Painting dreamy watercolour backgrounds

Hello, beautiful creative Messians! Sasha here today. This is my first time posting here as a member of Creative Team. So, I am a little nervous, but also very excited to be writing this post. Let’s just take out our art supplies, imagine that we are having a pajama art party (how cool would that be?!) and get started!

We are currently in Season of Art 101. That means that many of you might be familiar with the techniques and information that I will be sharing today. However, I always say that going to the basics is a great creative exercise.

Now, let’s talk watercolors

I often hear two direct opposite opinions about this medium: people either love it and use it for every project or don’t feel confident and avoid using it. I completely get how watercolors can be scary to use – they’ll warp your journal pages, it’s hard to make colors opaque, they get reactivated by other wet mediums you put on top… All of it is true and these struggles are oh so familiar to me. Nonetheless, for me personally none of these beats the dreaminess and softness of a watercolor page.

Tips and Tricks

I am by no means a watercolor guru, but I’ve learn a few tips and tricks along the way from other creatives and my own trial and error. Here, let me share them with you.

  • For me, key to working with watercolors is always water. I tend to use wet on wet technique (wet paint on wet paper) most of the time.Water is what makes this paint flow, blend, and create that beautiful dreamy look. Yes, excessive amounts of water will probably make your page warp. Especially if you don’t use heavier weight watercolor paper. I’ve just learnt to live with it, but if you absolutely can’t stand it, I recommend investing in a journal with mixed media or watercolor paper (I’ve heard Moleskine, Strathmore, and Canson make some great ones). Also, try just adding water little by little, so your page is slightly damp, rather than soaked.
  • Before you start painting, try spritzing your paint with water gently. It will reactivate the pigment and make loading brush with color easier.
  • You don’t have to invest in expensive pro quality watercolors to work in your journals. Yes, more expansive paint will have richer pigment, more vibrant colors, and will blend better. But if you don’t have an opportunity to purchase more expensive watercolors, go with what is within your budget. I have been using my cheep honey watercolors since I was in preschool (eek! But I guess it shows you how long a set of watercolors can last you). They were just fine for working in my art journal and I only upgraded to more expensive pans of watercolors this Christmas (got them as a present! Yay!).
  • If you want to invest in something, invest in good quality brushes. Cheap brushes have one big disadvantage – they shed. And then, instead of a beautiful dreamy image, you get a hairy mess. I would get at least one big watercolor brush (squirrel or synthetic bristles) for painting on big surfaces and creating backgrounds, and one smaller for painting details.


  • Keep two glasses of water on your table for cleaning brushes. I didn’t realise the importance of this step until recently. It makes sense: you use water to dilute the watercolors. If your water is dirty, it will make your colors muddy as well. Now I use one glass of water for cleaning my brush, and another one for adding water to my page, watercolor pans or diluting the color for a more translucent effect.
  • Always paint watercolor swatches and write down names of the colors. Watercolors look very different in a pan and when mixed with water and spread on paper. So, it comes very handy to have a piece of paper with swatches and names inside of your watercolor palette or in your journal. You can use it for reference, comparing colors of different brands, visual representation of your current collection etc. I also always write the name of each color on the pan itself, so I can quickly find the exact color I’m looking for.

Two Watercolor Background Techniques

I’m going to show you my 2 favorite techniques of painting soft dreamy watercolor backgrounds.

For the first technique you’ll need:

  • any paper/your journal (for this tutorial I am using thin printer paper just to show you that you don’t need any expensive supplies to work with watercolors)
  • any watercolors (seriously, grab your sibling’s/child’s/grandchild’s set and get creating!)
  • a brush (at this point any brush will do)
  • two glasses of clean water
  • masking tape to stretch your paper on the table (completely optional. It is usually done so the paper doesn’t warp as much. I find it doesn’t work very well on thin paper anyway, so I tend to skip this step a lot)
  • paper towel to lift any excess water from your page

For the second technique you’ll need:

  • any paper/your journal (this one I will be showing you in my journal. It uses much less water, so paper doesn’t warp as much)
  • any watercolors
  • a brush
  • two glasses of clean water
  • a piece of any plastic packaging bag
  • paper towel to lift any excess water from your page

Now, that you have your beautiful pages created, you can work on top of them in any way or form that you like. I usually create a bunch of these in one go and then use them for different projects.

