Whether you’re a professional fine artist or an amateur painter, there will likely come a time where you sit and stare at a blank sheet of paper with no idea of what to paint.
It happens to all creative artists. Writers experience writer’s block. Musicians struggle to put new chords and melodies together. Sculptors press and shape clay with no idea of what they want to create.
And painters are no different.
No matter how creative we may think we are, we all hit creative blocks where we need a little push to get new ideas flowing.
Are you looking for some new themes or motifs to paint in watercolors?
Here are 13 easy watercolor painting ideas (as well as some different watercolor techniques) to help you get those creative juices flowing.
Watercolor Painting Ideas
Are you tired of painting watercolor flowers and watercolor landscapes?
While it’s easy to revert to these classic themes, watercolor paints offer the freedom to paint anything you can conjure in your mind.
Here are some fresh ideas that you can try (and possibly even turn into an entire watercolor series).
Do you love painting people, realistic objects, and natural elements? It's time to sidestep your comfort zone and create an abstract watercolor painting.
Abstract art allows you to get experimental with shapes, colors, and patterns. It’s also a great way to test new pigments, try unique brushstrokes, or learn new paint layering techniques.
The smooth arc and multiple panels used in the construction of umbrellas make them a wonderful watercolor painting idea. Regardless of your skill level, both beach umbrellas and rain umbrellas make for a fun and whimsical subject matter.
Umbrellas exist to protect against wind and rain, so try painting them with extra-watery paints for a transparent effect. You can also use layered pigments to create even bolder colors and more vibrancy in your art.
Paint Sweet Treats
Indulge your inner child (or your sweet tooth) by painting wrapped candies, cupcakes, and ice cream cones. These sweet treats come in all shapes and sizes and can be decorated with unlimited colors and accents, making them a fun study in watercolors.
Paint Your Home (or Your Neighbor’s Home)
Do you often fling open your window or sit outside to paint simple landscapes or flowers? Instead of painting natural elements, try your hand at painting architecture instead.
Find a vantage point in your yard that you haven’t painted from before and paint your home from a new perspective.
If you reside in an apartment or have no outdoor space, paint the building across the street instead.
Paint Colorful Eyes
The shape of the human eye is especially easy to paint — but it’s what you paint inside the eye that can make this a unique watercolor painting idea.
Get creative by incorporating different patterns, textures, and colors inside the eye or on the paper around it.
Paint an Instrument
Are musical instruments lying around your home or apartment? Painting the curves of a guitar, the keys of a piano, or the rectangular bells of a xylophone allows you to get creative with color while working with a defined shape.
And, with so many different instruments to choose from, this can quickly turn into an experimental series and become your favorite new collection.
Paint Your Favorite Shoes
If you prefer to paint with a reference point as your guide, pull your favorite pair of shoes from your closet. Practice your brushstrokes on the sides of the shoe and perfect your steady hand when it’s time to paint the laces or other small details.
Paint a Dress
Like shoes, dresses come in a wide variety of silhouettes, fabrics, and colors. Pull a dress from your closet and use the shape as a guideline. You can recreate it exactly as is or have fun altering the details.
Paint Sliced Fruit
There’s nothing new about painting a still life bowl of fruit. But one way to deviate from that norm is to pick fruit and slice it in half.
Most fruits are much more detailed on the inside than on the outside. This makes painting a sliced fruit an excellent way to challenge yourself with more intricate detail.
Light a candle, blow it out, and paint those smoke swirls that wisp through the air. Smoke swirls are abstract in nature, so imperfections in your work will only make it that much more unique.
Paint Holiday Ornaments
From balls to spirals to snowflakes to teardrops, Christmas ornaments come in a slew of shapes, sizes, and colors. You may even want to frame them and use them as wall art during the holiday season.
Paint a Door
Rectangular doors are an easy subject matter to paint, but you can paint them to explore your use of color and brushstrokes. Since the rectangular shape is simple to achieve, challenge yourself by adding different details and textures.
Paint a Textile
Textiles and fabrics are rich with texture, and you already have them all over your home. Find inspiration in a thick crochet blanket or a cozy knit sweater. Embrace the beauty of a delicate piece of lace or silk.
Or, flip the script and paint in watercolor directly on fabric with textile watercolor paints.
Try New Techniques
Maybe your mind is already bursting with numerous ideas of subjects you want to paint. Perhaps we’ve inspired you with some of the ideas above. Either way, the best way to become a skilled watercolor artist is to practice new watercolor painting techniques.
Watercolor paints lend themselves to a variety of different manipulations.
Here are a few ways you can create different looks and textures in your painting using elements you probably already have at home:
Sprinkle With Salt
You can make even a simple watercolor painting look incredibly unique by sprinkling your paper with salt.
Start painting, and while the paint is still wet, sprinkle coarse salt (such as sea salt) all over your design. The grains of salt will soak up the paint differently, creating a unique texture that requires minimal effort.
