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Watercolors often have a reputation as an easy-to-master medium. However, beginning artists soon discover that painting with watercolors is trickier than it is portrayed. Even experienced artists find watercolors challenging at times.

You can’t just pick up the paints and brushes and start painting! Watercolors require patience, practice and LOTS of experimenting. You have to know your paints!

How do you get to know your watercolors? Take time to play around, explore, and see how your watercolors work under different conditions. The more you do that, the more flexibility and predictability you get with your paints. There are many ways you can experiment with your watercolors. In this blog post, I will share one such experiment.

Watercolor tips for beginners: timing experiment Julia Henze
Note: Do not try to simply copy my experiment and get the same results. Use your judgment, and observe how your paints work. The result may be different depending on the kinds of brushes, paints and paper you’re using, and also on the humidity in the room!


Timing is often a major factor that determines the success (or failure) of your watercolor sketch. So much can go wrong here! Adding the next layer too quickly or too slowly might lead to unintended results: colors may run and mix with each other, not blend very well or simply not turn out the way you wanted them to.


This quick experiment consists of two parts.

In each of these parts, I have two layers, done with two different colors:

  • the first layer is done with a large brush, a little paint, and lots of water

  • the second layer is done with a smaller brush, a different color, and just a little water

Wet-on-wet Technique

wet-on-wet watercolor experiment  for beginners Julia Henze

Here is what you do:

  1. Moisten the second color by spraying the paint with some water.

  2. Draw the shapes with a pencil: 4 large rectangles + 4 smaller squares in the middle.

  3. Dilute the first color with a large amount of water and color the entire area (all four parts)

  4. Immediately color the first little square with the second color.

  5. Wait 30 seconds and color the second square.

  6. Wait another 30 seconds and color the third square.

  7. Wait another 30 seconds and color the fourth square.

As a result, you have four different samples with different time intervals between the first and the second layers: 0 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds, and 90 seconds.

Now you can see if there is any difference. The blue applied immediately (first square) did not stay within the pencil lines. The second one (30 seconds) ran slightly and pooled slightly at the bottom. The 60- and 90-second samples look the same to me, so I can see there is no point in waiting longer than 60 seconds.

Dry-on-wet Technique

The second experiment is almost identical to the first one, with one exception: I did not moisten the second color in advance. I simply used a wet brush to pick up the color.

Follow the steps outlined above; just skip step#1.

dry-on wet watercolor experiment for beginners Julia Henze

Here you can see that the color did not run regardless of the timing of the second layer. However, the time interval seems to have affected the intensity of the color.

Another factor that can affect the result in both experiments is the amount of paint on your brush.

Beginning artists tend to pick up very little paint; they just touch the paint lightly with the brush, without really filling the brush with it.

Watercolor Paper & Brushes

I did these experiments on Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor paper.* You might get a different result with different paper. Watercolor paper comes in a variety of qualities: student-grade and professional, smooth and rough, cold- and hot-pressed. Experiment with different kinds of paper if you have a chance. Treat it as an adventure!

*affiliate links

If you would like to know more about my favorite urban sketching supplies, explore my watercolor kit and my gouache kit.


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Hello, I'm Julia Henze.



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