They make for an awesome background for your lettering or inspiring quotes.

They also are perfect as a first layer of your art journal page. Collage, doodle, paint, write on top to make it your own.

I hope you find this tutorial helpful and inspiring and feel a little less intimidated by watercolors (if you ever were)! Make sure to share the pages you create using these techniques on Instagram with hashtag #getmessyartjournal. Can’t wait to see your unique approach to this!

Also, share your ideas in the comments below: what do you love the most about watercolors? What stresses you out the most about watercolors? What kind of page do you envision yourself creating using the soft watercolor background?


Sasha is a freelance online English teacher from Ukraine, currently residing in Poland. She has been creative since very young age being raised in the family of photographers and actors. Sasha is a classic example of a “scanner” personality and often tries new creative things.


  1. Rebecca Johnstone

    Wow! Amazing techniques Sasha – particularly using the clear cellophane packaging – I’m going looking for some now so I can do this straight away <3

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Thank you, Rebecca! I am really excited for you to play with this technique. The results are so unpredictable, which makes them so fun every time! 🙂

  2. Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

    Making colour swatches is my favourite part of opening a new set!
    I’m also partial to wet on wet because I like the spontaneity of it!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Yes! There’s just something magical and therapeutic in seeing those colors bleed into each other and blend!

  3. Gilly Welch

    Thank you Sasha, I must admit I’ve never got stuck into watercolours probably because I forget about the wet on wet which makes such a big difference…going to go and try both techniques.

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Oh, Gilly! It makes me happy that you are going to give watercolors another chance! Wet on wet truly makes a difference. Can’t wait to see what you create!

  4. Charlotte Erichsen

    Absolutely surprised by your cellophane technique – so simple and such beautiful results – going to try that immediately. Thank you, Sasha!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      You are so very welcome, Charlotte! You absolutely rocked this technique on your page! Loved it!

  5. Anke

    Great video, Sasha! Your first video ever? Seriously, it looks quite professional – you can definitely be proud of yourself, it’s a really nice tutorial 😀

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Hehe, you are too kind, Anke! Thanks so much for your support! <3 <3 <3

  6. Kate

    Watercolor is so dreamy! Just watching the video makes me happy! Thank you Sasha. Отличное видео!!!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Спасибо большое!!! It is definitely the dreamiest of all mediums that I’ve ever tried!

  7. Sarah Mason

    Sasha! I thought I hated watercolors, but your video has made me want to buy some and give them another chance haha. I think I’ll look into it on the weekend 😀 fantastic first tutorial! <3

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Awe, youuuuu! Stop! I’m blushing! I feel both hopeful and a little guilty (no I’m not)! Haha! I really do hope you at least buy that $5 set that was discussed on Instagram and give it a ago! You’ll love it!
      P.S. Thanks for the support! <3

  8. julia Thomas

    I love the second technique so much! Whilst doing the first one I was saying “mine doesn’t look dreamy sasha!” Aha! And your accent is amazing! X

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Doesn’t it, Julia? What does it look like? I’ll change the title of this tutorial to that!
      I am so happy you enjoyed the second technique!
      Hehe, thanks! I hope it was easy to understand me. :))

  9. Katie Smith

    LOVED your tutorial, Sasha! And I don’t think your English is awkward at all! It may be better than mine! ha!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      The approval from the Queen of watercolors! My heart! <3 <3 <3 SO happy you liked it and even gave it a go in your journal, Katie! I'm one happy Messian right now!
      I was doubting whether or not to do a voice over for the next video. But I've received so many compliments that I might actually do it again!

