Creativity Workshop | Surprising Watercolor Techniques for Achieving Luminosity and Watercolor Texture


Because of my restless, inquisitive, creative nature, I’m constantly exploring different ways to exploit the magical beauty of watercolor painting. Letting the paints run, puddle and interact creates wonderful watercolor texture. As I let them flow, certain colors granulate, resulting in unique color combinations. To amp up this natural texturizing process, I build a rough surface full of hills and valleys made with everyday tools, creating areas for rivulets of color to run and pool.

Here’s how I create the desired effect: I mix a color that granulates with one that doesn’t, along with plenty of water, and then I place the mixture on a textured surface. (Some of the granulating colors I use include Winsor & Newton cerulean blue, cobalt blue and ultramarine blue, as well as Daniel Smith PrimaTek paints.) Next, I tilt the painting, causing the paint to flow. As it runs, the granulating color drops out, leaving the nongranulating color sitting on top.

It’s the surprising effects of paint flowing over a textured surface—further accented by luminescent watercolor highlights—that keep me returning to this stunning combination of texture and luminosity.

watercolor landscape by Deena S. Ball | watercolor texture

Inspired by marshes along Delaware’s scenic Route 9, Swamp (watercolor and luminescent watercolor on bristol board, 9×9), by Deena S. Ball, depicts land that both time and man have ignored.

Achieving Watercolor Texture

Below are my watercolor techniques for creating a luminously textured painting.

Step 1:

I begin by sketching on location in my Canson journal with an ultra-fine black Sharpie marker and Prismacolor pencils. Next, I use multiple layers of colored pencils to add color to the small study. The process of layering colored pencils echoes the watercolor painting process. At this point I try to work out composition and color details, so that when it’s time to paint, I can concentrate fully.

Step 2:

I use either YUPO or Strathmore Series 500 bristol 4-ply plate surface for my textured paintings. Both have extremely smooth surfaces and are less absorbent than traditional watercolor papers. This allows the paint to flow more freely, resulting in more intense colors. For this painting, I lightly draw on the bristol surface and scout out the areas that will receive texture. Rocks, fields and water are all likely textural candidates.

Step 3:

To create textured areas, I mix Golden acrylic gel medium and Golden gesso in equal amounts, to the consistency of peanut butter, and apply it to the paper with a palette knife.

Step 4:

I press small objects—a plastic hair roller and a piece of plastic-net grocery bag—into the mixture to create hills and valleys, and then I remove them quickly. In some areas, I build up the layers of texture with a palette knife. I then let the surface dry completely before painting to avoid puncturing an area with a brush and getting white gesso and gel mixture into the paint.

Step 5:

Using soft Isabey 6234 Petit Gris No. 2 and No. 5 squirrel mop brushes, I apply multiple layers of wet puddles of paint, letting them flow into one another. The first layer of paint is wet-on-wet, but subsequent layers are painted on the dried surface. Paints include Winsor & Newton quinacridone gold, cerulean blue, French ultramarine, cobalt blue, permanent rose, indigo, burnt sienna, transparent yellow and Holbein marine blue.

Step 6:

With a Princeton Fifty-Fifty No. 2  liner brush, I add touches of Daniel Smith Luminescent Watercolors (interference silver, interference lilac, interference green, interference blue, duochrome hibiscus, duochrome aquamarine, duochrome oceanic, duochrome adobe and iridescent electric blue, as well as Daniel Smith PrimaTek in Mayan blue genuine and fuchsite genuine) over the dry layers of watercolor. These highlights of luminous paint in the valleys guide the path of the viewer’s eye through the painting.

Step 7:

I sketch in final details with Derwent watercolor pencils. Dry pencils in light shades overlay the dark washes, as seen in the far hills and lower sky. Light watercolor pencil marks also accent the ridges midway up the left-hand side.

View images of these stages in the August 2013 issue of Watercolor Artist.


Deena S. Ball ( is a signature member of both the Philadelphia and Baltimore Watercolor Societies. Her work was included in the 2012 National Watercolor Society Annual Exhibition and has been featured in several publications.


Try This at Home

Add a little luminescence to your watercolor painting process, and let your work glow! Create your own “homemade” textured surface and accent it with luminescent colors for a painting that dazzles and shines. Send a JPG (with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your painting to with “Creativity Workshop” in the subject line and tell us about your process. The “editor’s choice” will receive a copy of Watercolor Unleashed by Julie Gilbert Pollard. The deadline for entry is August 15.


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