Wow Watercolors

Erin Terrell

Love the look of watercolor? Pick up paints or pencils in a rainbow of hues and dabble in a delightful medium.

Art was my favorite subject in school. I took class time very seriously, working hard to create new "masterpieces" to take home and show off to my parents. Our refrigerator was always decorated with my painted works of art. I still love all kinds of paint. Nearly every room in my house has been repainted at least once! I've spent so much time adding paint to various surfaces over the years that it seemed only natural to use it in my scrapbooks. I've always admired the look of watercolors, and since my mom minored in art when she was in college, I asked her teach me how to use them. Since then, I've used watercolors on my pages to create a variety of unique looks (Figure 1). Here's how to add a touch of color to your own scrapbook pages.

Wow Watercolors

Figure 1. Watercolor paints and pencils are perfect for adding subtle beauty to scrapbook pages. Pages by Erin Terrell. Supplies Watercolor paints: Loew-Cornell; Computer font: Doodle Denim, "PagePrintables" CD, Cock-A-Doodle Design, Inc.; Pens: Zig Writers, EK Success; Hand-tinting oils: Marshall's Photo Oils; Pop dots: All Night Media; Die cuts: Erin's own designs.

Using Watercolors
When using watercolor paints or pencils, you can use the wet brush technique or the wet paper technique. I've experimented with both and found that each has specific advantages and creates distinct looks.

The Wet Brush Technique
Use watercolor paints and a wet brush to apply paint to the paper. The more water you have on the brush, the lighter the color will appear. Keep in mind that the colors will be even lighter when dry. For a bolder look, simply use more paint and less water. To use the wet brush technique with watercolor pencils, draw or shade an image with the pencils and then apply water to the colored area. If you end up with too much water on the paper, you can absorb the excess with a dry sponge. You can also use a blender pencil to blend the colors.

The Wet Paper Technique
Use a wet sponge or wet brush to dampen the paper. Next, use a wet brush to add watercolor paint to the page. The paint will flow across the wet surface. To even out the look, add more water. The wet paper technique is fun to try with watercolor pencils, too. Wet the watercolor paper slightly, then draw directly on it with your pencils. This technique is useful for adding texture and details, like the woodgrain fence in Figure 5.

Getting Started
You only need a few basic supplies to get started. Here's a quick rundown on watercolor paints and pencils, watercolor paper, brushes and a few extras. Watercolor Paints or Pencils First, you'll need a set of watercolor paints or pencils (the "Watercolor Paints and Pencils" sidebar lists companies that offer them). Choosing whether to use watercolor paints or pencils is really a matter of personal preference. The paints come in a wide variety of colors and are easy to mix if you want to create custom colors. However, they can be somewhat messy, and if you're not careful, having water and wet paint so close to your scrapbook pages can be dangerous! Since watercolor pencils allow for more control over where you're placing the color, they're a good option for beginners. They're also fairly inexpensive, but aren't available in as wide a variety as watercolor paints are.

Watercolor Paper
Available at art supply and craft stores, watercolor paper differs from regular cardstock in that it contains sizing to prevent too much water from being absorbed into the paper. When choosing watercolor paper, look for 140 lb., cold press paper, which has a slight texture and a medium weight to help it absorb the paint. If you can't find watercolor paper, you can use regular cardstock in a pinch. Cardstock tends to absorb the color faster, so it can be more difficult to correct mistakes.

The best brushes to use with watercolors have sable or synthetic sable bristles. Megan McMurdie, a watercolor artist at Creating Keepsakes, recommends a round #4 or #6 brush for the most versatility. The fine tip allows for detail work, while the brush, placed on its side, can be used to create thicker lines

While I'm painting, I keep an inexpensive plastic paint palette nearby. I fill one reservoir with clean water for wetting my brush and use another for cleaning. I use the other reservoirs for mixing colors. It's nice to have a palette with a lid so you can save the paint for later if you get interrupted. I also like to have a sponge handy to soak up excess water from my brushes and paper.

