43 Simple Watercolor Painting Ideas

Published on Dec 23rd 2021
watercolor painting ideas

Looking to get inspired with fun watercolor painting ideas? Maybe you’ve always wanted to paint with watercolors, but you’ve been hesitant to give it a try. It can seem like a challenging medium to work in. Would it help you to know there are a ton of simple watercolor painting ideas to get you started? And that painting in watercolors is easier than painting in oils or acrylics? It’s true!

Results of a Hofstra University study confirm that "active engagement in specific art media," including watercolor painting, "reduced state anxiety and perceived stress in the sample population." In other words, taking up a new hobby like watercolor can be quite relaxing! There are so many fun and simple watercolor painting ideas to try, no matter your level of creativity. The time is right to see what it’s all about. So grab a brush and a tray of paints and dive on in...the water(color) is fine! 

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How to Get Started With Watercolor Painting

The best way to get started with watercolor painting to learn the basics. You can get your watercolor exploration underway quickly and easily with painting classes where you’ll learn techniques from skilled artists and top-rated teachers eager to share their skills. 

For a fun group activity, try spirited paint and sip in Los Angeles, paint and sip in NYC, paint and sip in Orange County, or paint and sip near you. It’s an exciting way to develop confidence with expert guidance from some dynamite painting teachers.

Or, if in-person sessions aren't for you, there are plenty of online painting classes available for you to learn and practice your new hobby from home! 

hands on laptop surrounded by watercolor paintings
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If you’re up for making a test run on your own as you venture into watercolor painting for beginners, all you need is some watercolor paper, a tray of paint, a jar of water and some brushes. Here are some great watercolor painting ideas to get your feet wet! 

Easy Watercolor Painting Ideas for Beginners

1. Fruit

Fruit is a great watercolor painting idea for using layered colors to practice the smooth contours and complex tones. Change the direction of the light to see how the colors differ and to figure out how you might capture them in watercolors. 

lemon bunch in watercolor
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2. Wet-on-Wet Freeform

This is one of the best watercolor painting ideas for learning how to control pigment in water. Spread some water on your paper, then pick up some color with your brush and touch it to the surface. You’ll see the color bleed into the water in a veining pattern. Add other colors and more water to see how it changes.

3. Gradients

Try this wet-on-wet watercolor painting idea by wetting your paper first, then picking up two related colors — blue and teal, for example — and adding them to the paper, dark to light. Add other colors and spread them together to see how they interact.

gradient watercolor painting idea
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4. Geometric Shapes

These are a great watercolor painting idea for testing brush pressure. Create a shape using water first, then add some color and see what happens. Or try loading your brush with paint and apply color directly to dry paper. You’ll start to see how watercolors work in both modes.  

5. Layered Colors

Another easy watercolor painting idea for learning to blend colors is layering. Try the wet-on-wet method with a single color and let it dry. Then, add another color on top in a light wash to see the translucent tones blend. 

layering watercolor painting technique
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6. Simple Still Life

Once you have a feel for it, a great watercolor painting idea to get you started are simple still-life arrangements. Try setting a few items on a tabletop in front of you and examine how the light and shadows fall on and around them. Be extra attentive to what colors you’re actually seeing.

7. Color Wheel

The easiest watercolor painting idea to get a sense of how watercolors work is a simple color wheel. Paint the primary colors in a circle or triangle pattern, then mix them together to fill in the secondary colors in between. 

color wheel watercolor painting idea
via Pixabay

8. Natural Patterns

Textures such as wood, stone, marble and slate are very easy watercolor painting ideas. Use wet-on-wet and add colored washes and lines like veins or wood grain while the initial wash is still damp.

9. Insects

Try a watercolor butterfly, ladybug, caterpillar or other insects with interesting color and textural combinations. Play around with different brushes to create fuzz, shells, skin, watercolor butterfly wings and more.

ladybug watercolor painting idea
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Watercolor Flowers Painting Ideas

10. Wildflowers

Capturing wildflowers in their natural environment is an excellent watercolor painting idea for capturing vivid colors. Find a field nearby or paint from a reference photo. Make sure to vary the size and shape using different brushes. Add a few watercolor butterflies for interest!

