Watercolor painting is a fun and creative way to make beautiful art. However, one downside of watercolor paint is that it can easily run and smear when it gets wet. This means your masterpiece may be ruined if a drop of water lands on it. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques you can use to make watercolor paint more water resistant.
Use the Right Paper
The paper you choose to paint on can make a big difference in how resistant your watercolors are to water. Here are some good options:
- Watercolor paper – This thick, textured paper is specially designed for watercolor. The fibers help absorb the paint and keep it from running.
- Cold press paper – This has a lightly textured surface that allows paint to settle in the indentations.
- Hot press paper – The smooth, non-textured surface gives an even wash of color that is less absorbent.
Stay away from regular printer paper or sketching paper. These absorb very little water and will lead to a lot of runs and smears.
Use the Right Brushes
The brushes you choose also matter. Use brushes specifically designed for watercolor painting. Good options include:
- Synthetic brushes – These hold a good amount of pigment and water.
- Sable hair brushes – Natural bristles hold color well.
- Rigger brush – The long bristles are good for fine lines.
Avoid using old brushes with bent or splayed bristles. This can cause uneven water and paint application.
Control the Amount of Water
Use the minimal amount of water needed to achieve your desired paint consistency. The more water you use, the less control you’ll have over runs and smears.
Here are some tips for using less water:
- Wet the paper, not the paint – Dampen your paper before painting so your brush doesn’t need as much water.
- Blot excess water from your brush – Gently press it against a paper towel before stroking paint onto the paper.
- Allow layers to dry in between – This helps prevent colors from bleeding together.
Apply a Resist
Using a resist material before painting is an excellent way to make watercolor more water resistant. A resist blocks the paint from fully penetrating the paper. Here are some good resist options:
- Wax – Apply white candle wax or a specialty water-soluble resist wax on areas you want to remain white. The wax will repel the paint.
- Masking fluid – This milky liquid dries into a rubbery film that blocks watercolor from setting into the paper. Peel it away after painting.
- Frisket or sticker paper – Cut out shapes and stick them to your painting surface before painting. Carefully remove when finished.
Certain ingredients can be mixed with watercolor paint to make it more water resistant. Here are the most common options:
- Gum arabic – Add a few drops to make paint thickness and shine last even after drying.
- Honey or glycerin – A touch of these will help paint better adhere to paper fibers.
- Ox gall or dish soap – Just a tiny bit reduces surface tension so paint soaks in better.
Avoid over-thinning your paints with lots of water. This makes it harder for them to bond with the paper.
Apply a Fixative
Using a fixative or sealant is the best way to protect finished watercolor paintings from water damage. Here are some good options:
- Workable fixative – Lightly spray over the painting when dry. Allows you to keep working on it after sealing.
- Non-workable fixative – Use when the painting is completely finished. Provides an acrylic gloss.
- Varnish – Brush on a thin layer when the painting has dried for a month. Gives a protective coating.
Always apply fixatives and varnishes in a well-ventilated area according to manufacturer directions. Go lightly to avoid discoloration.
Frame Under Glass
Framing your finished watercolor painting under glass helps shield it from moisture and pollutants in the air. Here are some tips:
- Choose a frame with acrylic instead of regular glass. Acrylic glazing blocks UV rays.
- Use archival matting between the art and frame to prevent discoloration.
- Pick a frame with a dust cover or hanging wire to allow air circulation.
Avoid framing in an area with high humidity or temperature swings. Allow adequate spacing between art and glazing.
How you store a watercolor painting also impacts its resistance to water over time. Here are some storage tips:
- Keep art out of direct sunlight to prevent fading.
- Avoid exposure to moisture – store in a clean, dry place.
- Don’t stack or rub paintings together.
- Store unframed paintings flat, supported on a rigid backing.
With proper storage and framing, your watercolor art can remain beautiful for many years!
It’s always smart to test how water resistant your watercolor paintings are before framing or selling them. Here are two easy ways to check:
- Hold under gently running water – See if color runs or smears.
- Lightly brush water over the surface – Check if paint reactivates or lifts.
If your painting fails either test, you may need to rework it using the techniques in this article to improve water resistance.
Watercolor paint will never be as waterproof as oil or acrylic paint. However, there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of water damage:
- Use the right paper, brushes, and minimal water.
- Apply resists and additives to increase absorption and adhesion.
- Seal with fixatives, varnish, or framing when finished.
- Store properly away from moisture, heat, and sunlight.
Here is a summary of the key techniques for minimizing watercolor bleeding and running:
|How It Works
|Thick paper fibers absorb paint
|Block watercolor from penetrating paper
|Help paint bind to paper
|Seal and protect finished painting
With practice and patience, you can create vibrant, long-lasting watercolor paintings. Just take steps to manage the amount of water used, seal colors once dry, and store work properly. Then you can confidently share your watercolor art with the world!