Wow Watercolors

Figure 2. Watercolor stripes painted vertically on cardstock make for an eye-catching background. Pages Sharon Lewis. Supplies Pressed flowers and leaves: NuCentury, Inc., plus some Sharon pressed and ran through a Xyron machine; Vellum: Paper Cuts; Mulberry paper: Personal Stamp Exchange; Photo corners: Boston International; Pen: Micron Pigma, Sakura; Colored pencils: Memory Pencils, EK Success; Pop dots: Pop-it-Up, Cut-it-Up; Deacidified paper twist: Maxwell-Wellington.
Enhancing Scrapbook Pages
With watercolors you can create your own background paper, photo mats, die cuts, borders and more. In Figure 2, Sharon Lewis of Mesa, Arizona, created a beautiful striped background paper for her layout. I re-created my photos' background on my layout in Figure 3. Check out the samples I've provided in the sidebar "Background Looks with Watercolors" for more fun backgrounds you can create.

Wow Watercolors

Figure 3. Re-create a summer sky with watercolors. It's a lovely background for these beach photos. Pages by Erin Terrell. Supplies Watercolor paints: Loew-Cornell; Computer font: Commercial Script, package unknown; Pen: Zig Writer, EK Success; Die cuts: Erin's own designs. Idea to note: Erin created the sand by dipping a damp toothbrush into brown watercolor paint, then running her fingernail across the bristles to make "speckles" on the paper.
In Figure 4, I created photo mats with watercolors to match the cardstock in the layout, then I used the same color to enhance my die cuts and journaling boxes. You can even use them to add depth and texture to die cuts. In Figure 5, I used watercolors on my page accents, journaling blocks and title. Watercolors are also perfect for adding color to clip art or rubber-stamped images. Just be sure to heat emboss rubber-stamped images to prevent smearing when applying watercolors.

Wow Watercolors

Figure 4. Use watercolor pencils to create custom photo mats for your layouts. Pages by Erin Terrell. Supplies Watercolor pencils: All Night Media; Computer font: CK Anything Goes, "The Best of Creative Lettering" CD Vol. 1, Creating Keepsakes; Pens: Zig Writers, EK Success; Die cut: Modified from an O'Scrap! die cut, Imaginations; Pop dots: All Night Media.

Wow Watercolors

Figure 5. Watercolor pencils are excellent for adding detail and texture to die cuts. Pages by Erin Terrell. Supplies Watercolor pencils: "Learn Watercolor Pencil Techniques Now!" kit, General Pencil Co.; Die cuts: Erin's own designs; Pop dots: All Night Media; Other: Twine. Ideas to note: Erin touched a wet paintbrush to the tip of a watercolor pencil, then painted the watercolor onto the pages. For the detail work on the cactus and fence, Erin used a pencil to draw lines while the paper was still wet. She also blended colors to make custom shades.
Want to jazz up your titles? Watercolors are a terrific option. Figures 4 and 5 also offer some creative ideas. For more inspiration, check out the "Bonus Insert" section in past issues of Creating Keepsakes. Artists Megan McMurdie and Heather Thatcher have some great ideas for using watercolors. With a little imagination, you can use watercolors to enhance just about every element on your scrapbook pages. In Figure 6, the title lettering and flowers show the beautiful looks you can achieve by blending two or more colors together. The soft vine drawn around the photo creates a quick and easy border to enhance the floral theme. At the bottom of the page, the solid green strip demonstrates how watercolors can create a colorful solid background.

Wow Watercolors

Figure 6. From blending colors to adding borders and backgrounds, watercolors let you create distinctive looks on your scrapbook pages. Page by All Night Media. Supplies Watercolor pencils: All Night Media
Watercolor shortcuts Love the watercolor look but short on time? Try the pre-made watercolor papers from Colors By Design, Hot Off The Press, Provo Craft and Susan Branch. They're available at scrapbook stores nationwide. Also, consider the ready-made watercolor art on compact disc. Claudia's Clip Art offers ZipArt (retail $9.95), a series of Windows/Mac CDs that each contain 50 original images by top watercolor artists. Choose from themes such as gardening, winter, "cottage" and more. Best Friends Creations offers Hedgehog Volume 1 (retail $19.95), a Windows/Mac CD with over 100 full-color watercolor images and two alphabets you can print out. The CD includes themes such as scouting, holidays and dragons.

