here's an example of what works for painting watercolor step by step

A simple, easy way to paint watercolor step by step. You can use the same steps for any watercolor painting.

We will be painting a colorful, freshwater Koi Angelfish. Angelfish are a popular aquarium fish that come from the Amazon River of South America.

what materials will you use?

  • Drawing materials
  • Masking fluid
  • Paint, the colors below
  • A watercolor brush
  • Watercolor paper, any size
  • Clean water and paper towels
  • A palette or a Styrofoam plate
Painting watercolor step by stepWatercolor is Easy!

painting watercolor step by step

  • Let's get an easy game plan for watercolor painting.
  • Then you can confidently paint any watercolor with these steps.

get ready to paint

Have a container of clean water ready for painting and to rinse your brush between colors.

It's good to have paper towels or a sponge to wipe the excess water off your brush. But I am trying a new thing instead, a wash cloth near the water container.

Select a color scheme for each painting. Paper clip the color scheme on your color wheel.

Then refer to it and lay out your paint colors: yellow, orange, red-orange, blue-violet and blue.

How to Select a Color Scheme.

draw your angelfish

Do your drawing on a separate tablet. Erasures on the watercolor paper can damage it.

This is for learning how to paint watercolor step by step, so don't worry about doing a perfect drawing.

just have fun!

Transfer your drawing to your painting surface with graphite paper.  If you are good at drawing, do your drawing directly on the watercolor paper.

Use light marks, when you put your drawing on the painting surface. Heavy pencil or graphite marks can show thru into the finished painting.

  • Apply masking fluid to protect the highlight on the top of the angelfish and its two long feelers.
  • Let the masking fluid dry before you do any painting.

Then you may paint right over the dry masking fluid and the paper stays white underneath.

more about saving the white paper


*tip - how to paint watercolor step by step

Keep a container of clean water. Wash you brush between colors. Wipe the wet brush across a paper towel to remove the excess water. Too much water make wimpy, washed out colors.

Always use a clean brush to dip into the fresh colors. Mix your colors out in the center of your palette away from the clean paint.

If you are going to cover a large area like the water, wet the intended area. Paint clean water across the area. Keep the other areas of the painting dry, so the color will not flow into those areas.

Let the water soak into the paper until the shine is gone, but the paper is still damp to the touch. Paint the color across the intended area in one application.

Let the color dry before you paint color in the adjoining areas, so the colors don't bleed together.

paint the background

  • Watercolor is painted in layers from light to darker colors.

So the background is painted in two layers. First a light layer and then after it is dry, darker colors are painted.

background - step one

  • Paint the light areas.
The light in this painting is coming from the upper left.Start painting the background in the upper left corner.

The light in this painting is coming from the upper left.

Set the corner of your watercolor tablet up on something to help the paint flow down when you are painting. I used a 2x4 piece of wood.

Mix orange with plenty of water and start painting in the corner.

Continue painting a watercolor wash down the paper.Continue painting a watercolor wash down the paper.

Paint quickly to prevent hard edges.

Farther down, add a light blue. Paint darker as you get farther away from the light.

Mix your orange or orange-red with either blue or blue-violet to get darker colors.

Paint around the angelfish.


The first wash of the background is finished.The light layer of the background

The first wash of the background is finished. Let it dry completely.

You may use a hairdryer to speed up the process. But let some water soak away first. Otherwise, the hairdryer will blow the colors around.

Note, the yellow on the fish is the masking fluid.


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background - step two

  • Paint the darker background areas.
Add some darker colors to the background.Add some darker colors and texture.

Now that the first layer is dry, you can add some darker colors behind and below the fish.

Dampen the area you are going to paint a little past where you want to paint. Paint your darker colors and stop before you get to the edge of the wet area. The edge will blend out softly, preventing any hard edges.

While the paint is still wet, you may sprinkle on some sea salt for added texture. You may also, splatter some wet paint from your paint brush.

Mix your desired color with water and load it onto the brush. Hold the brush over the painting. Then tap the handle of the brush to make the wet paint splatter onto the painting.

Let the background dry before you start painting the Koi Angelfish. This painting watercolor step by step.

painting the angelfish

Now we get to paint the Koi Angelfish.

  • The angelfish aren't all marked alike. The bright color and where the dark spots are vary from fish to fish.
Koi Angelfish A
Koi Angelfish B
Koi Angelfish C

They all have somethings in common. The colored part is on the front and top of the Koi Angelfish. It varies from yellow to orange.

The dark spots are black. They may appear anywhere on the body or fins.

  • The point is we don't have to be exact about where we put the color or the spots. Just paint and have fun!

That's what makes this a great fish for learning how to paint watercolor step by step.

paint the top color on the angelfish

Dampen the top area of the angelfish where you are going to paint color.

Paint the yellow on the top of the angelfish.Paint the yellow on the top of the angelfish.

Paint the yellow a little darker on the top edge of the fish. Where the yellow stops down on the body, feather the color out softly with a clean, damp brush.



Continue painting your angelfish. While the yellow is still damp, dab orange on the yellow.

Continue painting the angelfish with orange.Continue painting the angelfish with orange.

Softly dab the orange on with the tip of your brush to simulate the scales of a fish. That's what painting watercolor step by step can do.

The orange will feather out into the damp yellow paint.

Paint around the eye.


paint the eye and start the dark spots

Mix a black out of your complimentary colors, orange and blue.

Paint the eye of the angelfish.Paint the eye of the angelfish.

Paint the black center of the eye. If you leave a little speck of white in the eye, it gives life to the fish. Paint an orange ring around the eye with a highlight.

Softly paint some lavender or blue shadows on the bottom half of the body.

How to mix paint colors

detail and finish the painting

The colored parts, shadow areas and the fins of the angelfish are dry.

  • Now you can add more paint on top of the underpainting. That's painting watercolor step by step.
Continue painting the black areas of the Koi Angelfish.Continue painting the black areas.

Continue painting the black areas of the Koi Angelfish.

Puts black spots on the body where ever you wish.

You may paint some black on the fins and pull out a few veins.



Take the masking fluid off with a dry finger or a rubber cement pickup tool.

Remove the masking fluid.Remove the masking fluid.

This exposes the highlight areas on the top of the body and the white feelers.



Make the feeler on the far side of the body slightly blue to make it farther away.

Detail and finish your painting.Detail and finish your painting.

Use a damp brush to soften the bottom edge of the body highlight.

Define the fin on the bottom part of the body.

Put some color of the water on the dorsal fin and the tail because they are somewhat transparent and the water would show thru.

  • Touch up anything you want.

Paintings don't have to be perfect, just relax and enjoy painting the watercolor step by step!

*tip - If your painting is wavy -

Watercolor paper is normally stretched before using it. You wet the paper and tape the edges down on a board to hold it straight while it dries. Then when you put water and paint on it will not warp or buckle.

When you are just starting out you may not want the hassle of stretching the paper. What are my suggestions? What did I do when I started painting watercolor?

While the painting is still a bit damp, but not soppy wet, place it between some clean pages of your watercolor tablet. Close the tablet and place a big heavy book on top. Give it a day or two to dry and when you take your painting out it will be dry and nice and straight.

Easy peasy, no stretching!

what have you learned?

painting watercolor step by step

  1. Paint the background, light to dark.
  2. Paint the subject, light to dark.
  3. Remove any masking, then detail and finish the painting.

don't stop here - paint more watercolors

The more you paint, the better you get and the more fun you will have.

What a joy it is to share watercolor painting with you!

happy painting!


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