Materials & Techniques

Watercolor—History and Technique

Watercolors were used by the Egyptians and later in Medieval manuscript illuminations. Although a few artists, such as Albrecht Dürer, made use of the watercolor medium in earlier centuries, only in the 18th century was watercolor adopted by English landscape painters as an independent art form.

Watercolor is usually painted on a white linen paper which may be smooth or rough in texture. Camel-hair brushes are used. Although either wet or dry paper may be used, most watercolorists paint wet to obtain blended coloring effects. The paper is moistened with water and stretched onto a flat surface. Light washes are laid on the surface and carefully built up so that colors have depth without losing the luminous qualities of the white paper showing through the paint. The artist must work extremely fast and cannot make many changes once they have put down the color since overworking risks muddying the colors. Watercolor may also be applied very broadly and freely instead of using a series of layers.