Watercolor bleeding effect

  • I'm really new to watercolors (as in, my first few days with it), and am working with these two granular colors, cobalt violet and ultramarine blue. There's a bit of a love/hate thing with watercolor because I love that it's unpredictable but hate that it's unpredictable. I've been trying to repeat this bleeding effect that happened while I wasn't looking. I thought maybe some of you watercolor artists could help me out by pointing to something that would help explain where the water border would have been here. Or maybe there was none? I usually put the water down and drop the pigment in.


  • My guess is something like this. The paper was wet but quite soaked in (only a slight sheen left when you look at under light) and the blue was dropped in the middle then creeped its way out in the damp area.

    Lots of things will affect the exact look you end up with, how wet the paper is, the roughness of the paper, how granulating the pigment is. Experiment and have fun!


  • Hi Caroline!

    I have the same relationship with water colors 🙂

    What effect do you like about your example? Is it the merging of the colors or the shapes that occur? Anyways, I think you’d want to look into “blooming” and creating “cauliflowers”. This is a video that shows how to work with these techniques: https://youtu.be/OKpVSbxuEAM
    The exact result is of course still unpredictable, which indeed is the charm of water colors, but you can learn to gain some control over it by knowing what are the best moments to act and add more water/paint and in which amounts. Have fun!

  • @neschof Thank you! Pointing out the paper was nearly dry makes me realize I must have not let it dry completely before painting over it. I can be very impatient. 😅 BUT it should be ok because if I couldn't replicate it that means I was already learning to let the paper dry 😇

    Maybe the love for watercolor will finally win out this time.

    Side note to anyone that happens to read this: I wanted to put this under the category of 'Traditional Media" but the drop down for creating a post doesn't give me the full set of categories I can use in the forum under "all categories."

  • @carolinedrawing something that I learned was that the new paint will always bleed into the area that is still wet/damp and not the other way around. This may be useful to know. When you do not wish to have any bleeding (sometimes you like to use this effect and other times there are area’s that you like to keep very neat/tight), it should really really really be dry 🙂

  • Moderator

    I might be able to help, but first, what exactly do you mean by water border?

  • @nadyart this really does help, thank you! That video is great. I was looking through a bunch of videos and that is not my preferred way of researching a problem unless I have a source I know I can rely on not to waste my time. Part of my painting is trees, so I maybe able to use this technique to redo it later when I get a handle on things.

    @burvantill If I load the brush with pigment and water and paint directly on the dry paper, I get a hard edge. So for the bottom of that photo, to get a better cloud, I painted the shape I wanted with only water, and then dropped the cobalt violet in and moved it around. The very bottom has a nice softened edge. I have a plan for the structure of the painting but needed to get an idea of how I wanted all the edges to look. I don't know the terminology yet.

  • @carolinedrawing said in Watercolor bleeding effect:

    to get a better cloud, I painted the shape I wanted with only water, and then dropped the cobalt violet in and moved it around. The very bottom has a nice softened edge.

    Sorry! I think I misunderstood and thought you were talking about the frilly blue at the top 😁
    I'm not sure exactly what's going on at the bottom.

  • @neschof no you were right!! sorry, I was happy with the bottom, and baffled by the top, worried that cauliflower thing would ruin my clouds randomly behind my back! But I hadn't let the paper dry so i think I put the water down thinking i knew where the pigment boundaries would be and then it creeped out a little toward the old water border, but not far, because it must have been nearly dry.

    I don't know how to talk about watercolors even though I have watched so many of the svs videos! It's like I forget everything while I'm doing it...

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