Watercolor Tutorial Part 4: Layering

watercolor tutorials
Yao is back with yet another great installment of Watercoloring Basics! This is part 4 of 5 of Yao’s amazing Watercolor Tutorial series! If you need to catch up check out Watercolor Tutorial Part 1: Basics & Supplies and Watercolor Tutorial Part 2: Blending, and Watercolor Tutorial Part 3: Mark Making. Now take it away Yao!

Hello there!

I hope you guys have been enjoying these watercolor tutorials, this is really a love of mine and I’m glad to be reaching out and sharing these posts with all of you! So, this week I want to talk with you guys about how you can layer and create richness with watercolor. As I have mentioned before in previous posts, watercolor has this really unique quality of being translucent. Because of how wide this range of translucency to opacity is, I wanted to show you guys this step by step of how I use this quality of watercolor in my work. This painting was inspired by the undulating and foggy hilltops of a beautiful landscape I found.

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.07.19 PM
In the Blending post, we talked about adding saturated colors to wet areas as a way to blend colors. Incorporating these different techniques together with layering will give your artwork more depth and visual interest.


A quick note about taping the edges: I like to use ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape when I would like to go off the edge of my work but still keep that very clean, straight border. This painters tape does wonders every time, just make sure to really press down on the edges to keep pigment from seeping through!

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.17.39 PM

Using a range of values from rich to very light colors is the way to go with layering. Just remember to allow your painting to dry completely between layering to keep the different layers of paint from blending together.

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.17.46 PM
Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.21.17 PM
Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.21.27 PM

In addition to incorporating blending techniques, dabbing a paper towel on wet surfaces will give you a faded, textured effect. More on using paper towels in the next post!

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.22.27 PM
Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.22.35 PM

As you continue to add more and more layers, the complexity and beauty of your painting will start to come through. This is usually the part in the painting process that I know I’m on to something really great and interesting!

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.23.39 PM
Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.23.30 PM

Alright folks, this is the best part! Taking off the tape often makes me feel like I’m unwrapping presents at Christmas… When it’s all pulled off, the clean edges frame the rich landscape inside so well!


Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.25.23 PM

Take a few minutes and really explore hues and saturations. Adding a lot to very little water will give you a wide range of color, and layering these colors together will further enhance the color and brightness. Again, make sure every layer is completely dry before adding a new layer!

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.26.12 PM
Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.26.20 PM

Layering can be used on just about anything you can think of! In this case, I’m showing you how it can look with pretty floras.

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 11.27.12 PM

Dots are also really fun with this technique! The more layers you add to something like this, the fuller and brighter the colors will appear.
I used this same approach with my Colorful Falling Dots print, which you can find here.

That’s all for this week’s watercolor tutorial. As always, I hope you guys have a watercolor-fun week!

‘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. Janice

    This is great! Thank you so much for posting, I might just take a stab at it

  2. sharon

    Love this!

  3. the colors you use are wonderful! i often get too excited and start painting the new layer before the last one has dried, often getting my paper too wet. I love watercolors and thanks Alison and Yao for these gorgeous tuts!

  4. Absolutely loving this series! thanks Yao and Alison.

  5. Arun Jacob

    Your tutorials are wonderful. Got a variety, different from other watercolor tutorials. Good going…looking forward for more 🙂

    1. mariea hall

      Love your use of color

  6. Miruna

    You are great! and your tutorials are very useful and encouraging
    I can’t wait for the next level of watercolors that you prepared:)

  7. I wish I could paint like you!



  9. Sue

    These tutorials are great. I’ve been trying to get back into watercolor painting after 25 yrs away from it, and this has helped a ton. Plus, Yao’s watercolors are so beautiful and inspiring. Thanks for posting!

  10. Susan Horvat

    I love the delicacy of your techniques. thanks for sharing this. Susan

  11. Tanith

    Hi Alison,

    I came across this through my feed on fb. Is there any chance i could get the links to the previous 3 tutorials?? I play with watercolor but your tutorials are clean and easy to follow. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  12. Hi.

    Thanks for the info. Beautiful.

    I was wondering if you are painting on a totally flat surface, or an angle?

  13. Christine

    Love this lesson…thanks, your finished landscape is gorgeous & the technique shown in the floral is so effective.
    Thank you…

  14. MaLuz Sánchez

    Ilike it. Thanks Alison

  15. Kathleen Weiner

    I love your work! I would like to know where to purchase plastic sleeves and fiberboard for finished paintings ~ Thank you

  16. Cailin Davis

    I positively love this series… did she complete Part 5? I think I may have missed it along the way… mucho mucho Yao love!!

  17. Tom

    Hey That was a lot of useful information which helps me to get into watercolours again. I haven’t seriously painted on paper for a long long time so thank you for your effort and sharing your knowledge! 🙂

  18. Cole

    What watercolor brand did you use? I really want to knowwww. @-@

  19. Ruchi

    So to understand about layering technique , do I add more color to wet or dry paper, which already has some color? Do I need to wet the previous painted color, and then add another color. Or keep the previous one dry, then add more shades on this one. Not sure, please advice.

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