11. Orchids

The delicate contours of orchid petals set against the linear stems and thick leaves make a wonderful contrast to capture in watercolors. Practice creating a variety of textures and tones by painting a single subject.

orchid painted on paper with watercolors
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12. Poppies

The vivid scarlet petals of poppies translate beautifully into watercolors. Go bold with a lot of pigment on your brush or play around with creating washes for a more delicate effect. 

13. Roses

Roses can take on a dream-like quality when explored as a watercolor painting idea. Practice capturing their luminous petals with layered washes of complex color combinations.

roses watercolor painting idea
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14. Hyacinths

With their tall stalks and tufts of colorful blooms, these flowers are a watercolor painting idea that everyone can handle. Try creating the soft clustered tops with some loose brushwork to apply light and shade simultaneously. 

15. Sunflowers

A sunflower watercolor image can be a very easy watercolor painting idea to pull off, even for beginners! Create a dark circular center and add yellow petals around it by pressing and dragging your brush outward. Once you have the hang of it, add several sunflower watercolor blooms more in different sizes.  

yellow sunflowers in blue vase watercolor
via Pixabay

16. Lilies

Lilies are one of the best watercolor flower painting ideas for experimenting with vivid hues. Sketch the blossom shape first. Add some wet-on-wet technique starting in the center and working your way outward. And don’t be afraid to add more color.

17. Mixed Bouquet

Choose a selection from the list of floral watercolor painting ideas above and paint them into a bouquet. If you plan your colors accordingly, you can create your own flower fireworks display!

mixed bouquet watercolor
via Pixabay

Watercolor Landscape Painting Ideas

18. Sunset

A watercolor sunset lets you create gradients with a wide range of palettes, depending on the feeling you’re trying to capture. Try an outdoor watercolor sunset painting session and let nature lead your lesson.

19. Cloudscape

The natural patterns of clouds are excellent for playing with lighter washes. Leave plenty of white space for the highlights. Then, go wild adding darker washes in various colors to capture the essence of cloudbanks.

fluffy white clouds in blue watercolor paint
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20. Mountains

Painting watercolor mountains lets you experiment with texture and shadow in your watercolor landscapes. You can create effects with wet-on-wet first, then add dry brush touches to lay in shadows. Throw in a few watercolor trees around the edges to create a full landscape!

21. Night Sky

There may be no simpler watercolor painting idea around! Layer lighter blues and violets, then add washes of magenta, aqua and even greens to add depth and cosmic effects. A few flicks of white from a wet brush adds as many stars as you want.

galaxy watercolor painting idea
via Pixabay

22. Desert

If you don’t have a desert nearby, use reference photos. Study how the colors of the desert are more than just brown and green. Test out purple shadows and blue highlights to bring the watercolor mountains in your desert scene to life.

23. Ocean

The tranquility of the sea makes a lovely watercolor landscape painting idea. Use wet-on-wet techniques to capture the transition from darker water in the distance to lighter water up close. Add foam and whitecaps with a bit of thicker white paint. 

ocean view watercolor painting
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24. Meadows

Try capturing a lush meadow or a grassy field as a helpful watercolor painting idea for learning texture. Alternate between dry and wet brush techniques for tall grass stalks and shorter ground cover.

25. Forest

Creating woods filled with watercolor trees can be one of the most rewarding watercolor painting ideas you’ll ever try. You can create a detailed portrait with veined leaves and textured bark or paint a silhouette of pine forest against a moonlit sky.

forest watercolor painting surrounded by painting supplies
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Watercolor Animals Painting Ideas

26. Bears

These woodland giants make a magnificent watercolor painting idea. Try expressing shadow, highlights and reflected light against their mostly brown fur in blues, magentas, reds and more. Find images of bears in various lighting to find one that works easily for you.

27. Horses

These beauties are a watercolor painting idea that help you practice light, shading and shape. Start by sketching or tracing a simple horse form. Add layers of colors to capture naturalistic tones, light and shading. Be sure to use clear photos for reference. 

horse profile painted in watercolor
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28. Tropical Birds

Few watercolor painting ideas are as exciting as tropical birds! Capture a rainbow of colors in impressionistic or realistic forms, or a blend of the two. Find vibrant photos to work from and don’t be afraid to add tons of bright color.

