How do I avoid dull watercolors?”

This is the question I’ve been asked a lot lately. So I’m going to share with you with the solutions and options, that have worked well for me.


getting fresh watercolors, avoid dull paint, simple beginner watercolor steps, debiriley.com
Fresh. Watercolors! debiriley.com




Problem:  Dull Watercolors

You want to know why you keep getting lifeless, dulled looking watercolor paintings and you want to know how to stop it from happening!




Causes and Solutions


A.  Paints:

Inappropriate paints for the task at hand


  • Mixing Opaque paints (such as Cadmiums, Light Red, White, Ochre, etc)  into your mixes cause troubles.


  • Mixing student…. grade paints,  cause troubles and dullness as well.


  • Using a Stainer when you really need a Granulator, creates troubles.  A Stainer is transparent, deeply dark, and shoots Forth like a jet rocket. Whereas Granulators, settle and sink into the paper’s crevices to create more textural effects.


  • Mixing 2 warm colors together (ie Cadmium Scarlet Red and French Ultramarine blue)  Both are warm versions of their Color –   creates –  mud, dullness, listnessness.


  • Learning and knowing the warms and cools takes time.  Some effort. And a keen desire to improve.   This part, is not an overnight quick solution, but slow and steady.




EASY to strip back.   123

Limit dramatically the paints you use:   3 Paint colors.

(Perhaps a 4th, if  Required.)


My featured art work – Fresh Watercolor,  has 3 paints with about two drops of a 4th paint.

I used Quinacridone Gold,  Permanent Rose,  (these were artists’ Winsor and Newton) and   Cobalt Teal Blue and   Indigo (these were Daniel Smith Watercolors.)

The Indigo, I literally only used 2 dashes at the very final end of the painting to create a lovely luminous Fresh Watercolor.





B.   Timing:

Placing more paint on instead of waiting til the area is thoroughly dry

ahhhhh.   The dilemma of impatience!


and fiddling.   fiddling… yes,  it ranks in my mind as a 4 letter word. It creates Ruin!


A helpful sequence for painting is to remember to use first transparent paints, and then stainers, then  granulators,  and LAST…. if you must,   opaque paints applied on the dry surface.

This, is the Secret to Fresh Watercolors!





C.   Paper:

dull paper creates dull watercolors


If I use nice bright, 100% cotton rag paper I will invariably get a clean fresh lively energised look to the watercolor artwork.

But when I try to ‘go cheap’  and use student papers, Troubles Arise.


What trouble?  The student papers aren’t cotton but a mix of ‘cellulose pulp’  ie like a tissue or napkin really.

Thus, the paint doesn’t quite absorb in nor does it sit right.


The paint washes do not transition and give that smooth and gorgeous seamless blend, that I so love about watercolor!

I get an inferior work every time. In my opinion, its never the same luminosity and “Freshness”  I’m looking for. My Featured work is  fresh and lively, its on Arches 100% cotton cold press 300gsm paper.






So you can see, there are several very simple, very easy steps and techniques you can start doing today.

These simple methods are going to help you prevent tired, lifeless and overworked watercolor paintings.


Yes.  You can improve the freshness, the clean look, the vibrancy, the luminosity of your paintings…. if you simply remember

1  Paints

2 Timing

3 Paper





For more information on Watercolor Beginners  Basic Tips, Techniques the following articles provide great additional insights – to  get started on Fresh Watercolors! 


Watercolor Basic Beginner Tips 

Watercolor 3 types of edges 

Watercolor Techniques Trees 

Watercolor Spectacle of Trees 

Watercolor Mixing green 

Watercolor Secrets  

Watercolor Textures 

Watercolor 10 Great Brush Tips