Painting Whites in Watercolor Simplified

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 12 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

Welcome to our guide on painting whites in watercolor! In this article, we will explore how to achieve stunning, lifelike results when painting whites. By understanding the importance of contrast, choosing the right tools and materials, and following a step-by-step approach, you can simplify the technique and create beautiful watercolor paintings.

Key Takeaways:

Contents show
  • Contrast is a crucial element when painting whites in watercolor.
  • Understanding and utilizing different types of contrast can help achieve the desired effect.
  • Using the right tools and materials, such as aquafine watercolors and quality brushes, is important for achieving vibrant whites.
  • Creating a five-value sketch with gray-toned markers can simplify the painting process.
  • By emphasizing simplification, focusing on big shapes, and adding finishing touches, you can create impactful watercolor paintings.

Understanding Contrast in Watercolor Painting

Contrast is a fundamental element in the art of watercolor painting, as it brings life and depth to your artwork. By understanding and utilizing various types of contrast, you can create stunning and colorful whites in your watercolor paintings.


Hues are the colors of the objects, reflected light, and shadows in your painting. They determine the overall color palette and the mood of your artwork. By carefully observing and selecting the appropriate hues, you can effectively capture the essence of the subject.


Values refer to the range of light to dark tones in your painting. By using different values, you can create contrast and add dimensionality to your artwork. Lighter values represent highlights and areas of intense brightness, while darker values depict shadows and areas of depth.


Shapes are the blocks of values that form objects in your painting. By manipulating the shapes, you can create interesting compositions and define the forms of your subject matter. Experimenting with different shapes can help you achieve the desired visual impact.


Edges determine the transition between shapes and values in your painting. They can be hard, soft, or lost and found. Hard edges create a clear distinction between objects, while soft edges provide a more gradual transition. Lost and found edges add intrigue and a sense of mystery to your artwork.


Chroma refers to the range of bright to dull colors. By varying the chroma, you can create contrast and enhance the visual interest of your painting. Bright, vibrant colors can draw attention to focal points, while dull colors can help create atmospheric effects.

Understanding and mastering these types of contrast will enable you to effectively paint whites in watercolor. The interplay of hues, values, shapes, edges, and chroma will bring realism, depth, and visual appeal to your artwork.

Next, we will explore the importance of choosing the right tools and materials for watercolor painting.

Choosing the Right Tools and Materials

When it comes to painting whites in watercolor, using the appropriate tools and materials can make all the difference. Here are some essential items to consider:

Aquafine Watercolors

Aquafine watercolors are highly recommended for their intense color and excellent lightfastness. Their rich pigments allow for vibrant and lifelike white tones in your watercolor paintings. Whether you’re painting delicate petals or capturing the play of light on white fabric, Aquafine watercolors provide the perfect palette.

Synthetic Squirrel Brushes

When working with watercolors, it’s important to have brushes that can hold ample amounts of water and paint. Synthetic squirrel brushes are ideal for this purpose. They mimic the softness and water-holding capacity of natural squirrel hair brushes while being more durable and cruelty-free. These brushes allow for smooth application and precise control, enabling you to achieve beautiful gradients and delicate details in your white areas.

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Saunders Waterford Cold Press Watercolor Paper

The choice of watercolor paper is crucial for achieving desired results. Saunders Waterford Cold Press is a high-quality paper that is perfect for watercolor painting. Its textured surface helps create interesting effects, while its weight and durability prevent warping and ensure the longevity of your artwork. With the right paper, you can confidently experiment with techniques and achieve the desired texture and transparency in your whites.

Five-Value Sketch with Gray-Toned Markers

Before diving into your watercolor painting, creating a five-value sketch can help simplify the process and guide the selection of values for the whites. Use gray-toned markers to establish five distinct shades, from the brightest highlight to the darkest shadow. This sketch will serve as a roadmap, allowing you to focus on value variations and create a harmonious composition with well-rendered whites.

By selecting the right tools and materials, you set the stage for success in painting whites in watercolor. Aquafine watercolors, synthetic squirrel brushes, Saunders Waterford Cold Press paper, and a five-value sketch with gray-toned markers form the foundation for achieving stunning results in your watercolor artworks.

Tool/Material Description
Aquafine Watercolors Intense and vibrant pigments for lifelike whites.
Synthetic Squirrel Brushes Hold water and paint for smooth application and control.
Saunders Waterford Cold Press Watercolor Paper Textured surface for interesting effects and durability.
Five-Value Sketch with Gray-Toned Markers Simplifies painting process and guides value selection.

This table summarizes the essential tools and materials for painting whites in watercolor. Ensure you have these items in your arsenal to unlock the full potential of your watercolor artistry.

Creating Colorful Whites: Step-by-Step Guide

Are you ready to bring vibrant and lifelike whites to your watercolor paintings? Follow this step-by-step guide to master the art of creating colorful whites.

Step 1: Blocking in the Middle Blossom

Start by blocking in the center of the middle blossom using Coeruleum Blue Hue. Apply the paint smoothly and evenly, ensuring good coverage.

