7 Deceptively Simple Watercolor Techniques that Will Amaze Your Students

Watercolor paint is by far my favorite medium in my classroom. The versatility, approachability, inexpensive cost and ease of clean-up make watercolor a sure bet for such a wide variety of projects. However, there is one thing that takes this fabulous medium to a level of unmatched proportions — mixing it with common household materials. From rice and oil to rubbing alcohol and plastic wrap, the list is endless.

watercolor techniques

Here are seven ways to mix pantry supplies and watercolors to create dynamic results for your next painting project.

1. Plastic wrap (shattered/broken mirror effect)
Generously add watercolor paint to paper using a basic technique, such as wet-in-wet, first. Then, press scrunched-up plastic wrap over the top and leave it to dry. The watercolors will pool under the plastic wrap texture and dry there, creating an interesting, textured look. Tissue paper will give a similar effect.

2. Rubbing alcohol (unique organic, bubbly effect)
Start with highly concentrated wet paint on your paper surface. Use a Q-Tip, pipette, or even just a clean brush to touch rubbing alcohol drops to the paint surface. The rubbing alcohol will cause the paint to repel, pushing it away while leaving a lighter color exposed.

3. Doily stencil (beautiful lace pattern)
Carefully paint over the lacey part of a paper doily. Be careful not to use too much water or the paint will spread under the doily’s surface. Repeat until desired space is filled.

4. Crystallizing (rough but shimmery effect)
Shake or swirl equal amounts of Epsom salts and water (start with ½ tsp. of each) along with a pinch of salt in a covered jar. Add liquid watercolor for your desired hue. Swirl the mixture gently for 3-5 minutes and paint as usual. Dry overnight. Saturate paper with paint mixture to form large crystals.

5. Rice (smooth blobs of absorbed color)
Paint paper as usual (use other techniques like a graded wash to create a more interesting effect). Paper should be very wet with paint before sprinkling dry rice over paper surface. Let dry overnight.

6. Oil (intense tie-dye)
Pour small amounts of liquid watercolor and cooking oil into separate containers. Put a tray underneath your paper and slowly drop watercolor and oil onto your paper using pipettes. Limit your color palette to a few colors to prevent paint from mixing into brown puddles. Let dry overnight.

7. Glue and salt (rough, textured outline)
Begin by drawing with white school glue. Pour small amounts of salt over glue outline. Carefully touch watercolor brush onto glue and salt line. Color will bleed with glue and salt. Let dry at least overnight.

Give these techniques a whirl with your next watercolor center or project. Your students will be amazed at the versatility and fun that this paint offers. If you’re looking for more techniques like these, you might be interested in our Instructional Strategies class where students focus on delivering instruction, 2D and 3D techniques, engagement activities and so much more.  It’s a slam dunk for new and veteran teachers alike! Finally, I’ve created a quick reference guide for all the techniques mentioned available for download below!

WackyWCtechniques

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Need a refresher on some basic watercolor techniques? Here is a basic watercolor techniques handout as well.

BasicWCtechniques

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What is your favorite way to use watercolor paint?

What uncommon materials do you mix with this medium to get unique results?

Tracy Hare

Tracy is a middle school art teacher from central MN who strives to create rich, meaningful content and resources through her Art Ed PRO Director role at AOE.

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