7 Watercolor Tips for Stunning Composition
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Use the rule of thirds for balance
  2. Create a focal point
  3. Add contrast for visual interest
  4. Use color to guide the eye
  5. Incorporate negative space
  6. Consider the viewpoint
  7. Experiment with abstract forms

Watercolor, with its whimsical, flowing nature, can create works of art that are as vibrant as they are unpredictable. But what if you could reign in a bit of that unpredictability? What if you could guide your brush to create a composition that's not only visually stunning but also captivating to the eye? In this blog, we'll explore seven tips on how to improve composition in watercolor, turning your beautiful art into a masterpiece.

Use the rule of thirds for balance

Balance—something we strive for in life, and something we should strive for in our watercolor compositions. A well-balanced composition guides the viewer's eye across the painting effortlessly, creating a harmonious visual experience. Here's where the rule of thirds comes in handy.

The rule of thirds splits an image into nine equal parts with two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. The idea is to place your focal points—those critical areas that draw the viewer's eye—along these lines, or at the intersections. This simple trick can help add balance to your composition, leading to a more visually appealing painting.

  1. Start by lightly sketching the grid on your watercolor paper. Don't worry; these won't be visible in your final piece.
  2. Identify your focal points. These could be anything from a vibrant flower to a person in your landscape.
  3. Align your focal points with the rule of thirds grid. You can place them on the lines or intersections—just make sure they're not dead center. That's a common beginner's mistake that can make your composition look static.
  4. Finally, fill in the rest of your painting, keeping the rule of thirds in mind. Remember, your focal points should stand out, but the rest of your painting should still be in harmony.

Don't forget that rules are there to guide you—not restrict you. The rule of thirds isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It's a tool to help you think about balance and composition in your watercolor painting. So, feel free to tweak, adjust, or even ignore it if your artistic vision calls for it. After all, you're the artist!

Create a focal point

Creating a focal point is like setting a stage for a star performer in your watercolor composition. This is the "star" of your painting—the area where you want viewers to focus first. Not only does a focal point draw the viewer in, but it also provides a place for the viewer's eye to rest amidst the bustle of color and form in your piece.

How do you create a focal point, you ask? It's easier than you might think!

  1. First, think about what the "star" of your painting is. Is it a stunning sunset, a beautiful bird, or perhaps a vibrant flower? That's your focal point.
  2. Next, use the rule of thirds to position your focal point. As we discussed earlier, this helps create balance in your composition.
  3. Then, make your focal point stand out! Use bold, contrasting colors or unique textures. Remember, this is the "star" of your painting—it should be noticeable.
  4. Lastly, create a path for the eye to follow from the focal point. This could be a winding river, a path through a forest, or even the way light and shadow play across your painting. The goal is to lead the viewer from the focal point to explore the rest of your painting.

Creating a focal point is a powerful way to improve your composition in watercolor. It grabs the viewer's attention and guides them through your painting, creating a captivating visual journey.

Add contrast for visual interest

Imagine watching a movie with no dramatic moments, only flat and monotone scenes—sounds boring, right? The same concept applies to your watercolor painting. Adding contrast to your composition isn't just about making things stand out, it's about adding excitement and depth to your work. It's like the spice in your painting recipe.

So, how do you add this flavorful contrast to improve your watercolor composition? Let's break it down:

  1. First, let's talk about color. You can use contrasting colors from the color wheel—think blues against oranges, or reds against greens. This can make elements of your painting pop!
  2. Next, consider value contrast. This means playing with light and dark areas in your painting. Adding deep shadows against bright highlights can create a stunning visual impact.
  3. Lastly, there's a contrast of textures. Rough against smooth, detailed against simplistic—these can add surprising elements of intrigue to your composition.

Remember, contrast isn't about clashing elements, but about creating harmony with differences. By thoughtfully adding contrast, you can create a dynamic, interesting composition that keeps the viewer's eye moving around your painting—much better than a flat, one-note watercolor painting, don't you think?

