Get Creative with Thick Watercolor Painting Techniques

Thick Watercolor Painting

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Thick watercolor painting involves using a lot of pigment and less water to create a dense, textured effect on the paper. It can be a challenging technique to master as I always wonder why not just use Gouache paint instead but I have been told by artist friends who do it that it is an incredibly rewarding experience when done correctly.
The key to thick watercolor painting is achieving the right consistency of paint, which can take some practice to get just right.

So, why should you try thick watercolor painting? Here are some of the benefits:

  • It allows for more depth and dimension in your paintings
  • It creates a unique texture that cannot be achieved with other techniques
  • It adds a sense of drama and intensity to your work
  • It will not crack or deteriorate

I have always been fascinated by the versatility of watercolors. Actually fascinated is an understatement, I am in awe of people who can watercolor really well.

The way they can make light layers of paint and water blend and flow across the paper to create a soft and beautiful image is beyond me.

Therefore creating unique patterns and textures with watercolors has always been an even bigger source of inspiration for me.

Over the years, I have experimented with various techniques and styles, but one that has always stood out to me is thick watercolor painting.

What is Thick Watercolor Painting?

Thick watercolor painting, is also known as impasto watercolor. Thick watercolor painting is as the name implies applying thick layers of paint to create a textured effect on the surface.

This technique is used all the time in oil and acrylic painting, but it is also used in watercolor painting by many artists to add depth and dimension to their watercolor paintings.

To create a thick watercolor painting, you first apply a layer of watercolor paint to the paper as per normal. Once the paint is dry, you then apply another layer of paint on top of the first layer, but this time with a thicker consistency by adding less water to the watercolor paint.

As you can start to see now, that this will quickly use up your watercolor paints so I would suggest using watercolors from the tube rather than from a tub. Repeat this process until you achieve the desired texture.

Advantage of thick watercolor painting

One advantage of thick watercolor painting is that it allows you to create three-dimensional effects that cannot be achieved with traditional watercolor techniques.

The texture created by the thick layers of watercolor paint adds depth and dimension to the artwork. For many artists this makes the painting more appealing, especially if texture is part of the plan for the painting.

Overall, thick watercolor painting is a unique technique that can add a new dimension to traditional watercolor painting.

Benefits of Thick Watercolor Painting

My friends have told me that thick watercolor painting offers a unique set of benefits that other mediums simply can’t match. Here are a few of the advantages of using thick watercolor paint compared with traditional watercolor painting techniques:


Thick watercolor paint can create varying types of texture that can add depth and dimension to your paintings. It can be used to create a variety of effects, from rough and gritty to smooth and glossy.


Thick watercolor paint is more opaque than traditional watercolors, which can be useful when you want to create bold, vibrant colors that really pop. Thick watercolor painting can also be used to cover up mistakes or to add highlights to a painting.


Thick watercolor paint can be layered on top of other colors to create interesting effects. By building up layers of paint, you can create a sense of depth and complexity in your paintings.

Another advantage of thick watercolor painting is that it allows for a greater degree of control over the paint. Because the paint is thicker, it is easier to manipulate and move around on the paper.

This can be especially useful when you are trying to create fine details or intricate patterns.

Downsides to thick watercolor painting

There are some downsides to using thick watercolor paint as well. For one thing, it can be more difficult to achieve a smooth, even wash with thick paint.

Also, as I mentioned earlier using the thick watercolor technique can also be more expensive than traditional methods as you will end up using way more paint to cover the same amount of surface area.

Will painting watercolors in thick layer cause the painting to crack over time?

Watercolor paintings don’t usually crack over time, even when applied in thick layers. The reason is that watercolors are composed of pigments suspended in a water-soluble binder, such as gum arabic.

When watercolors dry, the binder still remains pretty flexible and doesn’t create a hard or brittle film like some other types of paint. Because of this flexibility, watercolor paintings usually don’t crack.

One thing I would like to add though, using high-quality watercolor paper that is stretched properly before painting will also help prevent issues such as buckling or warping, which lead to cracking over time.

Ensuring that your watercolors are properly framed and hung away from direct sunlight and heat will also ensure that any cracking will be mitigated.

Despite some of the drawbacks I do believe that the benefits of thick watercolor painting are worth it.

Techniques for Creating Thick Watercolor Paintings

When it comes to creating thick watercolor paintings, there are a couple of techniques that I find effective. These involve using a variety of tools and methods to build up layers of paint and create texture and depth in your artwork.

Mix it with some Gouache

One technique that I like to use is to mix my watercolor paint with a small amount of white gouache. This creates a thicker, more opaque paint that can be layered on top of other colors to create interesting effects. You can also use a palette knife to apply the paint in thick, textured strokes.