29. Pets

For a tribute to your beloved fur babies as well as a great watercolor painting idea, experiment with wet and dry methods to create fur and hair textures while testing intriguing color sets. Frame the results and add it to the family gallery!

rabbit Easter or pet watercolor painting
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30. Farm Animals

Cows, pigs, chickens and sheep all make whimsical watercolor painting ideas! Try a realistic approach or something a little more lighthearted and cartoonish. Test fun color combinations and techniques to build your watercolor skills. Green chickens and blue pigs? Why not?

31. Whales

Watercolors are the perfect medium for creating the shimmering glow of these majestic beauties. Use black, white, blues and grays to build transparent layers. And if painting realistically isn’t for you, try a more cartoonish or abstract version.

blue whale watercolor painting idea
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32. Lions

The king of a jungle makes a fantastic watercolor painting idea for practicing soft textures. Capturing their furry layers and glowing coats by blending various shades of ocher, gold and sepia tones. 

33. Exotic Fish

It’s not difficult to capture the mystical, flowing texture of fish moving under water. If you can, work from a live model like koi or betas to get a true sense of how light behaves. As with creating other tropical watercolor animals, the more color the better!

koi fish swimming in pond watercolor painting
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34. Zebras

Zebras are a striking watercolor painting idea for working with contrast. Shade the white stripes with bands of blues, purples or greens to create exciting effects. Blast the background with vivid color to push the animals to the foreground!

Abstract Watercolor Painting Ideas

35. Salt Wash

This abstract watercolor painting idea lets you create marbled veining that looks like magical sprays. Spread a wash of color on your paper and sprinkle ordinary table salt into it. Then watch as the salt dissolves and pushes the color all over the place! Brush off the remaining salt when the paper dries.

blue and purple watercolor paper with salt speckles
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36. Alcohol Spread

Splattering alcohol into intense color washes pushes pigment away from the drops, creating tiny white spots that look like stars. Layer up several colors and see what beautiful multi-hued reveals you can achieve. 

37. Wax Resist

Did you know you can block out areas on your paper and keep them pure white? Something waxy like a white birthday candle or a white crayon rubbed onto the paper will prevent the color from seeping in. When finished, carefully rub off the wax to see the negative space shine!

wax and red watercolor paint on paper in abstract stripes
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38. Tape Resist

Create perfect lines and angular abstract watercolors by laying strips of masking tape on your paper before painting. Carefully roll off the tape when your paper dries. This watercolor painting idea is great for creating sharp angles. Or try tearing the edge of the tape for a cool deckled effect.

39. Soap Resist

Suds and bubbles added to watercolors create delicate webs and lacy patterns everywhere. Use a soda straw to blow bubbles into a drop of soap added to a wet-on-wet color wash on your paper. You’ll be blown away by the effects!

bubble watercolor painting idea
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40. Plastic Wrap Lift

This watercolor painting idea is a fun and simple way to create amazing texture. Crinkle a piece of plastic wrap and press it into wet paint to see white or lighter colored veins appear. Or try dipping the wrap into wet color, then press it to the paper to create colorful splotches.

41. Soda Straw Airbrush

Build up a bit of liquid color on the surface of your paper and push it around by blowing through a straw. The result? Vivid tie-dye splashes of color that explode off the surface.

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42. Yarn Drag

Try dipping a length of yarn or string through wet watercolors and dragging it along the paper to see what sorts of abstract designs occur. It’s one of the easiest watercolor painting ideas ever. Anyone can do it!

43. Tissue Paper Press

Press a damp piece of tissue or paper towel into your watercolors and mash it onto your paper. You’ll create a kaleidoscope of soft textures and colors in your image.  

tissue paper watercolor painting idea
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No matter which watercolor painting idea you decide to try first, make sure you’re having fun while you do it! And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as you learn. The more you play around with color and water, the more you’ll discover methods that work best for the projects you have in mind.

For even more fun painting ideas, check out other experiences happening on Classpop!