Watercolor Tutorial Part 3: Mark Making

water color tutorial series
Are you all ready to take your water color to the next level?! This is part 3 of Yao’s amazing Watercolor Tutorial series! If you need to catch up check out Watercolor Tutorial pt 1: Basics & Supplies and Watercolor Tutorial Part 2: Blending.

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Hello again!

Hope you guys are having a watercolor lovin’ week! Today, I’m going to talk to you guys a little bit about mark making using your brushes. I think of my brush strokes as an extension of my hand, expressing ideas and emotions in a visual vocabulary. Knowing how to use your brushes will help you communicate your ideas in a much more impactful and interesting way! So, really take some time to practice and familiarize yourself with the different kinds of brushes that are out there. Just as there are so many different personalities out there, brushes also come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and bristle lengths. As a general rule, look for brushes that have longer and more densely packed bristles. They can usually hold more pigment and can create longer strokes.

Mark making really clicked with me in my personal work when I was studying floral painting and calligraphy in China during college. In Chinese calligraphy, all of the emotional energy of the artist are captured in the brush strokes. It feels as if the painting is dancing right in front of you!

With today’s step by step, I wanted to show you guys how I approach a typical landscape painting and how I use my brushes to capture the liveliness of the trees in this landscape. (For a quick video of how I paint trees in other ways, check out this Instagram video!) Using my round-tip brush, I will show you how I create the effect of the trees actually moving and swaying in the wind. Just a brief note about round-tip brushes, these are my favorite to use because they can create a wide range of marks from broad strokes to fine details. I’ll be talking a bit more about other types of brushes that I also use in the Tips and Tricks portion of this post.

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With landscapes and other nature paintings, I like to start with the background first. This is the perfect place to pick up your large brush, be it round or flat tipped, and load it with lots of water and pigment for broad washes. Remember my tutorial about blending? I’m using that technique to create the mountains and sky.

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Switching to my smaller round-tip brush, I’m going to add in more of the foreground starting with some quick vertical strokes to create blades of grass.

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In watercolor, clean water and paper towel can go a long way! I use it often to create a softer, “dreamy” look. To do this just add clean water to an area that has not yet dried and dab it away with a clean paper towel.

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Just as I start from the center out when painting flowers, I use the same approach with trees. So, while envisioning how a tree might grow, start with the trunk/branches and work your way out to create pretty leafy greens!

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This is where I start to get expressive with my brush marks. With trees, layering quick and short strokes from the inside out create the sense of leafy foliage. So pink trees, here we come!

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Don’t be afraid to add some pressure into those bristles to get a variation in stroke sizes. I usually work pretty quickly through landscape paintings because I like to capture the immediacy and energy in my brush strokes. Continue to layer with more color and strokes to create depth and tone variation in the trees!

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Once the painting has dried, go back into the painting with more detailed leafy greens to show more depth and contrast.

Now last but not least, sit back and admire your finished piece!

There are so many different brushes out there, so I’m just going to show you guys a few different ways I use some of my favorite brushes.

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In addition to trees and landscapes, you can use your round-tip brushes to easily and quickly create very different shapes like delicate leaves and circles.

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I always keep a small round tip (a size 2 or 4) handy because they are great for details like these.

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This is a slanted flat-tip brush, and since the bristle length is not very long, they are great for straight edges like geometrics but not ideal for longer strokes. Using that to your advantage, you can create some serious Bob Ross trees like the pine trees on the right. Can’t you just hear him making his “swish swish” sound effects?

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As demonstrated in the beginning of the landscape painting, the flat brush on the left is great for washes because of the length and volume of its bristles. The image on the right is a flat-tip brush that you can also experiment washes with, it usually creates interesting textures along the way! Also try loading a wet brush with a lot of pigment versus a dry brush with very little pigment, these two techniques will give you very different results!

Well, that’s all for this week’s watercolor tutorial! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more awesome tutorials that will surely inspire you to pick up your watercolors and see how fun this medium can be!

‘Till next time folks,

Updated April 2015Yao now offers an online tutorial! Check it out! 

Thank you so much Yao! I cannot wait to become a watercolor master! Yao has sweetly offered you guys 20% off at her shop or etsy shop using the code THEALISONSHOW !! So be sure to check out her gorgeous work.


  1. cath

    i love your watercolor tutorials. thank you for a nice blog! 🙂

    1. thank you!

  2. Shar

    I just stumbled across your site and Yao’s tutorials. One word: amazing! I can’t wait to see more!

  3. I’ve just rediscovered watercolors after 10 years gone from painting and I am so enjoying this series! I’d love to see a tutorial on how Yao does the lettering featured at the beginning of the posts? Thank you for all of this!

  4. I want to learn more about the way you paint. I hope I filled out the site correctly. Mrskp1@sbcglobal.net. Please add me to your list. Thank you.

  5. Pat

    Love your tutorials, have been painting watercolor for about 8 years, the more you paint the better you become and you can never stop learning. Keep teaching.

  6. Michaele

    Love the watercolor techniques but who is Yeo. I didn’t find a link to her page or even a last name. Can you fill me in so I can follow her as well? Thanks.

    1. All the links to her page are at the bottom of the post! But I’m sure they need some updating so here you go! thank you!


  7. Dianna Gangapersad

    Very good techniques thank you!

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