Use color to guide the eye

Color is your secret tour guide when it comes to painting. Think of it as the friendly local who knows all the best spots in town. When used strategically, color can lead your viewers' eyes right where you want them to go in your composition. But, how to improve your watercolor composition using color? Here's the scoop:

  1. Play with saturation: Bright, highly saturated colors naturally draw the eye. Use them sparingly to highlight important areas of your painting.
  2. Use complementary colors: Ever noticed how a red apple stands out against a green background? That's because red and green are complementary colors. Use this trick in your painting to highlight your focal point.
  3. Gradation is your friend: Use gradation to create a sense of depth and distance. Lighter colors appear further away while darker shades seem closer, helping create a three-dimensional effect in your painting.

Remember, color is not just about aesthetics, it's a tool. Like a good storyteller, use it to guide your viewer through the story of your painting. Experiment with these techniques and watch your watercolor composition bloom with life. After all, who doesn't enjoy a good tour, especially when it's in color?

Incorporate negative space

Here's a fun fact: sometimes, what you don't paint is just as important as what you do. This is where the magic of negative space comes into play. It's like the silent yet powerful character in a movie that doesn't say much but adds depth to the story. Wondering how to improve your watercolor composition by leveraging negative space? Let's break it down:

  1. Highlight your subject: Negative space helps to draw attention to your subject. It's like a spotlight on a stage — it directs the audience's focus to the star of the show.
  2. Provide rest for the eyes: A painting filled with detail can overwhelm the viewer. Negative space provides a visual break, giving the viewer's eyes a much-needed rest.
  3. Create balance: Negative space can balance out your composition, preventing it from looking too busy or cluttered. Consider it as the calm counterbalance to the energetic strokes of your brush.

So, next time you pick up your brush, remember not just to think about what you're painting, but also what you're not. After all, sometimes silence speaks louder than words, and in the case of watercolor composition, negative space often does just that.

Consider the viewpoint

Imagine you're a bird soaring high above a cityscape or a tiny insect navigating a vast flower garden. Sounds fun, right? Well, the good news is, as a watercolor artist, you can take your viewers on such imaginative journeys by simply playing around with the viewpoint in your composition. Here's how to improve composition in watercolor by considering different viewpoints:

  1. Bird's eye view: This high vantage point allows you to capture the big picture. It's a great way to show scale and convey a sense of grandeur.
  2. Eye level: The most common viewpoint and for a good reason. It's comfortable and familiar, making your composition relatable to the viewer.
  3. Worm's eye view: This low viewpoint can make ordinary scenes quite dramatic. It's a clever way to add a unique twist to your composition.

So, next time you're sketching out your composition, don't be afraid to experiment with different viewpoints. It's a fun and effective way to add interest to your watercolor composition and keep your viewers engaged.

Experiment with Abstract Forms

Think watercolor paintings are all about realistic landscapes and perfect portraits? Think again. Abstract forms can be just the thing to add a dash of modernity and intrigue to your watercolor composition. But how to improve composition in watercolor using abstract forms? Here we go:

  1. Play with Shapes: Circles, squares, triangles — they all have their unique appeal. Experiment with these basic shapes to create patterns or to add structure to your composition.
  2. Mix and Match: Combine different abstract forms. Remember, the beauty of abstract art lies in its unpredictability. You can form a unique style that's truly yours.
  3. Color it Up: Abstract forms are a fantastic way to play with color. Bold, vibrant colors can make your abstract forms pop and add visual interest to your composition.

You see, abstract forms are not as intimidating as they may seem. In fact, they can be quite liberating. By incorporating them into your watercolor compositions, you're free to express yourself in ways that traditional forms might not allow. So, go ahead and let your creativity flow — your compositions will thank you for it.

If you enjoyed our "7 Watercolor Tips for Stunning Composition" blog and want to learn more about composition in visual arts, check out the workshop 'Tips To Compose More Compelling Photos' by Austin James Jackson. Although the workshop focuses on photography, the principles of composition apply to various art forms, including watercolor painting. Give it a try and elevate your compositions to the next level!