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How to Fix Mistakes in Watercolor

My mom mentioned she’d been sketching but felt intimidated by watercolor because “if you make a mistake you can’t correct it.”

“You know, ” I said, “watercolor’s a lot more forgiving than people give it credit for. “

Knowing your paints can really help when you make mistakes in watercolor!
Knowing your paints can really help when you make mistakes in watercolor!

I spent last week up in Michigan’s U.P. at a family reunion.  My mom (a true artist on the piano) happened to mention that she’d been sketching but felt intimidated by watercolor because “if you make a mistake you can’t correct it.”

“You know, ” I said, “watercolor’s a lot more forgiving than people give it credit for. “

And it’s true.

There are a couple things you need to know about correcting mistakes in watercolor.

One is to move quickly.  If you wipe it up right away with a clean wet brush or damp paper towel, you can usually get even the most staining colors to lift quite a lot.

The other is to know your pigments.  Some hues in watercolor are a lot more forgiving than others.  They’re known as “non-staining” colors, and they’re easy to remove from the paper with your damp brush or towel even after they’ve dried.

Other hues stain like crazy so you’d better move like lightning to get up as much as you can if they land somewhere unwelcome!

Non-staining colors generally have larger pigment particles which are less likely to adhere to the paper.  Most of the earth tones are non- or low-staining colors.  Some examples are yellow ochre, burnt sienna and cerulean blue.

Examples of staining pigments are pthalo blue (VERY staining!) and alizarin crimson.

Daniel Smith has a great line of watercolors.  One of the things I really like about shopping for them is that they tell you all the characteristics of each hue right on the page.  It really helps when you’re choosing paints you’ve never tried before!