Watercolor Problems, Questions, and Solutions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The following answers to watercolor problems, questions, and solutions are meant to help you become a better watercolor painter. Watercolor painting is often thought to be  a “non-fixable medium.”  Even the best Watercolor Paintings may have been adjusted and turned into a beautiful Watercolor Painting.

You can correct mistakes and bingo a beautiful watercolor painting will appear. Keep this handy fix-it guide close by and consider this free watercolor software. Problems are not in any order of the most numerous to least. The first one does occur quite often, however.

This is overworking watercolor paint:

  • When you think a few more details, a few more brush strokes, and pushing and pulling color over the paper will improve the painting.
  • When you don’t know when to stop expecting perfection, so you start fussing back and forth.

Watercolor paint does not like being messed with,  just like us.


  • Make a stroke and leave it alone.  Don’t push and stroke it again and again.  If you must, let it dry, then apply “what ever you were going to do in the first place”.

  • Don’t use tiny brushes— they’re an absolute invitation to fiddle and overwork.  Use the biggest brush you feel confident with. This is what I see every day, loading a brush with paint, , painting and painting until the paint is almost exhausted, then wondering why it looks dull and streaky. This is what you should be doing, load the brush, paint a small area, re-load the brush, paint again (say the size of two or three postage stamps).

  • Glazing is the only excuse for going over a previously painted area.

Pale colors that look drab, weak and washed out.


Do not use dry, hard colors that have dried out in your palette.
Try putting fresh paint out every time you paint. Mix generous amounts of paint in your palette.
Paint with a larger brush than you would normally use.
1) – No scrubbing at a dried-up blob of paint. Squeeze out fresh paint from a tube.
2) – Use the right size of brush for the job.

Unwanted watermarks on the paper.


  • Don’t paint into “damp” washes. When a wash area starts to dry, keep out. Or the fresh wash will creep into an area that is starting to dry and leave a tide mark or back run.
  • Always watch for any puddles of extra paint and water at edges of a wash and mop it up before it creeps back in.
  • As I stated before, you should watch out for gritty, granular paint. These granules can catch in your brush and cause unwanted streaks that are difficult to remove. Use fresh paint to avoid these little gremlins. Again watch your water-to-paint ratio.
  • When painting into wet, already painted areas, you can get unwanted lines and blossoms when you have excess water in your brush, as the new load of liquid pushes the previously applied pigment outward. When the paint dries, lines and blossoms occur.
  • Some artists use these blossoms to their advantage, however, and knowing how they’re created will help you use them strategically.
  • Understanding your materials and what they can do for you can take you a long way toward avoiding the common problems discussed here. You may want to deliberately use these irregularities sometimes, but you must have the knowledge and the ability to control them. And, most importantly, a good watercolorist must know how to avoid and overcome the unwanted problems they create.

Hills and valleys that form on the paper.


Thicker paper weight than you usually use.
Stretch the paper (click “Techniques on home page and go to stretching paper).

Inconsistent color coverage.


Use a wide flat brush, make sure you don’t run out of pigment.

Work fast once you have started painting.

Re-load brush on every pass with color. In other words – DO NOT PAINT UNTIL you are about to exhaust paint on the brush.

Paint a few strokes, re-load, paint, re-load etc.

Make sure if you have applied clear water to the paper it is evenly dispersed – it should leave a smooth even sheen on the paper.

Not protecting tools or paper from dust, lint, hairs, grease, fingerprints and “people”.


Try to store paper in a safe place, away from people handling the paper.

Results are not what you had hoped for.


  • Giving up too soon.
  • Every painting (well nearly) goes through a “Yucky” stage and you may well start again – DO NOT DO THIS.
  • As of to-day you must finish every painting you start. So plan your painting before grabbing the brush. Spend a little time with thumbnail sketches, good reference materials and above all else press on to the end (with care) even if you’re discouraged half way through. Think, plan, you will not be sorry you finished the painting.
  • There is a reason when something does not look the way you thought it would. May be a lack of experience, so don’t get mad. Art is a lifetime of fun continually putting your heart out there on the line, taking leaps into the unknown.

Dull, lifeless looking mess in your palette


  • Painting two or more opaque paints together.
  • Using tubes with more than one or two pigments in the tube. Buying inferior Student Grade paint, overlapping brush loads of paint. Going back into the wet paint and overlapping brush loads of paint.
  • Do this for a good illustration of mud. Paint three colored strips side by side, Red, Green & Yellow. Bright colorful strips, now before they dry, brush across strips back and forth. Bingo MUD.
  • When you see the lack of vibrant color your tendency is to fix it now. But wait, don’t work more color into a wet area you will have a bigger pool of mud on your paper. Wait, let it dry then try to change it.

What surface and explain what weight should a novice buy.


  • First buy the best paper in your budget. 140 lb. Cold Press, cotton or rag content.
  • Surface can be Cold Press (CP), Hot Press (HP), Rough (R). Rough , lot of texture available.
  • Note: “Acid Free“—-means: Paper was a relatively neutral (ph) of about “7”. Low quality papers, yellow quickly (newspapers for example). Always mat with acid free mat board.

Is there a way to remove color (colour) once I have put it down on the paper?


  • Some pigments easy, some staining pigments a little harder.
  • Stainers will never completely come off to the white of paper.
  • Without a doubt Mr.Clean “Magic Eraser” does a good job. He barely roughs up the paper. Find him in the food store. He contains no chemicals what-so-ever.