Tips On Using Your Watercolors On Wood

Michael Daly
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Prepping The Wood For Watercolor

Before you can use your watercolors, you need to prep the wood (the piece you want to paint on). First of all, you need to sand it to a smooth, even surface.

There are different types of sanders available for this task; I recommend a random orbital sander because it is gentler on the wood.

You also want to sand the wood in any direction, so that you are not just erasing the existing lines on the wood.

A good thing about watercolors is that they can be used to cover up any mistake or even extend upon an existing piece of wood.

So if you have any idea when you first started painting on your wood and you want to remove it, you can sand it down and start again.

Sanding Your Wood

To begin, let’s talk about preparation and sanding. To make sure the watercolor paints adhere properly and don’t fade, you need to sand them. Start by sanding the whole piece of wood, then move on thought the grain. Pay special attention to any knots or rough spots.

Watercolors and water-soluble paints will work best on a smooth, well-sanded surface. A rough surface will ruin your design as the color will soak into the bumps and crevices.

If you notice that your watercolors aren’t sticking, try sanding the area more. It may be a bit time consuming, but making sure the wood is smooth will give you the desired results.

If you need to, you can build up the color with layers either by spraying more color on top or by painting over what you’ve already done with a new color.

Dust Removal

A great surface to paint on wood. Like most surfaces that look available their surface is not very accepting of water.

You will notice some of the dust that comes off the wood or other projects.

Take the clean tissue and shake off the dust with a little pressure being applied to remove as much as you can.

Now you should also use it to clean the water color after you have finished a piece of art.

I find using a pencil eraser is much faster but they all have is soft and should not scratch the surface.

Priming Your Wood For Watercolor Paints

Painting a wooden surface with watercolors can bring out the natural beauty of wood, giving it a richer dimension and patina. However, the surface of a wooden piece has to be prepared first to get a smooth and even surface. Preparing your wood also ensures that the pieces won’t warp when you paint it.

Priming. The first thing that you should do is cover the surface of your wooden piece with a coat of wax. This will ensure that the wood has a good smooth surface for your paints.

Painting. The second thing that you need to do is apply a primer. This in turn will block the surface of the wood and make sure that only the pigment of your tinted watercolors stick on the surface of the wood.


If you want to paint on a piece of wood, you first need to give it a good coat of gesso. The gesso evens out the grain and smooths the work surface. It also prevents atmospheric pollutants from penetrating the wood which could cause discoloration.

Gesso can be purchased at your local art supply store. A small container will last a long time, so it’s well worth investing in.

Apply the gesso with a brush, or an old foam roller. Used rollers and brushes can be bought from art supply stores at a reasonable price. A foam roller gives you a very even coat. You can also use a sprayer if you don’t have a roller. That’s the easiest way to do it, but be sure to get a high-quality sprayer. It’s worth buying a Troy sprayer, or a Graco. Do NOT use the sort of sprayer they have at home improvement stores.

Watercolor Ground

– Don't Paint On Polymer Clay!

The mistake that many novice watercolorists make when beginning a painting is to use the same watercolor for the whole painting. In the same way that you can move from one color to another on a painting, you can also move from one grounds to another. Moving from one grounds to another forms what is called a “palette of grounds,” which has a whole set of characteristics that make it unique.

Also, polymer clay is not a watercolor ground. Instead, use the polymer clay ground or an acrylic grounds like the watercolor ground, the soft pastels, or acrylic grounds. Watercolor canvases can have a raised or a type of “sandpaper” quality. They can also be smooth. Some have tooth.

So, let’s talk about what a watercolor ground is. Watercolor grounds are like a pallet of grounds. They are applied just like watercolor to canvas or paper before applying watercolor. Some grounds can even be mixed with watercolor to create your own unique ground.

The different grounds are therefore different texture or sheens, so to speak.

Most watercolor artists tend to use watercolor ground as the base for some of their paintings, or to create certain color effects.

How To Paint Watercolor On Wood Panel

If your dream is to paint outdoor scenes, then you need to prepare your surfaces by using outdoor paints on surfaces. However, there are some things you need to have and use to paint your surfaces.

There are some things you need to consider and a few tips to keep in mind when painting watercolor on wooden panels. Before painting try to give the panel some coats of primer or base paint. This will make it easier for the paints to stick to the surface.

Provide at least three to four coats of brown paint to the wooden surface. Apply one thin coat after another. Some people recommend putting a finish layer of paint to make the surface smoother especially if you are planning to use the painting as a house decoration.

Finally, allow the surfaces to dry for at least two days before looking for a good medium or paint. If you have any doubts stick to the paint store for the best advice.

The paints you use will depend on the type of watercolor you are using and the scene you are depicting.

Sealing Watercolor On Wood With The Right Varnish

Most water color painters choose acrylic varnish over other clear finishes because it means they can paint with the watercolors right away, no waiting for the finish to dry.

One other advantage acrylic varnish has is that it can create a more matte finish on the wood. Some watercolorists use gloss enamels, which can alter the sheen of the watercolor paintings, or opt for no clear finish at all in order to create a more textured surface.

You may want to change your watercolor's surface, but if you apply your finish with a brush, you'll end up destroying the underlying paint with tannin bleeding, rippling, and other effects, too.

This means you're limited to using products that can spray on the clear finish, but there are some other techniques you can use.

The upside to using a spray finish is that it helps fill in any open areas with feathers and a matte finish. The downside to using a spray finish is that it can only be used outside.

This is the easiest way to get a flat finish for the watercolors on wood, the type that watercolors are known for.

Watercoloring on Almost Wood

You may have a table with a top that is not real wood. Just because it isn’t really wood, doesn’t mean you can’t watercolor on it. Just select a watercolor that is less likely to bleed through the top.

It is also a good idea to use a watercolor block instead of the loose watercolors. You may also want to place a piece of wax paper on the table before you put the watercolor block on it. This makes clean-up a breeze.

Taking Command Of Watercolor On Wood

Watercolor is a big obstacle for many woodworkers – but it shouldn't be! It can actually be really easy and fun.

It's deceptively simple to do a great job with watercolor on wood. Follow these basic guidelines –

1 – Use quality painting boards.

2 – Choose the right watercolor paper for the job.

3 – Tape your watercolor down – and here's how!

4 – Stencil Your Groupings

5 – Use a wet rag to clean up – and here's why you should!

It all sounds great – but why should I do this? What can I use this for?

Good questions! I recently used custom watercolor and stenciled carved fretwork on a project that was so much fun for me I wanted to show you some photos and share with you why I think it is worth doing.

Imagine this – you've made a shelf with wood and it's in your shop and you want to make it a special shelf to showcase on a wall or a collection of photos. Here is where watercolor stencils come in – they are easy to use and they make it quick and easy to personalize your wood work!

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