Step 2: Adding Lemon Yellow and Permanent Rose

Next, add Lemon Yellow to the center of the blossom, allowing it to blend with the blue hue. Then, introduce Permanent Rose to create shadows and lower chroma in specific areas. Use light brushstrokes to achieve the desired effect.

Step 3: Painting the Underside of the Right-Hand Blossom

For the right-hand blossom, mix Coeruleum Blue Hue, Lemon Yellow, and Permanent Rose in different halves. Apply the mixture to the underside of the blossom, focusing on creating subtle variations in color.

Step 4: Creating the Background

Now it’s time to create a colorful background that complements the whites of the blossoms. Use a combination of Lemon Yellow, Leaf Green, Hooker Green Dark, and Permanent Mauve to paint the background, incorporating smooth transitions and maintaining harmony.

Step 5: Adding Finishing Touches

Once the main elements of the painting are complete, it’s time to add those final touches that will truly bring your masterpiece to life. Consider refining details, adjusting values, and adding any additional elements that will enhance the overall impact of the painting.

Remember, practice is key to mastering the art of painting colorful whites in watercolor. Experiment with different techniques, explore various color combinations, and don’t be afraid to unleash your creativity. With each stroke of the brush, you’ll improve and unlock new possibilities in your watercolor journey.

Check out the step-by-step visual guide below for a better understanding of the process:

With these techniques and a touch of creativity, you’ll be able to achieve stunning results and create paintings that captivate and inspire. Embrace the beauty of colorful whites in your watercolor artwork and watch as your creations come to life.

The Importance of Simplification in Watercolor Painting

Simplification is a fundamental aspect of creating impactful watercolor paintings. By focusing on the prominent shapes in a scene and eliminating unnecessary details, artists can produce visually appealing artwork that captivates the viewer’s attention. By simplifying the background, utilizing soft edges, and incorporating a focal area with enhanced contrast and saturation, artists can effectively convey the intended message of the painting.

When simplifying a watercolor painting, it is essential to identify the primary shapes that define the subject matter. By breaking down complex forms into simpler, more manageable shapes, artists can create a stronger composition that is easier for viewers to comprehend and appreciate. This approach helps eliminate visual clutter and ensures that the painting’s message comes through clearly.

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Soft edges are another crucial element in simplifying watercolor paintings. By using techniques such as wet-on-wet or dry brushing, artists can create smooth transitions between colors, giving the illusion of soft edges. This technique adds depth and realism to the painting while maintaining a simplified and cohesive appearance.

Furthermore, the creation of a focused area with higher contrast and saturation helps draw the viewer’s attention to the most important part of the painting. By emphasizing the focal point, artists can guide the viewer’s gaze and create a visual hierarchy within the artwork. This technique ensures that the focal area stands out and enhances the overall impact of the painting.

By simplifying a watercolor painting, artists can create a stronger, more impactful composition that engages the viewer and conveys the intended message effectively.

Overall, simplification is a powerful tool in watercolor painting. It helps artists eliminate unnecessary complexity, allowing the subject matter to shine through with clarity and confidence. By focusing on prominent shapes, incorporating soft edges, and creating a focal area, artists can simplify their paintings and create truly compelling artwork that resonates with viewers.

Techniques for Depicting People in Watercolor

Depicting people in watercolor can be a rewarding and captivating process. While it may seem challenging at first, there are techniques that can simplify the task and bring your subjects to life on the canvas.

Proportion and scale play a crucial role in capturing the essence of a person in watercolor. Placing heads on or close to the same plane while varying the length of bodies can create a sense of depth and distance. This technique adds a three-dimensional quality to your artwork and makes it more visually engaging.

Another effective technique is to treat a group of people as one large shape. By doing so, you can simplify the composition, create a cohesive visual element, and enhance the overall impact of your painting. Grounding the figures with shadows helps add depth and dimension, making them appear more grounded and realistic.

Including people in watercolor scenes not only adds scale to your artwork but also suggests narratives and enhances believability. By integrating human figures into your paintings, you can create a sense of story and intrigue that captivates the viewer’s imagination. People bring a sense of life and energy to a scene, making it more relatable and engaging.

When depicting people in watercolor, it’s important to observe and capture their unique characteristics while still infusing your own artistic style. Focus on capturing the gestures, expressions, and body language that make each person distinct. Experiment with different brushstrokes, techniques, and color palettes to bring out their individuality and create a truly captivating piece of artwork.

Now, let’s take a closer look at some examples and insights regarding techniques for depicting people in watercolor:

Example 1: Capturing Expressions

Use delicate brushstrokes and subtle variations in color to capture the nuances of facial expressions. Pay attention to the eyes, mouth, and overall posture to convey emotions effectively.

Example 2: Suggesting Movement

Experiment with loose, fluid brushwork to suggest the dynamic nature of people in motion. Use flowing lines and blurred edges to create a sense of energy and movement.

Techniques for Depicting People in Watercolor Description
Proportion and Scale Placing heads on or close to the same plane while varying body lengths to create depth and distance.
Treating a Group as a Shape Creating a cohesive visual element by treating multiple figures as one large shape, grounding them with shadows.
Including People in Scenes Adding scale, suggesting narratives, enhancing believability, and bringing the scene to life.