Tips to Remember

These tips will help you as you get familiar with watercolor paints and pencils. Don't be afraid to experiment!

  • Watercolors are transparent, so paint lighter colors first, then add shading and detail.
  • If you add too much water to your page, soak up the excess with a sponge or paper towel.
  • If you add too much paint to your page, touch a clean, damp brush to the paint to soak it up. Blot your brush on a paper towel and repeat until you've removed the excess paint.
  • If your page has soaked up too much water and is curling at the edges, set it under something heavy (like a phone book) overnight. It should be flat by morning.
  • To speed drying time, use a hairdryer set on the lowest setting (make sure you do this before adhering photos to your page).
  • To protect your brushes, store them with the tips up.
  • If you're worried about having water near your scrapbook pages, use a blender pencil. Touch the blender pencil directly to the tip of a watercolor pencil, then color on your image with the blender pencil to transfer the color.
  • Watercolors are not waterproof and can smear or fade if they get wet. Use page protectors to keep your pages dry, and store your albums safely.
  • Watercolors add a subtle touch of beauty to scrapbook pages, and they're fun and easy to use. Dive in with watercolor paints and pencils, or achieve a similar look with ready-made products (see "Watercolor Shortcuts" sidebar). Either way, watercolors are sure to add "splash" to your scrapbook!

Wow Watercolors
Background Looks with Watercolors
Watercolors can help you create "wow" backgrounds. Here are 10 samples to get you started. Squares 1-4 were created with a Provo Craft mini template and templates. Square 1: Trace the template with different shades of watercolor pencils, then blend the colors with a wet paintbrush.

Wow Watercolors
Square 2: Dip a damp sponge into watercolor paints, then fill in the template shapes, overlapping the images every now and then.

Wow Watercolors
Square 3: Trace the template with different shades of watercolor pencils, then blend the colors together with a blender pencil.

Wow Watercolors
Square 4: Trace the template with watercolor pencils, using darker colors to outline and lighter colors to fill in, then blend them together with a damp paintbrush.

Wow Watercolors
Square 5: Touch the tip of a wet paintbrush to the tip of a watercolor pencil, then draw lines with the paintbrush.

Wow Watercolors
Square 6: Draw a grid pattern lightly with a pencil. Use watercolor paints to fill in the checks with a damp, flat-edged paintbrush.

Wow Watercolors
Square 7: Dampen a toothbrush and dip it into watercolor paint. Hold the toothbrush about 4 inches away from the paper and run your fingernail across the toothbrush bristles to create "speckles."

Wow Watercolors
Square 8: Use a round #4 paintbrush dipped in watercolor paints to create a subtle background paper.

Wow Watercolors
Square 9: Use a watercolor pencil to draw wavy lines, then add various dots to the page. Use a damp paintbrush to create a watercolor effect.

Wow Watercolors
Square 10: Wet a sheet of watercolor paper and use a wet paintbrush to add horizontal lines in red, orange and yellow. The colors will flow together on the wet page to create a smooth look.

Watercolor Paints and Pencils


All Night Media
Watercolor Pencils (includes 11 pencils and a brush)
MSRP: $8
Phone: 800/STAMPED
Web site:

General Pencil Company
"Learn Watercolor Pencil Techniques Now!" kit #70 (includes a full-color, 22-page guidebook with step-by-step instructions, six Kimberly watercolor pencils, one paintbrush, one all-art sharpener, and an eight-page practice booklet with pre-printed patterns)
MSRP: $14.99
Phone: 650/369-4889
Web site:

Watercolor cake set (includes 24 colors)
MSRP: $10.45
Web site:

Prismacolor Watercolor Pencil sets
MSRP: $6.99 (six colors),
$12.99 (12 colors),
$25.99 (24 colors),
$37.99 (36 colors)
Phone: 800/323-0749
Web site:

Winsor & Newton
Cotman Water Colours (contains 10 watercolor tubes, a mixing palette and a brush)
MSRP: $34.60
Web site:


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