Common Watercolour Painting Problems Check List

There are many common mistakes that beginners make. If you are not happy with the end result of your painting, check the following list.

Check your composition

How is the composition of your painting? Is your focal point using the the rule of thirds? Is your composition split into two or three big shapes of light and dark tonal contrast? Does your painting have impact.

You could scan it or take a photo and try your computers image  editing software ‘auto level’ to see how the painting would look with stronger contrasting shapes.

Tonal Contrast

  • How is your tonal contrast? are your darks dark enough?
  • again try using your computers image software to see different tones.

Clean and simple washes

Are you mixing too many colours? too many colours mixed together will make a dull lifeless wash, keep your mixes simple, try to use only one or two colours at a time. try to lay each wash in one ‘hit’ dont go back into it and fiddle if you can help it. Use the biggest brush you can get away with.

Are your washes too flat and lifeless, your washes should have gradation and texture even if very subtle rather than completely flat areas of colour. I always have a piece of kitchen roll handy to blot an area or blast it with a spray of water, Watch Joseph Zbukvik videos to see this master at work.

Good materials

  • Are your brushes good ? do they have sharp points and bristles that spring back to their original shape?
  • Are your pigments good quality?
  • Is your paper good enough?
  • Did you stretch your paper.


Did you use too many colours overall in your painting, beginners like to put a rainbow of bright colours on the paper, try using a colour scheme.


Does your painting have a strong direction of light? you should be able to look at the painting and tell from which direction the sun is shining from, what time of day it is and the weather.

Atmospheric Perspective

Does your painting have atmospheric perspective? Your landscape should recede in tonal value as it gets further away, dont have stong tonal value in the distance.

Does everything ring true?

Does everything in your painting make sense? is it clear what everything is? maybe elements need attention, there are lots you can do to improve a painting. Sometimes it pays to leave it a few days and the look again with fresh eyes, sometimes it looks better sometimes the problems are obvious. Try holding up the painting in front of a mirror to see it differently.

Removing Paint

It is just as important to learn how to remove paint as to apply it. people often say you only get one go with watercolour but this is not entirely true.

If a painting goes completely wrong at the beginning you could put it under running water and wash the whole thing off, sometimes through this you will create beautiful effects, and have a greater understanding of pigments and how they stain. Then have another go.

You can remove areas of tone that are too dark by scrubbing with an old brush and blotting with a paper towel, or give an area a quick spray with clean water, leave a few minutes and blot with paper towel.


Crop your picture, quite often there will be an area around the edge i can do without when the painting is finished, try covering up areas to visualise how it could look with a mount on it. Maybe it improves the composition to lose an inch or two from the bottom by bringing the focal point into the rule of thirds, or get rid of an annoying tree branch.

Maybe the whole painting looks terrible apart from a small two inch section that can be cut out and used as a birthday card, a bookk mark or just a present gift tag. You will start to understand what you like about areas and washes within your painting.


Be careful who’s opinion youu ask, it can be soul destroying to get negative feedback, find someone who knows what they are talking about who will give you positive critisism and tell you where you are going wrong. Be open to advise!

Join a group of painters to share your ups and downs.


For me it is important to be as comfortable and undistracted as possible, a good studio space at home with everything at hand and nobody around for the serious stuff.

Outside – this is tricky , the weather, the light! the people – keep your bag as light as possible. Sometimes its good to sketch  a scene one day and go back the next day to paint it, when you get good you can do it in one session but in the beginning that can be a bit tough and by the time you have applied a few washes your worn out and rush the rest.