"The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do." Walter Bagehot

Making Corrections in Watercolor
© 2000 Nita Leland

Have you ever had someone tell you that you can't make corrections in watercolor? Centuries of artists believed that. The result is a widely held belief that transparent watercolor is more difficult than other mediums. Not so! Watercolor is different, it's true, but not necessarily more difficult. The transparent watercolorist works from light to dark, a reversal of most mediums. It can be difficult to cover up mistakes in watercolor without making mud, but there are lots of tricks you can use to make minor corrections. At one time such tricks were frowned upon by purists in watercolor, but most of them are now considered basic techniques in the watercolorist's bag of tricks.

  • Glaze: Wash thin, transparent color over dry paint to modify values or colors.
  • Stipple: Dab a matching color of the same value lightly with a "dry" brush to repair a blot.
  • Lift color before it dries: Use a damp brush, tissue, paper towel, sponge or Q-tip.
  • Lift color after it dries: Scrub with a damp bristle brush, toothbrush or sponge to remove color. Use a stencil to create an edge or a specific shape.
  • Create highlights or edges in small areas: Rub dry paint with an ink eraser, use an electric eraser, or scratch with a stencil knife or razor blade.
  • Create sparkle on snow or water: Rub lightly over a dry wash with sandpaper, emery board or the flat edge of razor blade to scrape paint off the hills of the textured paper.
  • Cover with opaque paint: Use translucent washes for a hazy effect, heavier paint to cover.
  • Spatter white for snowy effects: Use an old toothbrush or bristle brush.
  • Add ink: Make decorative lines using India ink on a stick to energize a dull picture.
  • Print: Imprint textures with textured objects for a more interesting surface.
  • Spatter paint: Use a bristle brush or toothbrush, tapping the loaded brush against a brush handle. You can also throw paint with a pointed brush, rigger, or striper.
  • Use mixed media to make corrections or add texture: Add pastel, oil pastel, colored pencil, watercolor crayons, acrylics or collage to a watercolor to improve or correct areas.
  • Use gesso: Apply an opaque white layer, textured or smooth, to get back to a white surface. A new beginning!
  • Apply rice paper overlay*: Use rice paper to modify the picture, then paint back into it.

Here are some other thoughts to consider:

  1. Be sure corrections are necessary! Don't fiddle with small glitches. Your mistake probably won't be as noticeable as your attempt to correct it.
  2. If possible, make your corrections before you put detail in your picture.
  3. If corrections call for scoring or roughing up the paper, do these last; damaged paper won't take washes or brushwork well. Use good quality paper, which will take a lot of abuse.
  4. Try painting corrections on prepared acetate overlay before committing them to the paper.
  5. Avoid overworking.

Or...get it right the first time!

*See New Creative Collage Techniques p. 87 or The New Creative Artist p. 32 for details on rice paper overlay techniques.

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