Are you someone that has surpassed the basics in their watercolor journey? Are you wanting to learn more realistic watercolor painting techniques? 

In this blog post, I am going to talk about some advanced techniques you can use in your next painting to make it more realistic. (If you haven’t yet, you can also watch my quick Youtube tutorial video that shows you the 5 advanced techniques I will be discussing. Click here to watch!)

First, let’s talk about what makes a painting realistic.

A painting looks realistic due to its illusion of three-dimensional and two-dimensional spaces – meaning, the subject in the painting looks like it’s practically popping out of the page. You can achieve this look and feeling with watercolors and using these next 5 techniques.

Technique 1: Values 

To achieve the look of realism in your paintings, you must add values. Values are the different tone ranges that an artist can use from the lightest value (white) to the darkest tone (black). Values are actually more important than the actual colors! You can use any color of your choice and achieve the 3-D look as long as the values are correct. 

One trick to finding out which values to use is to take your reference photo and switch it into a black and white image. When you begin to paint, take a picture of your artwork then switch it to black and white and compare it to your black and white reference photo. It will become visible what adjustments you need to make. 

Now, did you know you can create your own value study? Instead of solely relying on your black and white reference picture, you can create your own sketch using your reference. Let’s discuss this more in this next technique. 

Technique 2: Depth 

Another way to achieve realism is to create your own value study to add a sense of depth to your painting. Instead of relying solely on your black and white reference picture, you can create your own sketch using your reference. What you’ll do is adjust the values accordingly with a pencil by making certain areas light and darker. The bigger the contrast where your main focal point is, the more it will look more realistic. This process helps you establish shapes, value relationships, and overall composition. 

It’s all about balance. Too much white and greys can make the value study look flat. Too many darks can make the painting much heavier without light shades to brighten.

So with watercolor, you want to start with the lightest colors and in the painting with the darkest colors. You begin with light areas, add shadows, then finalize details using your darkest darks. 

This way, it’s not only easier to tweak your painting during the process, but the entire painting altogether has a beautiful 3D effect. 

Realize you still need some lighter highlights after you’ve added all your values? Use white gouache and mix it with any color of your choice to create an opaque color as a highlight. 

Technique 3: Scratching

With the scratching technique, also referred to as scraping, you scratch into the paper or scratch off a little bit of the surface on the paper while your paint is still wet. By doing so, you will add fine details to your object. You can add details onto leaves, grass, or other areas that need a fuzzy look. 

You can also allow the paint to dry and use another brush with a fine tip or pen to add those details. 

However, scratching into wet paint is faster and easier to do. 

Technique 4: Softening hard edges and vice versa

Use a melamine sponge —  known as a magic sponge — to clean the edges of your painting. With this technique, you will take your sponge, fill it with water, and squeeze the excess water out. Then carefully start rubbing off the paint or lines you wish to soften up. You can also use tissue paper or paper towels to lift off reactivated pigments. 

To achieve soft edges, use your brush and the lifting technique. So, when the paint is dry, you want to use a synthetic brush with stiff bristles. Next, load your brush with water and squeeze out any excess moisture. Then let it reactivate the paint on the edges you want to soften up. 

Lightly scrub and use a paper towel to lift off reactivated pigment. Instead of having just hard or soft edges, you can have a balance between the two that will add some sharpness and glow to your painting. 

Technique 5: Negative painting technique

The final advanced watercolor technique you can use is the negative painting technique. With this technique, you paint around the object to make it stand out. The difference between positive and negative painting is that with negative painting, you try to save the lighter areas and paint the negative space next to them.  

For example, instead of coloring each individual leaf, you add a big splash of color. Then, you shape the tree with dark colors. You can do this wet to wet in order to create a more blurry effect. 

So there you have it — 5 watercolor techniques you can use on your next art project!

Interested in learning more advanced watercolor painting techniques? 

Join a Beauty in Bloom class where you will learn more advanced watercolor techniques, find peace and joy through the painting process, and gain confidence in your watercolor skills. 

In it, you’ll learn:

  • How to plan out your painting from start to finish
  • How to capture light, depth, and shadows in your painting
  • How to do watercolor control and watercolor washes
  • How to add details to make your painting more realistic


  • How to use a reference image without simply copying it

Inside, you’ll get: 

  • In-depth, step-by-step watercolor painting tutorials
  • ​​A bonus sketching outlines 
  • An additional bonus step-by-step guide 
  • ​​And recordings of past Q&A sessions

Click here to join the retreat today or to sign up for the retreat!