How long does a watercolor painting take?

If you want to get into watercolor, it’s a good idea to ask how long a painting actually takes and how much time you should spend on it. How long should it take?

An average watercolor painting takes about 3-6 hours to complete. Although the length of time it takes to finish an artwork varies from painting to painting. If you only want to capture the motion of something, you can finish a watercolor painting in 5 minutes. In contrast, depending on the level of detail and size of the painting, it can take a long time to finish a painting. 

watercolor painting next to watercolor paint, brushes and a jar of water

What is the ideal amount of time to spend on a watercolor painting?

The answer varies widely. There is no set amount of time you should spend on a watercolor painting. You decide how much time to spend, and any amount has its time and place.

There are some artists who prefer to paint quickly and then move on to the next one. Some people prefer to go really in-depth with their paintings and like to add as much detail as possible.

The majority of watercolor artists fall somewhere in the middle. For instance, I like to use a lot of white space in my paintings while also adding some detail and depth.

As a result, each painting takes a few hours to complete. However, I also enjoy doing quick sketches. Filling up one sketchbook page daily is a really practical exercise.

This will intimidate most artists. Every day, you see a lot of beautiful sketchbooks, so you are taught that each page must be a masterpiece.

However, to really improve your level of skill, you must practice. A lot.

To keep myself on track, I set a timer. I would recommend doing a very quick painting of something random in 5-10 minutes.

Try it out sometime and see how you improve your understanding of shapes and lighting.

If you’d also like to find out why watercolor paper is so expensive, you can find out by clicking here.

watercolor painting teacher and student

How long does it take to create a watercolor sketch and why is it so important?

Sketching out a painting before painting it can be very useful for your painting process and its outcome.

Additionally, it will improve your abilities as an artist, but I will elaborate on that later.

Now for the question: 

How long should you actually sketch for?

As I mentioned earlier, I like to set a timer for 5-10 minutes and paint a quick sketch.

This range also applies to sketches of a painting in your mind. Most of the time, you’ll have to sketch out a painting multiple times, so it’s important not to spend too much time on it.

The importance of sketching out a watercolor painting

Many artists tend to get lost in details and include too many of them in what is just a sketch.

Therefore, I recommend using as few brushstrokes as possible while painting. Focus on getting the core values down and then move on.

Despite this seemingly easy exercise, most artists will find it quite challenging as they are used to more details and want to create a stunning artwork with every painting they do.

Take a shot at it over the next couple of paintings and see where it takes you.

Were you ever wondering, if you can use watercolor as a face paint? Read my answer to this here.

Why painting slower is faster

To dive into a painting without thinking too much, while seeing where it leads, is an organic way to work. 

This is a fulfilling way of working, which can be really enjoyable, but there is another way, which can produce a better result in less time.

It‘s sketching. I discussed how sketching can benefit your painting experience in the last chapter, but I’d like to go into more detail now.

When starting a painting, it’s important to think about whether the composition suits you and what you would like it to look like.

Take just a few minutes to go through this process, and you will benefit immensely. All you need to do is sketch out a rough idea of what you’d like the composition to look like with some basic shading.

After you’ve found your composition, I recommend you experiment with different color combinations and values.

You can do this by simply using your original sketch, or even better, by copying it onto another piece of paper and using that.

You should first test out your colors on a separate sheet of paper. After choosing a color that suits you, paint it on your sketch. Keeping a record of how you mixed the color can be helpful if you want to be sure you’ll find it again.

All that is left now is to repeat this process until you find your rough color composition.

This shouldn’t take too long. Spend no more than five minutes on each sketch, so you’re forced to keep things rough.

You will be able to use this information throughout your painting process, as you will already know what you want to paint, what the composition looks like, and what colors you need to use.

If you follow this basic guideline while painting, you can just focus on refining it the way you like.

If you’re unsure, whether watercolor paintings can be laminated, you should read my guide on the topic.

How quickly can you do a watercolor painting?

My past chapters have focused on the idea of creating full-on paintings and how to go about it in an efficient way.

Now let’s see how to quickly create a watercolor painting.

Paintings of this type can have an incredibly unique effect, which requires a very unique skill set.

Getting the motions in a painting right is the key to those paintings. It’s about the flow in your motive.

Artists who are able to see this flow and bring it to life on paper have a very special skill set as it can become quite hard to pull off.

For experienced artists, it can take as little as 5-10 minutes to create an artwork, which is truly amazing.

You should definitely try out this style of painting, as it can only make you better as an artist. By making things easier and faster, you can often learn and improve faster.

I’d also recommend checking out Should you clean your watercolor palette? and Can watercolor be erased?


Watercolor paintings normally take 4-6 hours to complete. Make some sketches of your painting beforehand to get your ideas on paper to make the most of this time. If you paint a certain type of movement or flow, you can be finished in 10 minutes.

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