Remember, practice and observation are key to mastering the art of depicting people in watercolor. Take inspiration from the world around you, experiment with different techniques, and let your creativity soar as you bring your subjects to life on the canvas.

Reasons to Add Figures to Watercolor Paintings

Adding figures to watercolor paintings brings a multitude of benefits to the artwork, enhancing its visual impact and creating a more engaging experience for the viewer. Whether it’s a single figure or a group, incorporating human presence can significantly elevate the overall composition. Here are some compelling reasons to add figures to your watercolor paintings:

1. Scale Reference:

Including figures helps establish the scale of objects within the painting. By incorporating a human figure alongside other elements, such as landscapes or architecture, viewers can better comprehend the size and proportions of the scene. This creates a sense of depth and realism, making the artwork more relatable.

2. Narrative and Storytelling:

Figures can tell a story or provide a narrative within the painting, capturing the viewer’s attention and sparking their imagination. Whether it’s a figure engaged in an activity or interacting with the environment, the presence of people adds depth and interest, weaving a compelling tale within the artwork.

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3. Believability:

Adding figures enhances the believability of the scene. In realistic watercolor paintings, human presence gives life to the surroundings and creates a sense of a lived-in environment. The interactions between figures and their surroundings evoke emotions and instill a sense of authenticity, making the painting more relatable and captivating.

4. Connection with Viewers:

Figures in watercolor paintings connect with viewers on an emotional level. Whether the figures are engaging in everyday activities or expressing specific emotions, viewers can relate to their experiences. The presence of people within the painting allows viewers to project themselves into the scene, fostering a deeper connection and emotional engagement.

5. Broader Perspective:

By including figures in watercolor paintings, artists can provide a broader perspective on the subject matter. Figures can help depict the scale of a grand landscape, the bustling nature of a city street, or the serenity of a solitary figure in nature. Their presence adds depth and context, expanding the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the artwork.

To illustrate the impact of adding figures to watercolor paintings, take a look at the example below:

As demonstrated, the human figure adds a new dimension to the artwork, enhancing the overall composition and creating a sense of narrative and scale.


Painting whites in watercolor and depicting people in watercolor are two techniques that require careful consideration and practice. Through understanding the principles of contrast and simplification, utilizing the right tools and materials, and following step-by-step instructions, artists can achieve stunning results.

Creating colorful whites in watercolor involves harnessing various types of contrast, such as hues, values, shapes, edges, and chroma. By mastering these elements, artists can capture the delicate nuances and luminosity of white objects.

Incorporating figures into watercolor paintings adds depth, scale, and narrative, elevating the overall impact of the artwork. Figures not only provide a sense of proportion and scale but also invite viewers into a story and enhance the believability of the scene.

With practice and experimentation, artists can master these techniques and unlock their full potential in the realm of watercolor painting. So grab your brushes, embrace contrast and simplification, and let your creativity flow on the canvas!


What is the process of painting whites in watercolor?

The process of painting whites in watercolor involves understanding contrast, selecting the right tools and materials, and following a step-by-step guide to achieve colorful results.

What is the importance of contrast in watercolor painting?

Contrast plays a crucial role in creating colorful whites in watercolor. It involves different elements such as hues, values, shapes, edges, and chroma, which affect the appearance of whites in the painting.

What tools and materials are needed for painting whites in watercolor?

The recommended tools for painting whites in watercolor include aquafine watercolors for intense color, synthetic squirrel brushes for holding water and paint, and watercolor paper like the Saunders Waterford Cold Press. These materials help achieve the desired effects when painting whites.

How can I create colorful whites in watercolor with a step-by-step guide?

The step-by-step guide for creating colorful whites involves blocking in the center of the subject, adding layers of different colors to create shadows and lower chroma, painting the background, and adding finishing touches to enhance the painting.

What is the importance of simplification in watercolor painting?

Simplification is key to creating a stronger and more impactful watercolor painting. By focusing on the big shapes, removing unnecessary details, and emphasizing the focal areas, the painting becomes less confusing and more visually appealing to the viewer.

What are some techniques for depicting people in watercolor?

Techniques for depicting people in watercolor include considering proportion and scale, placing heads on or close to the same plane, varying the length of bodies to create a sense of distance, treating a group of people as one shape, grounding figures with shadows, and adding depth to the painting.

Why should I add figures to my watercolor paintings?

Adding figures to watercolor paintings serves multiple purposes. They act as a scale reference, provide a narrative or story for viewer engagement, enhance the believability of the scene, and bring life to the painting. Including figures helps establish the scale of objects, connects with viewers emotionally, adds realism, and provides a broader perspective on the subject matter.

How can I improve my watercolor painting skills?

To improve your watercolor painting skills, it is important to understand the principles of contrast and simplification, choose the right tools and materials, follow step-by-step instructions, and practice and experiment with different techniques. With time and dedication, you can master the art of watercolor painting.