Watercolor Textures

Some More Controllable, Less Commonly Mentioned Textures

This is a small tutorial about some techniques that I most often use to create texture with watercolors. When achieving texture with watercolors is discussed, usually the same methods are covered... salt wash, alcohol, plastic wrap, etc...

These textures are all great, if you want or don’t mind the unpredictable effect, but there are ways that are more controllable. This will detail some where you have complete control over the results.

Click the pictures for a larger view.


Dry brushing is just as it sounds, you use a dry brush (or slightly damp) instead of a wet one. This gives you uneven strokes that leave a more textured look. This can be great for many different effects. Grass, skin, stone, fabric...

You can either start off with a wet brush and then dip it in the paint and then dab it until it is damp or dry and then paint, or you can dip a dry brush into wet paint then dab it on a paper towel. However you decided to do it, your brush needs to be mostly dry or just damp enough to deposit color. Play around with in on a scrap of paper first until you get the effect you're going for. Layering the brush strokes in different directions can give you different kinds of effects. You can do cross-hatch type strokes or rub the brush in circles.

I use the dry brush technique for texture more than any other. I use it to shade clothing, makeup and skin especially.

Used here to shade fabric and a blood stain!

Used to blend makeup!

Used to shade skin!


This is the method of using a wad of paper towel or a sponge and dabbing or blotting it into a damp wash of watercolor. If the wash is too wet, it will just run back into the spots that you dabbed. With a damp wash they will keep their shape. Use different sides of the paper towel or sponge to get different shapes.

I used this method mostly for backgrounds and sky, but it works nicely for all kinds of things.

After this is dry, you can even use the shapes in the in the wash to make even more texture by deepening the wash in between them in random ways, like in the example to the right.

This is especially useful for cloudy skies!

Used in "The Storms" series skies, along with the dry brush technique.

Also used in “Darkest Night” along with white gouache to outline some of the moonglow on the clouds.


Any of these texture techniques, or the other ones not detailed here, such as the salt wash, can be combined to create many different, unique textures. I use a combination of methods especially when creating stone and sky.

A wash of Payne’s Gray. Payne’s Gray is a naturally granulating color, so you get instant texture. It is good to know the properties of the colors you use so that you can take advantage of them.

Dry Brush.
I used a smaller paint brush and the dry brush technique and scribbled some random lines in the dry wash of paint.

Flooding and Dabbing.
This was created by adding more payne’s gray by dropping paint into wet paint or water (flooding) and then dabbing at it with a paint brush in random directions.

Paint in some details, and you made a nicely textured brick wall.