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Tips when making watercolors

This blog post is dedicated to future watercolor maker nerds, and current makers!

It will be include an array of tips and hints. I have noticed a lot of you have followed me on Instagram and on the forum and I thank you so much for your ongoing support. What I can say is that I do check you all out, and I gather notes and observations that might make the watercolor making process just a little bit less stressful for you and some things I have noticed will hinder your progress too.

If you are reading this and find a tip helpful, please feel free to tag me in a post/story so that I know that my advice is assisting you or leave a comment below. If you are a seasoned watercolor nerd, feel free to add your tips to the comments section.

Tip 1: Pouring in layers

When pouring a first layer of paint, DO NOT fill the pan to the top. This will encourage air bubbles to form undetected. This can slow down the curing process. The idea is to efficiently cure paints and the best way to achieve this is by doing it in layers. Sometimes it can take anywhere from 2 - 5 layers to completely fill a pan. It is because, as the pigments dry, they lose moisture and shrink while doing so. The binder is essentially a glue, so glue eventually goes hard so the same applies to making watercolors.

Tip 2: What to do with leftover paint?

Lots of solutions for this dilemma. No one wants to waste precious paint right?!

You can store the paint in a jar/container provided it is AIR-TIGHT or you could store it in a plastic syringe provided you put a cap or stopper on the tip to preserve air-tightness.

Tips when using a syringe: When storing in the syringe, I put the cap on first and pour into the end without the pusher on and then once filled, I put the pusher in and tip the opposite way to have it sink away from the tip and push up ever so gently to remove the air. Once the air is all gone, you can put the cap on. When re-using again be ever so careful when removing the cap (explosions can occur!!!) I point the syringe at the pan on the ready or onto the slab so it won't matter if it explodes because it can be retrieved safely. Pointing towards the carpet or ceiling is living dangerously my friend!

Another solution is to make dot cards that you can use as samples to send to your friends and family to try out. This is a fabulous idea even if you do not wish to sell your paints because it is such a lovely surprise that can easily fit into an envelope. If you wish to sell your paints, it is a wonderful way for your buyers to try out your other colors that you offer. This increases your chances of repeat buyers.

Tip 3: Air Bubbles

Air bubbles are another common, although normal occurrence when making watercolors.

Mica pigments are notorious for harvesting air bubbles. Slowing down the speed at which you mix and mull is the first way to try to decrease the likelihood of air bubbles.

A tip shared by Simone from @studioartisjok is to pour your mica paints first before moving onto your non shimmer paints, so that you can be available to pop the bubbles while you mull other paints. For example, I would not advise making mica pigment based paints and then dashing off. The best thing would be to observe them over a period of 0 - 2 hours. I generally notice that after popping so many bubbles, they eventually die off or that said amount of air that was trapped has now reached the surface and escaped.

Some non shimmer pigments can form bubbles, no particular type of pigment is at fault here but rather that the speed at which mulling has occurred has encouraged air bubbles to form. You will know to expect them if you see them while mulling. They look like tiny black dots at first. Once poured, you will see them sitting altogether as tiny dots initially before they begin to grow into bigger bubbles.

Tip 4: Cracked Paint

This is super common and there can be a trillion reasons for this and this is a very difficult scenario to problem solve without knowing your atmospheric conditions, binder recipe, pigment(s) used and method of making itself.

If you are NEW to making watercolors, beware of the below pigments!

Commonly used pigments that are notorious for cracking include Prussian Blue, Alizarin Crimson, combination pigments, aqua chromium, most of the oxide based pigments, any of the quinacridone pigments, dioxazine violet, some cadmiums, indigo, any Phthalo pigment and glow in the dark pigments. These pigments NEED a lot of moisture therefore an awful lot, if not double the amount of binder than other pigments. They should be runny, not gluggy. If it is gluggy, I add more binder. If it's gluggy I know it'll crack or shrink substantially and fall out of the pan whole or cracked!

My tip: experiment with each pigment in relation to your climate conditions i.e. humid or cold conditions and dependent upon your own binder that you use. Store bought binder does not include honey or glycerin. It is only water and gum arabic. Make notes on which ones require more binder than others and adapt to the NEEDS of the pigment. You cannot expect that every pigment will behave exactly the same way each time because any change in the conditions will render a different outcome. i.e. making the same color in different seasons winter versus summer.

Tip 5: Pigment rubbing off the paper

Two solutions.

1. Mull it longer to enable the binder and pigment to bond better together.

How do I know if I have mulled long enough?

Answer: stop and test the paint every so often. Paint onto paper, allow to dry, and then conduct the rub off test. i.e. rub your finger onto the swatch and see if there is any pigment on your finger.

2. More binder needed to enable the pigment to bind completely.

Thank you if you have read this far! I hope that you have learned something new or maybe an affirmation that you are on the right track.

I want you to know that I appreciate you visiting the blog and I hope that you feel welcome to join the forum and share your insights whether success or fail.

And to end my post I want to say that I have been making watercolors for nearly a year. In that time I have worked with a lot (but not every) pigment and I have mostly worked closer to full time during my journey into watercolor making. I do not regard myself as an expert, but I do have a lot of experience and I like to share because that is exactly what I needed when I first started out and struggled to find.

I am sharing the sorts of things I wish I knew that would have made the process much easier. Some of this knowledge I have gained from many hours of trial and error and some from fellow watercolor makers. To those watercolor makers, thank you for supporting me and promoting genuine community over competition. Some watercolor makers do not wish to share their insights or interact with fellow watercolor makers. I feel this is a personal choice and one that I feel limits them but it is their choice. So to those of you who like to share and promote learning, I thank you.


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Jun 30, 2021

This is a fabulous post with so much great information. Thank you!

Stacey Dodd
Stacey Dodd
Jul 01, 2021
Replying to

My absolute pleasure. Thank you for reading.


This is an excellent post, thank you Stacey for sharing this. <3


Sep 29, 2019

Such a great and informative post, Stacey! I just wanna add that I keep my leftover paint in air tight mason jares in the fridge at all times. It's crazy but I have a whole big drawer in the fridge dedicated to paint only. I even store my finished paints in the fridge :-)

Layers: with matte paints, the more layers the better. I pour up to 6 layers for my matte paints. The shimmers are more forgiving and sometimes only require 3 layers.

aloha & hugs!


Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us! I've been curious about the gum arabic and glycerine/ honey bit. I wasn't sure if I would need to add the latter with premade or not.Also, I've been making a list of difficult pigments, so I know where to expect trouble, if I ever get that far!


Aug 26, 2019

Thank You! 💜

Very helpful, I just ordered glow in the dark Pigments 🙃

Thanks to you I know now what to expect! 💜💜💜

I learned so far that making a too big amount of color on the Slab is a bad Idea...It mostley happens to me with Pigments that soak up Binder like crazy.... My last Experiment was Graphite from a Pencil, definitely nothing I would reccomend to a Beginner, it soaks up Binder like crazy and takes a long time to mull🙈

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