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World Watercolor Month Project

July has been World Watercolor Month, so we wanted to share a step-by-step project that is easy to follow and fun to do! This project has only seven steps and was inspired by Frederick Warren Freer’s Boat on the Beach, a watercolor painting from 1892 that is a beautiful addition to the Museum’s collection of Freer’s artwork.  Anyone unfamiliar with basic watercolor techniques can find reference to those used in this project (Dark to Light/Feathering, Wet on Dry, and Wet on Wet) at the very end of this post.

We hope you enjoy creating your own watercolor painting, and please post your projects on Facebook and tag us with #MMFAWorldWatercolorMonth @MontgomeryMFA!

Materials needed:

Two sheets of heavy paper/watercolor paper, piece of cardboard larger than paper, blue painter’s tape, scissors, glue, pencil, eraser, ultra-fine Sharpie marker, watercolor paints, watercolor paint brush, cup of water, and paper towel.


Before you begin painting, firmly tape down one sheet of paper to the cardboard by stretching the blue tape along each edge. This is important to keep the paper from buckling (wrinkling with the weight of the water) too much. It also creates a nice, clean border on the finished product, so keep in mind how wide of a white edge you want (tape in further for a wider border).


Step 1. Create the Sky

Begin painting the sky using the Wet on Wet technique. Paint clean water onto your paper, to about halfway down the sheet. Then get the desired amount of blue pigment on your brush and quickly paint this into the dampened paper. The color will rapidly spread in uneven amounts, but we are trying for a cloudy sky so this is good! If you like, swirl the paintbrush around to create fluffy textures.


Step 2. Create Horizon

Next, create the initial horizon line and base for the ocean water using a Feathering technique. Begin with a damp brush saturated in blue paint, and make a horizontal brushstroke across the center of the paper. Gently dip the brush in the water to wash away some of the paint, then paint the next line underneath but touching the first. The color should become lighter and lighter with each new brushstroke. Continue feathering for a few strokes, but make sure to leave room for the beach!


Step 3. Create your Sandy Beach

Before beginning the beach, thoroughly rinse the paintbrush. Paint the sand in below the ocean all the way to the bottom edge of the paper, using the same Wet on Wet technique used to paint the sky—just with yellow paint this time. You can lightly add in brown to create a more realistic sand color.


Step 4. Finish your Horizon

If desired, you may add some darker blue to the horizon line now to strengthen it visually, and paint in some wavy lines of blue to better distinguish waves in the ocean. After the background looks how you want, set it aside to dry.

Step 5. Draw a Boat


Next, draw the little boat on the new sheet of paper. Using simple lines, create the body of the boat, beginning with a pointed arch, and then add the rest to signify its shape. This is designed to be a sketch, not a perfect drawing, so do not stress too much about making it look like a real boat! Outline the drawing with the Sharpie, then erase away the pencil marks.

Step 6. Paint the Boat


Using a Wet on Dry technique, paint the boat as you like! Dampen the paintbrush and get the desired amount of pigment on it, then paint in the various sections of the boat. To create some visual depth, focus on painting the walls of the boat the darkest, the floor of the boat a little lighter, and the edges and seats the lightest.

Step 7. Finish Your Watercolor!


When your boat is dry, carefully cut it out with the scissors. When the background is dry, carefully remove the blue tape strips by gently peeling each piece back and away from the paper (pulling straight up quickly can cause the paper to rip). After all of the tape is removed, decide where on the beach to place the boat, add a little glue, and stick it down. Congratulations, your picture is complete!


If you do not want to draw a boat, you can leave the scene void of objects, or add anything you want. One variation may be a beach ball! Simply trace a circle and paint it however you desire.


That’s it! We hope you enjoyed creating your own watercolor painting, and please post your projects on Facebook and tag us with #MMFAWorldWatercolorMonth @MontgomeryMFA!


Basic Watercolor Techniques

Light to Dark/”Feathering”: Feathering simply means the paint color is washed out more with each connecting brush stroke. After wetting the paintbrush and getting the desired amount of pigment, make an initial stroke (in this case horizontally) across the paper. Dip the brush back into the water, slightly rinsing away some color and making it a lighter pigment, then paint the next brushstroke below but touching the first line. Repeat this step down the paper to carry out the feathering. It is important to let each new line gently overlap, as this is what creates the cohesive lightening of the paint.





Wet on Dry and Wet on Wet: Each of these techniques are exactly what their titles describe. Wet on Dry means to dampen the paintbrush and get the desired amount of pigment on it then paint directly on to dry paper. This technique is good for when you want more control over the paint—for example, to paint in an object or make a specific shape. Wet on Wet is the exact opposite. Wet the paper with clean water first, paint on desired pigment, and watch the color quickly spread!