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How to add visual texture to watercolor and acrylic washes.

Adding a bit of visual texture to your paintings will make them stand out.  You can also use visual texture as a starting point to layer more colors or to make an abstract background.

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Here are my favorite ways to add texture to a watercolor or acrylic wash.

For all the techniques shown here, you will need to first paint a wash of watercolor or acrylic on your surface (paper, canvas, yupo or stone paper, claybord…)

your wash should still be wet to add visual textureIdeally your wash should still be wet when you start adding texture, but not too wet, just at the point before the edges start drying.


paint a watercolor wet wash

1 Salt visual texture

salt visual texture

For salt texture, you can use coarse or fine salt, but coarse salt will give you a more obvious texture. When your wash is drying, the salt will absorb some of the water, moving the water and the paint around the grain of salt. The resulting texture will look like this:

fine and coarse salt on watercolor wet wash

You can still see the location of the grains of salt. This technique works great but I am not sure about the effect on the paper or canvas archival properties, so you might also want to experiment with an alternative which is rice.

2-Rice visual texture

Rice works the same as salt, but you get a texture that is more subtle.

rice visual texture

 

Add a few grains of rice while your paint wash is still wet.adding texture to watercolor wash with rice

You get a texture a bit similar to salt, but a bit softer.

 

 

3-Alcohol visual texture

Alcohol is one of my favourite way to add visual texture to a wet wash of watercolor or acrylic. Just use a dropper or put your thumb to partially close the opening of a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

alcohol visual texture on watercolor

Alcohol textures.alcohol on wet acrylic ink wash

 

4- Alcohol based ink visual texture

Alcohol based inks will give you the same textures as alcohol while adding a bit of color at the same.

Alcohol based inks textures

Alcohol based inks textures

5-Water visual texture

I you like alcohol based inks textures but are looking for something a bit more subtle, you can try just adding drops of plain water to a wet wash. The water will make the paint move away and produce what is called a “bloom”, this works well on paper. It will also work on canvas but might be too subtle to really notice.

drops of water on wet wash

You can use a dropper to add water to your wet wash

watercolor blooms

It will cause the formation of blooms on your paper.

6-Plastic wrap texture

Plastic wrap is another of my favourite ways to add visual texture, because you get a more geometrical look. Just apply some plastic wrap on top of a wash:

plastic wrap on wet wash

Make it fold so in some of the places it touches the wash and in some other places it does not.

geometrical textures on paper

Once dry, you will get nice geometrical textures on your paper.

 

What are your favourite ways to add visual texture to your paintings?

 

 

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  • edreid49573300

    I hate to waste paint so have begun to use up my acrylic palette leftovers to prime a new canvas or paper. I apply the paint with a fairly large brush just using whatever paint is available on the palette making big, random movements. I don’t worry about blobs or drips. Great fun. The canvas is then ready for whatever I choose to paint.

    • That sounds like a great technique Eddi.
      One artist in our life drawing class does the same thing on paper and then uses the painted papers as a background for drawings.

  • Dish wash rinse aid works in a similar way to alcohol, but better (in my opinion!). Surgical gauze is interesting (just lay it in a damp wash and leave until dry). Epsom salts work like salt but different patterns. Table salt works better than coarse for me. Bubble wrap laid in a wet wash – but you need to weight it down. Sanding water soluble pencils into a damp wash… Splatter into dry or damp. Stenciling. Scratching out or sanding your dry paper (to reveal white). Scoring the paper and then putting a wash on top, for fine dark lines. Printing (leaves etc). The only thing I would say, is that less is more. I have seen students try to put all these into one painting – they should only be used for a reason!! I am doing a texture session with my class this week, so you can tell it is on my mind……

    • Thanks Liz for the tips!
      I totally agree with you that less is more, if the textures are a bit too obvious it distracts from the rest of the painting.

  • carolina

    Thank you so much, Sandrine.Does those techniques go well on yupo paper?
    I loved the technique, and will try.
    Thanks again.

    • Hello Carolina, yes they will work even better on Yupo paper as textures are more obvious on Yupo than regular paper. Have fun 🙂

  • jnine493475600

    I recently tried using the plastic wrap with watercolor. I tried it with two different types of watercolors. One set of watercolors is not of great quality so that one came out very blah but the other watercolors I used have mica in them called H2O’s. Those came out so beautiful. I love it !!
    If I knew how to add the photos to this “post comment” I would.
    Thanks for the excellent and very Fun idea’s you share. Jeanine

    • Thanks Jeanine ! It makes me want to experiment with the mica watercolors 🙂
      Unfortunately I don’t think you can post a picture in the comments, but you can post a link to a picture from Facebook, or your website…

  • Sandriene,

    Your works keeps popping up. Enjoying your style and imagination. Some of the techniques are new to me, trying to incorporate different ways of doing my work. Mostly I do watercolor, thank you for being an excellent source.

    Sincerely,

    Jeanette Weaver