Abstract Watercolor Techniques

by Alyssa Ideboen
Learn how to incorporate new techniques in your abstract watercolor compositions.

Learn how to incorporate new techniques in your abstract watercolor compositions.

Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images

Watercolor adapts itself conveniently to the deconstructed look of abstract art. Watercolor, as its name suggests, is a water-soluble pigment that, when blended with water or other pigments, can create a variety of hues, shades, tints and tones. Playing with these different color aspects by incorporating a few creative techniques allows abstract compositions to look original and unorthodox.

Charged Wash

A charged wash works well for a background of an abstract watercolor composition. Abstract painter Mark Rothko was widely known for making charged and graded washes in large form for his works. You can create this wash by loading a paintbrush and filling the top third of an area with a light hue. Make sure the bottom of the colored area ends in an irregular line. Rinse the brush, and load it with a medium-colored hue and repeat again, but allow the darker hue to lightly touch the line of the first hue. Repeat the process with a third, deeper hue, allowing the color to blend with the bottom, irregular line of the second hue.


Another abstract technique that can create a haunting, elusive effect is erasing. This involves laying down watercolor, letting it dry and then re-wetting it to lift it off. The watercolor is removed by gently rubbing the wet area with a tissue, a stiff flat brush or strips of paper. The lifting or erasing technique works the best on thicker mediums such as Bristol board or canvas where the medium won't get easily damaged.


Used in nearly any liquid media, but particularly adaptable to watercolor, a splatter technique can take abstract painters far in their creations. This technique works by splattering watercolor paint on a medium for a random, drop-like effect. For the best results and the easiest cleanup, cover the area with plastic sheeting to protect surfaces from paint splattering on unintended areas. Dip a toothbrush or stiff-bristled paintbrush into a bold hue of watercolor paints and use your finger to rub against the bristles. The paint will release from the brush and splatter on your medium.

Wet Watercolor Application

For painters looking for a softer look in their abstract compositions, laying watercolor on a wet surface can create a muted, blurry background. The process is done by wetting the medium with a thin layer of water. Watercolor is then painted over the wet surface and then left to dry. The watercolor mixes with the water on the medium's surface, which creates a feathered or marbled effect. For a darker effect use deeper hues such as blues, browns or blacks.

Photo Credits

  • Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images