Use a Dry Brush!

Another technique that I find helpful is to use a dry brush to apply paint to the paper. This involves loading your brush with paint and then wiping most of it off on a paper towel or cloth. You can then use the brush to create thin, dry strokes that add texture and depth to your painting.

Add contrast with areas of white

One more technique that I find useful is to use a resist medium to create areas of white in your painting.
This can be done by applying a layer of wax or masking fluid to the paper before painting.

Once the paint is dry, you can remove the resist medium to reveal areas of white that add contrast and interest to your painting.

Overall, there are lots of techniques that you can use to create thick watercolor paintings. My advice is to experiment on small scale paintings to see what works for you.

Materials Needed for Thick Watercolor Painting

When it comes to thick watercolor painting, there are a few materials that I always make sure to have on hand. These materials will help you achieve a textured, layered look in your paintings that is difficult to achieve with traditional watercolor techniques.

Here are some of the materials you’ll need:

Watercolor Paints in Tubes

The first thing you’ll need for thick watercolor painting is tube paints. These are thicker and more concentrated than pan paints, which makes them perfect for creating textured layers.

You can find tube paints at any art supply store, and they come in a wide range of colors. I will not recommend the expensive watercolors for this technique until you’re ready and happy to continue with it.

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A Palette for Mixing Colors

In addition to tube paints, you’ll also need a palette for mixing colors. This can be a traditional palette with wells for each color, or you can use a flat surface like a ceramic plate.

Make sure to choose a palette that is large enough to mix all the colors you’ll need for your painting.

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Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper is a must-have for any watercolor painting, but it’s especially important for thick watercolor painting.

Look for paper that is thick and textured, as this will help hold the layers of paint. You can find watercolor paper at any art supply store, and it comes in a variety of sizes and textures.

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Paintbrushes in Various Sizes

You’ll need a variety of paintbrushes in different sizes for thick watercolor painting. Look for brushes with stiff bristles, as these will help create texture in your painting.

You can also use a palette knife or other tools to apply the paint. Again, I only recommend the cheap stuff for now. You can buy better synthetic paint brushes as you get better.

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Texture Medium

Texture medium is a gel-like substance that you can mix with your paint to create texture.

It’s perfect for thick watercolor painting, as it helps the layers of paint stick together. You can find texture medium at any art supply store, and it comes in a variety of textures and colors.

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Masking Fluid

Finally, you’ll need masking fluid to protect areas of your painting that you don’t want to paint over. This is especially important for thick watercolor painting, as it can be difficult to control the layers of paint.

Masking fluid comes in a small bottle with a brush applicator, and you simply paint it on the areas you want to protect. Experiment with different techniques and materials to find the ones that work best for you.

Remember to use cheap brushes or stumps when applying masking fluid as it can ruin your brush if you do not know how to clean masking fluid from brushes.

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Famous Artists Who Use Thick Watercolor Paintings

When it comes to thick watercolor paintings, there are a few famous artists who come to mind. These artists have mastered the technique of using thick watercolor paint to create stunning and unique works of art.

One such artist is John Singer Sargent. Sargent was known for his thick, impasto-style watercolor paintings. His use of thick paint allowed him to create a sense of depth and texture in his works that was unmatched by other watercolor artists of his time.

Another famous artist who used thick watercolor paintings is Winslow Homer. Homer’s use of thick paint allowed him to create dramatic and powerful works of art. His paintings often featured strong, bold strokes that gave his works a sense of energy and movement.

Finally, there is Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth’s use of thick watercolor paint allowed him to create works of art that were both realistic and haunting. His paintings often featured muted colors and thick, textured brushstrokes that gave his works a sense of depth and emotion.

These three famous artists from self taught to classically trained have all used thick watercolor paint to create amazing works of art. Their use of this technique allowed them to create works that were unique, powerful, and emotionally charged.

Thick watercolor painting – Wrap up!

Painting with thick watercolors can add a unique and interesting texture to your artwork. As I have found through my own experimentation and research, using a thick paint layer can create beautiful textured accents that add depth and dimension to your painting.

It is important to note that using a thick paint layer requires some skill and practice to master. It is recommended to start with a light layer and gradually build up the thickness to avoid overworking the paint and causing it to crack.

Also, choosing the right paper is crucial for achieving the desired effect. Watercolor-specific paper with a weight of at least 140 pounds is recommended to prevent the paper from buckling or warping under the weight of the paint.

Overall, incorporating thick watercolors into your painting technique can be a fun and rewarding experience. Give it a try and if you like the results may I suggest you try painting with gouache paints as well as the results are very similar. Alternatively try Fluid Acrylics.

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Joe Colella - Chief Wasted Talent
Joe Colella – Chief Wasted Talent

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