting much more fruitful in the years to come.

Watercolor (watercolour) is a great medium as it is very portable, does not give off fumes (its relatively clean) and can be fast to paint with. Also your paint generally will not go off, even after it has been allowed to dry, you can rewet it and continue painting.  Once you have developed a level of proficiency it will help you paint your paintings in a way no other medium can.

Your first step is to start with the correct materials.  While a good tradesman can do a reasonable job with poor tools, it is also true that a beginner will have a very difficult time with those same tools. The same applies when you start out with watercolor.

Watercolor Materials

The correct watercolor materials in order of importance are: watercolor paper, brushes and artist’s quality paints. In addition to these you will need a white palette which has large mixing areas and big wells to hold lots of watercolor paint, a backing board (sealed light plywood would be fine for starters), a simple easel (or you just use a book or something to hold you board at an angle), old towel to adjust the moisture content of your brush, tissues, HB pencil (I use a .7 mm clutch pencil as its point is predicable and I can store a lot of leads within the body of the pencil) and a knead able eraser.

I will devote my time talking about the first three materials as they are the most important of the above list, though there is one material I have not listed which is actually the most important – water! But I will discuss that on its own in a later article.

Watercolor Paper

There are many good watercolor paper brands on the market, Arches and Saunders Waterford are the main ones I use but there are many others. They each have different textures and properties which you should try out to find which best suit your particular interest in painting.  You want paper with good sizing (this is like glue that is used to stop the paper from acting like blotting paper which would be very bad for most watercolor techniques).  The sizing also makes the paper tougher, so it minimizes the damage to the paper as you work and lift color from it.

Watercolor paper come is various weights (think thicknesses) and usually when you start out you want to use paper of around 300gsm (140lb) weight.  If you select paper that is too thin it will very easily cockle (buckle) as it absorbs moisture. This will happen anyway but the thinner the paper the more this will happen faster making it difficult for you to paint.

Textures on watercolor paper vary from supplier to supplier, however there are some terms you should know which can help you in your selection within a particular suppliers range.

The three surface textures used when talking about watercolor paper are: Hot Press or Smooth, Cold Press or Medium (also known as NOT – Not Hot Press, though is not so common) and Rough.

The smoother the paper the faster the paint will dry. The reason for this is that the texture of Rough Paper has lots of little troughs which hold water, hence keeping the paper wet longer. Cold Press has smaller troughs so dries faster and smooth dries the fastest.

As your skill level develops you will be able to use smoother paper but when just starting out the Rough Paper is your best choice, especially for doing landscapes. Obviously if you are doing very detailed work like botanical art then you will need to start with Smooth watercolor paper right from the start.

Key points for Watercolor Paper selection: 1. Not too absorbent (good sizing). 2. 3oo gsm weight. 3. Rough texture.

Continue to: Watercolor Materials for Beginners


How to Paint Watercolor Paintings

A watercolor painting usually progresses in the following manner:

  • Large shapes to small shapes
  • Wet on wet to wet on dry (could also be read as from soft edges to hard edges)
  • Light tones (more water in a mix) to dark tones (less water in a mix)
  • Cool colors (distance) to warm colours (closer to the viewer)

All four groups move along at a similar pace at about the same time.

Watercolor Painting Progression Chart
Watercolor Painting Progression Chart


The above is meant as a general guide only not as a rule.

Happy painting,

Joe Cartwright