Once the paint is dry, flake the salt off.
Douse With Rubbing Alcohol
You can create cool, watery effects by dripping a bit of rubbing alcohol onto the wet paint.
Use a Q-tip to drip alcohol onto your wet canvas, and you’ll see different degrees of transparency as both the alcohol and paint dry. You can keep the size of your drops consistent or mix it up to create a more exciting finish.
Splatter Your Paint
It can get a bit messy, but splattering your paint instead of brushing it can take a simple landscape painting or a basic flower painting to new heights.
You can use the splatter technique as your primary technique. You can also paint your paper, let it dry, and add splatters on top of the finished product.
Lay Down Rubber Cement
Instead of using masking fluid to create voids and lines, put down some rubber cement. Rubber cement dries thick and is easy to remove, making it easy to create unique patterns in and around the paint.
Start by covering your canvas or watercolor paper with the glue, paint on top of it and around it, and peel it off when the paint dries.
Incorporate Pen and Ink
Another way to make your paintings more interesting is to incorporate watercolor pencils, pens, and ink into your art. You can even mix mediums and use watercolor paint in conjunction with acrylic paint to create more depth and dimension.
Adding new details with pens or additional paint makes any canvas painting or paper painting look like a brand new watercolor art piece.
Paint on Different Surfaces
As a fine artist, you probably have a preferred surface that you paint on. For some of us, that’s paper. For others, it’s canvas.
But there are various surfaces that you can paint on — and surface alone can drastically alter your work’s look and feel.
Paint on a Surface You’ve Never Painted on Before
If you’re accustomed to painting on one particular surface, it’s time to try painting on something new. From paper to canvas to wood to fabric, watercolor paints work on various surfaces to produce vastly different results.
Choose a surface that you’ve never used before. You’ll never know if you like it unless you test it out.
Use Watercolor Grounds
If you’re looking to paint on a surface other than paper, absorbent grounds are an excellent way to create a porous, almost paper-like surface. They’re ideal for use on wood, metal, ceramic, plastic, and glass.
Golden’s Absorbent Ground and Daniel Smith’s Watercolor Grounds are two of the best options on the market. To make your painting even more dynamic, try Daniel Smith’s Gold and Pearlescent White Watercolor Ground to give your painting an even more unique look and feel.
Use a Different Press or Texture
For artists who traditionally stick to paper, you may want to consider trying different types of paper than those you usually use. Choose a different press, use a rough texture, or paint on a watercolor block to mix up your typical style.
Even something as simple as switching from individual sheets of paper to a watercolor sketchbook may be all it takes to give you some new inspiration. You might also inspire yourself merely by trying out new watercolor brushes or experimenting with gradient paintbrush techniques.
If you’re a self-taught artist with no formal training, there are many step-by-step tutorials online. These can be quite useful, especially for a new artist interested in learning new brush strokes and new techniques.
Paint on Wood
Raw wood is an excellent surface for painting — as long as it’s light in color.
Turn plain wood into a one-of-a-kind serving tray. Paint a wood panel to hang on your wall as three-dimensional art. Paint a rustic wood frame to hang and display your favorite photo.
Different types of wood absorb different colors in different ways. So the results you get on one piece will rarely be the same as the results you’ll get on a similar piece of wood. This alone makes wood watercolor art perfect for the artist who wants to ensure that every piece they produce is truly one-of-a-kind.
Paint on a Printable Photo
Find a black and white photo that you love, print it out, and paint it in spots to highlight the subject matter.
You can paint in pastel hues or go bold by layering on thicker, more vibrant pigments. A little bit of color added to a black and white pic is a great way to mix mediums and colorize a grayscale image without using digital filters.
Paint a Greeting Card
Instead of buying a greeting card, a thank you card, or a birthday card in a store, DIY your own with watercolor paint and Strathmore Watercolor Cards.
There are video tutorials online that detail exactly how to do it, but all it takes is some heavy paper and an idea. You can paint any words, images, or sentiments you like on the outside and use a calligraphy pen for handwriting a custom message on the inside.
Create Your Own Bookmark
If you love to read (or need a gift for someone who does), make your next watercolor painting into a bookmark. Keep the bookmark’s shape slim, use heavyweight paper, and punch a small hole in the top to add a playful tassel.
If you’re the type of artist who paints every day, there will inevitably come a time when you’re out of ideas. Look out your window and use a tree, a log, a tulip, or the night sky as inspiration when in doubt.
But if you’re tired of painting objects in nature, the watercolor painting ideas above just might inspire you to find a new subject. Once you find a new subject you love, keep at it, and improve your skill level by trying new techniques and painting on different surfaces.
As a watercolor artist, there’s only one thing you need to know: your artistic expression is only as limited as your imagination.
Excited to try out these new ideas and techniques? Check out our Jewel Tone Watercolor Set to get started with watercolors that suit various styles while offering stunning pigmentation.