Here’s how to erase watercolor (avoid these mistakes)

It is inevitable that artists will make mistakes when they are painting, drawing, or creating. Watercolor painters are no exception. Fortunately, they are usually easy to fix. Is this also true of watercolor paintings?

It is possible to erase watercolor by applying small amounts of water to the painting and soaking it up with a brush. The trick is to be careful, as too much water could wash away more paint than you intended. You should therefore use only very little water and a small brush.

watercolor painting teacher and student

How to erase watercolor: A step by step guide

The first thing you must do after admitting you’ve made a mistake is to distinguish between three situations.

A) Is your paint still wet?

If you’ve just painted your paper- be it by accident or on purpose- and you would like to erase this part as quickly as possible, there is only one thing you need to do, which I will explain now. 

Use a tissue or preferably a piece of cloth to press onto the wet paint. If you do it soon enough after applying the paint, it won’t already be soaked into the paper.

Consequently, the cloth will just soak it up and 95% of it will disappear. Pretty much every color will be able to cover that, afterwards. 

If you are still unsatisfied with the result, you should read along and follow a step I’ll talk about in just a bit.

Now let’s get to the second scenario

B)Your paint is already soaked in, but not completely dry

I am including this one because it relates to the next scenario (C) , and it pertains to the state where the paint has already soaked in a bit. In other words, it’s between the paint being like a puddle on the paper and being completely dry.

Now, this is a difficult stage and I can only recommend doing one thing.

Allow it to dry. It may sound silly, but it is true. If you used a towel, the paint would just smear a bit. It would still be there and spread even more.

As soon as it’s dry you can move on to C).

C) Your painting is completely dried up

Here’s where things get tricky. Watercolor is a very unique medium. Even after the paint has dried, water can reactivate it

Acrylics and oils are not suitable for this. Water would have no effect on a dry acrylic painting, since acrylics are like plastic.

If you applied large amounts of water to a watercolor painting, the paint would flow away like it was never there, which is also pretty dangerous.

It’s an opportunity we can take advantage of. To erase a section, we use a small brush and some water. 

Dip the brush into the water, and maybe wring it out a bit afterwards, so it’s not completely wet.

Now, you will have to follow a similar process as you would when painting normally. Press the brush onto the area you’d like to erase and swirl it around a bit.

By doing so, the paint in the fibers is reactivated and is absorbed.

Then, we’ll use a dry brush or a piece of cloth to pick up the water and the paint we just reactivated. Avoid spreading or smearing the paint across the paper by doing this carefully and surgically.

You can repeat this as many times as needed to erase as much as you want. Be careful, as there are a few key things to be aware of, which I will cover now.

On a side note: If you’d like to know whether watercolor paintings can be laminated, you should check out this article.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

How to prevent your painting from being ruined by erasing

Using this method to erase a watercolor painting could result in a number of problems. Let’s look at each of them and offer solutions for each of them.

Erasing the paint too soon

This relates to the distinctions I made earlier regarding A), B), and C). 

If the paint is still completely wet and looks like a drop of water on the paper, you can just use a piece of cloth or tissue. But at stage B, you have to be careful.

While the paint hasn’t completely dried, you could make things worse if you use the “lifting the paint off” method.

The wet paint on the paper will make applying new water difficult. Water is difficult to control when applied to already wet paper. You might find that it flows in directions you didn’t intend.

Solution: If you’re not sure whether the paint is completely dry, wait for another 5-10 minutes and you should be fine.

Overusing water

The next one and this one are probably the most dangerous. Take the example of erasing a spot of paint the size of a peanut.

If you soak a small to medium sized brush with water, you’re gonna have a problem. Your painting will have too much water on it.

It will erase more paint than you initially planned if it spreads. Since the water cannot be soaked back in, you have essentially erased too much and will have to redo all the work.

Solution: Do it one bit at a time. You don’t have to erase everything at once. If your area is very small, you should use a micro brush. If it happens to be larger, you should use a medium sized brush, as those are the easiest to control.

Using a brush that is too large

This basically ties into the previous point. Too big of a brush makes it very difficult to control where the water goes and you end up erasing more than you intended.

Solution: Use a smaller brush. It’s as simple as that. The water should be small enough that you have to move it around a bit while erasing to get it everywhere. When erasing very small areas, the brush should still be smaller than the area you’re trying to erase.

Being too careless

This is a common issue when you erase a lot during a painting.

Basically, you don’t take your time as you just want that mistake erased and aren’t careful enough when erasing.

That can lead to a lot of things. One possibility is that you could have some water dripping off your brush over another part of the painting while transferring water to the part you want to erase.

In addition, you could smear the paint a bit, as this can happen fairly easily when erasing watercolor paint.

These kinds of things are the result of not being attentive and careful enough.

Solution: Again, this is a fairly straightforward solution. Be patient when painting and erasing. Painting is not a sprint but rather a way to relax. Make your brush strokes count.

If you’d like to learn more about watercolor painting, I would recommend reading Are Watercolor Paints Toxic To Dogs? and Can You Use An Easel For Watercolor Painting?

watercolor paintings with sharp white edges


Watercolor paint can be removed by applying small amounts of water to a dried area of paint and instantly removing it with a dry brush. Do not use too much water or a large brush, however. Take your time rather than rushing this and making mistakes.

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