Can You Use Watercolors on Wood? Yes, but How?

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When many people decide they want to start painting, they often begin by using watercolors. While I did do a couple of acrylic paintings in the past, it was watercolor painting that got me back into painting.

While watercolors are often easier for beginners, they can be quite difficult to master. It takes time and practice to become good at it.

This was not something that I was able to master overnight, but I can honestly say that I did sell my very first watercolor painting within a couple of days of painting it. I posted it online, and someone practically begged me to sell it to her.

Of course, I had no idea what to charge, but we finally reached an agreement that she would pay $50, and I would frame it for her.

Now, we all know that watercolors work great on watercolor paper. But, did you know that there are many other surfaces that watercolor paints work well on?

Wood is one of those surfaces, and that is what we are going to talk about today.

Why Paint on Wood?

Seeing as how most people think of paper or canvas when they think of watercolor paintings, you may be wondering why someone would choose to use watercolors on wood. The main reason is that the grain on wood can add an element of natural beauty to a painting.

Another reason to paint watercolor on wood is that you will end up with a unique piece. But, there is also a drawback, and this is that the wood will absorb thinner paints.

This can be avoided simply by prepping the wood before painting.

How to Prep Wood for Watercolor Painting

The first step in prepping wood for watercolor painting is to sand it with fine-grit sandpaper, between 360 and 600 grit. This will give you just enough grit without making the surface too coarse.

I advise wearing a mask to cover your nose and mouth while sanding the wood. You don’t want to be breathing in all that dust, especially if you suffer from environmental allergies as I do. I also advise wearing safety glasses to keep the dust out of your eyes.

#1. Remove the Dust

Before you begin the next step for preparing the wood, be sure to remove any excess dust left over from sanding. If you do not remove the dust it will likely end up in your painting. Once it has been painted over, you cannot remove it.

It is easy to remove the dust by using a vacuum cleaner with a bristle brush attachment. Another option is to use compressed air to blow the dust away.

#2. Prime the Wood

Even though most watercolor paints contain gum arabic, they still won’t stick to a piece of wood very well. So, you will need to prime the surface to ensure that the paint adheres.

Some people like to use gesso for this purpose. It is usually used as a primer for canvases, but it can be used to prime other surfaces as well.

Gesso will prevent the paint from seeping into the wood panel, so you don’t end up losing a lot of the color. The only problem with this is that you will lose the appearance of the wood grain.

Rather than using a couple of thick coats, I suggest using a thinner coat of gesso that will allow some of the grain to show through.

There is another alternative, and this is watercolor ground. I like to use Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground because it works well and it doesn’t cost too much. It also comes in a few different color options, and it is my preference for wood rather than using gesso.

Watercolor ground can be used to turn just about any surface into one that can be used for watercolors. This is something you can have a lot of fun experimenting with.

How to Paint Watercolor on Wood

Once the wood has been prepped and the gesso or watercolor ground has completely dried, it is time to get down to the fun part, which is painting. I have been asked if an easel should be used for this.

I don’t tend to use an easel for any watercolor paintings. The paint is thin and can run. So, if the canvas or other surface is standing upright, the paint could run and ruin what you are trying to accomplish.

Of course, whether or not you use an easel is up to you. I am only speaking from my own personal experience.

Paint in Thin Layers

If you want the colors to stand out, it is best to paint several thin layers of color when working with wood. This is going to ensure that the colors will be bold and bright.

Paint your picture as you would on a piece of watercolor paper, and allow the paint enough time to dry. Then, you can move on to the next step.

Sealing the Watercolor with Varnish

If you want to preserve your painting, you must take steps to protect it by learning how to seal watercolor on wood. This involves varnishing the surface after the painting has been completed.

Most artists don’t bother varnishing paintings they have created on watercolor paper. But, it is an entirely different story when you are working with wood.

It is important to add at least one coat of clear varnish to protect the painting and the wood. If you are using wood cookies that still have bark around the outer edges, be sure to varnish the bark as well to preserve it.

One of the best varnishes to use is Krylon spray varnish. It dries quickly, and it won’t turn yellow over time as some other varnishes are known to do.

Final Thoughts

Using watercolor paints on wood is a great way to create something unique and interesting. Most people choose to paint on watercolor paper. You can make your work stand out by using wood as your substrate.

Once the wood has been properly primed, you can use all of the watercolor painting techniques that you would use when painting on paper or canvas. You don’t have to use any special techniques simply because you are painting on wood instead of paper.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, and that you have learned what you need to know to start using watercolors on wood. Now try these easy watercolor painting ideas for beginners. Good luck, and happy painting!

Up next: Can You Use Oil Paint on Wood?

*image by AntonioLopez/depositphotos