For the beginning watercolor student …

… it may seem that the primary purpose of water in watercolor painting is cleaning the brush and wetting the colors.

And while that is true to a certain extent, to think of water in such limited terms is really to do a grave disservice to your painting abilities. Water is like a color in itself.

More than that, it is a texturing agent, the key to adding interest to dull surfaces, and the wild card that breaks into a monotonous canvas and grabs attention. It is both controlled and uncontrollable.

Use it to make a roadmap on the paper before you ever add paint, and then watch the color you drop in roll and run to follow it.

Splash it on nearly dry paint and you’ll see the color bloom and pucker in a pattern that you couldn’t duplicate any other way.

Or dampen a brush, and even dry paint will be rubbed away.

Follow a path of water. Because of this, you can effectively control the movement of the paint, make sure some areas stay white while others are flooded with color, and put down interesting gradations of color in fine lines or shapes without actually “painting” them in the traditional sense of the word.

And because water also acts as an eraser for watercolors, you can also protect areas of your painting by coating it with water before sprinkling or flinging paint.

Any paint droplets that fall on the wet paper are easily wiped away with a wet brush, or sprayed away with a water bottle.

Load a syringe or needle-tipped bottle with water and spray it on wet paint to create white lines and highly realistic waves on the page, or spritz a half-dry surface with a water bottle or atomizer to experiment with textures that can suggest everything from bark to sand.

Water lets you play with the paint, developing fun, loose patterns that attract attention and allow you to relinquish at least a bit of control to the medium. Don’t lose sight of this crucial contributor to interesting paintings.

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