How to Add Texture to Your Watercolour Paintings

Updated on November 18, 2018
Nolimits Nana profile image

Nicolette Goff is a watercolourist, writer, and dedicated gardener. Her books, articles and paintings reveal her love of nature.

Creating a textured appearance is easily accomplished with the more 'solid' art mediums of oils and acrylics. Surface texture adds extra dimensions of shadows and lights to a painting.

We generally think of texture as something you can feel and see, but there are several ways to visually suggest it on the flat surface of watercolours. Adding visual texture makes paintings come alive. They are more convincing and much more interesting to the viewer.

This selection of techniques watercolourists use to add visual interest will get you started. But don't stop with just one of these ideas. Try combining several of the methods. Use your imagination and experiment.

Jean Lurssen Demonstrates Texture Techniques

Sprinkle Salt on a Wash

Experiment by sprinkling table salt into washes of different wetness. The salt will dissolve more in a shiny wet wash and push the color so that it spreads. It will reveal a smaller texture when sprinkled into a damp wash that is just losing its shine. The color will barely move and give a fine texture in a wash that’s slightly damp. Table salt, sea salt or even rock salt can be used to create anything from tiny specks of light to larger textured areas. Once the painting is completely dry, use your clean hand or a small cellulose sponge to lightly whisk away the salt.

Effects of Adding Salt to a Wash

Foliage Suggested with Salt

Use Plastic Wrap

Crumple or stretch plastic wrap over wet paint for different effects.

Stretching plastic wrap in one direction and laying in over a wet wash will give horizontal lines in the direction of stretch. The paint accumulates where the wrap does not touch the surface. The dry surface can resemble landforms, water or ice. Crumpled plastic wrap laid over a wet wash gives a varied over-all texture.

Leave the plastic in place until the underlying paint is dry.

Plastic Wrap on a Wet Wash


You can achieve a mottled texture with a sea or natural sponge. A synthetic sponge tends to make a more regular pattern while the varied texture of a piece of sea sponge can add interesting effects.

Layer colour with the sponge, beginning with the lightest hues, and layering darker tones to create depth in foliage or textured surfaces to rock.

Spongeing on Foliage

Spattering and Dripping

Spattering is done by flicking a stiff brush, like a toothbrush, with your finger to spread droplets of paint. On a wet wash, the droplets will disperse to form areas of different colour. On a wash that is almost dry, the droplets will stay put, and form a speckled area that adds liveliness.

Protect the surrounding area by masking it off. Practice this technique with different brushes, and learn to control both the direction of the spatter and the size of the droplets. This technique is valuable for suggesting texture in a sandy beach area, a field of wildflowers or simply adding interest to an area of flat colour.

Spattering Colour into a Wet Wash

Spattering on a Dry Wash


Called sgraffito, this technique involves scratching through a layer of paint. Depending on the tool you use, you can create thin lines or broader areas where the paint is removed.

Scratch thin lines in a wet wash and the paint will accumulate in the depressions you create, forming a darker line against the lighter background. If you wait until the shine has disappeared and the paint is just damp before scraping, then the paint will not flow back and you’ll have a lighter area.

Try a variety of tools - blades, brush handles, a credit card, or even your fingernail. Each will give a different type of line.

Scraping to Form Branches and Trees

Negative Painting

Negative painting is the technique of painting around a subject, rather than painting the object. Usually light washes are applied, and darker colours added around the subject to bring it into the foreground. It's useful to add shaded areas, giving depth to the painting.

In the painting below, by using negative painting, the seaweed has texture and depth.

Let it Pop With NegativePainting

Adding Layers

A simple way to add texture to a watercolour piece is by adding paper layers. Prep the areas that you would like to add texture to by applying gesso or thinned acrylic matte medium onto your paper. Gesso has a thick chalky consistency while acrylic matte medium dries clear and is much thinner.

While still wet, attach small pieces of the tissue or other paper, crumpling to create texture. Gesso can also add dimension depending on how you apply it to specific areas. Brush some gesso or medium on top of each tissue paper scrap, and let the whole thing dry once you have achieved the effect you want.

Add your color as usual on top of the tissue paper textured areas and watch your landscape come to life. Add dimension to a mountainous range or make a forest of trees pop off the page with this simple technique.

Experiment with different papers - tissue is just the beginning.

Layers of Paper

Layers of different Japanese papers shaped this bouquet.
Layers of different Japanese papers shaped this bouquet.

Removing or Lifting Paint

Use crumpled paper towel or tissues to lift paint from a wash, leaving an irregular lighter patch and regaining light areas. This technique is useful for clouds.

Twist tissue tightly and press it into a wash to form lighter lines that can bend and squiggle. Use a damp brush to lift paint from the hard edges of a shape, giving it definition and dimension.

Dampen a line using a rigger brush, lightly sponge it, and use a soft eraser - the paint will lift away. The painting below uses this lifting technique.

Lift out Lines to Form a Textured Area

Practice using these techniques to give all your watercolours more depth and more visual interest. Experiment, and above all, have fun with them.

All photos are by the Author.

© 2018 Nicolette Goff


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      2 years ago've done it. ;) All I want to do now is go try these techniques. You had me with the salt, but the paper layering is quite tempting.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)