  10. Suzanne Thoolen

    I love your tutorial! I do work with watercolors quite often, love them! But this plastic wrapping technique is great! Did not know this yet, and I’m definitely gonna try it! Thank you!!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      It makes me so happy that I was able to teach you a new game to play with your favorite medium! 😉

  11. Deborah Hosaflook

    Great tutorial Sasha and your English is perfect and your voice lovely!!!!! Looking forward to doing these backgrounds in my journal tomorrow!!!!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Awww, so many sweet words, Deborah! Thank you, love! Make sure to tag me in your post if you decide to shar on Instagram! I’d love to see which colors you choose! <3

  12. laia romero

    I loved the tutorial !! Despite my bad English, he understood almost everything very well !! You’ve done wonderful! thank you very much Sasha !!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Ah, I am so happy you could understand me! Yay! Thank you, Laia! Hope you give it a go in your journal! <3

  13. Terri Mainguy

    The process, your voice and the up tempo music were so lovely, Sasha! Thanks for sharing your art and ideas. I’m ready to do this.

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Thank you so much for saying all those nice things, Terri! I hope you have a blast with your watercolors! 🙂 <3

  14. Clare Davis Etheridge

    Love the techniques! I am going to try the cellophane technique right now!! Thanks Sasha

    • Sasha Zinevych

      And you did, you did!! Your pages turned out awesome! Cudos to you for implementing your gelli plate into this tutorial! <3

  15. Laura Rahuba

    I learned several new things! Good job! Eager to try the packaging technique soon!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      YAY for learning and trying new things! I am excited for you!! 🙂 <3

  16. Lea

    Sasha that was fabulous. Thanks for keeping it basic. I’m using a set I got for $5 at a local shop. I’m off to try that cellophane technique. Yay!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Lea, thank you, love! Back to the basics, Art 101, right? We gotta use what we have! 😉 Show me what you created, girl! <3

  17. Ashley Rodgers

    Lovely tutorial, Sasha! So clear and easy to follow. I can’t wait to play with my watercolors and try the wet on wet technique this weekend!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Thank you so much, Ashley! I was actually a little bit nervous, since it’s my first one. So happy everything was understandable! <3 Ohhh, do try it! It would look so good with your minimal style! <3

  18. Sophie Bourdages

    Great job for a first tutorial ! I’ll try it for sure 🙂

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Thank you, Sophie! Can’t wait to see your unique approach! 🙂

  19. Romana

    Very nice tutorial, thanks! Looking forward to trying it!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Thank you so much, Romana! <3 Please, share your results. Can't wait to see them!

  20. Karen Price

    Loved your tutorial Sasha – you nailed it! I just finished a page using the packaging technique! Thinking this might just become a “go to” technique! Thanks for sharing your watercolour expertise!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Oh, Karen! So happy you liked it and added it to your artistic “vocabulary”!! 🙂 <3

  21. Diana

    Great job on your first tutorial! Can’t wait to try these techniques

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Yay!!! Thank you, Diana! 🙂 Please, share your finished page! I really want to see it!

  22. Jenn Henrichs

    I’m ready to try out some new techniques! I love vibrant watercolors but they are so unpredictable. … these are beautiful & inspiring Sasha.

    • Sasha Zinevych

      I am s happy you feel inspired, Jenn! Don’t be afraid of the unpredictable! That’s the beauty of watercolors. Let go of expectations and ejoy the porcess! <3

  23. cecilia chan

    Thank you Sasha for the informative video! I’m going to try out the plastic packaging technique. Also, I loved seeing that pic of your journal with the watercolor swatches. I threw out all the packaging for the watercolor cubes I bought, and now I can’t remember what is what!

    • Sasha Zinevych

      Yay, Cecilia! I am so happy you are going to give it a go! And yes, it so important to make those swatches right at the start. Don’t worry though, just do it next time you purchase a new color r a palette! For the colors you already have, you can google the swatches and compare your colors to them. I reckon, you’ll find a few matches! 😉