10 Art Hacks you Need to Know Right Now

We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite art hacks that can take you to the next level. These are especially great if you’re a beginner or if you’re just looking for some fun and creative ways to spice up your art.

1. Splatter

Using your brushes or an old toothbrush to splatter paint onto a piece is one of the easiest ways you can quickly add detail and enhance a piece. Whether it be white stars in a night sky, brush in a landscape, or freckles on a face, the random markings of paint splatter can add just the right touch to any piece.

How to do it:

First, it’s important to use opaque paint when splattering (especially stars) so the markings show up. White watercolor is often too translucent, so using gouache or acrylic for splatter is best.

Mix the proper ratio of paint to water so the splatter still shows up, but it liquid enough to sprinkle randomly.

You can tap two brushes together to achieve a splatter, or you can use a brush or old toothbrush and swipe your finger across the tip to splatter the paint onto the paper.

Professional watercolor artist Steve Mitchell demonstrates his splatter technique in this landscape painting. See the full video lesson here.

2. Tape is Your BFF

There are countless ways to use tape when creating art. Whether you’re just adding an aesthetic border with crisp, clean lines, or you’re creating special designs, it’s time to get creative with tape.

Take a look at how Leslie Tieu uses ¼” tape to make patterned masterpieces:

Or just simply creating a clean border like Jordan Rhodes did in this piece (also notice the paint splatter!):

You can also play with edges and let some of the piece come over the borders you’ve created. Have fun with it!

3. Use Household Items to Enhance Watercolor Paintings

You don’t need to spend money to take advantage of these hacks. Use common items you likely have around the house to add textures and details to your watercolor paintings.

  • Paper towel or tissues:
    Use paper towel or tissues to blot wet watercolor and create clouds or waves. Demonstrated by Gay Kraeger (see the full video here):
  • Salt:
    Sprinkling rock salt or table salt on a wet watercolor wash creates a unique effect that you can use for a background, sand, rocks, or whatever your creative mind desires. Let the salt sit on top of the wash until dry, then brush it away. Demonstrated by Gay Kraeger (see the full video here).


  • Sponges:
    Sponges work especially well to create foliage. Check out Gay Kraeger’s method for making trees with a sponge. Make sure the sponge layer is dry before adding the wash on top. See the full video here.


  • Plastic wrap or wax paper
    Using plastic wrap is great way to create unique rock textures, mountains or fun backgrounds. Check out artist Cathy Johnson's technique and see her full video here:

4. Speed up Drawings with Toned Paper

Starting your artwork using mid-range colored paper like Strathmore Toned Tan, Toned Gray or Toned Blue allows for unique sketching & drawing possibilities by providing the middle value that would otherwise need to be rendered by the artist.  A wider range of values from light to dark can be used, and the middle tone makes it easier for the artist to deliberately place shadows and highlights.

Keeping the value of the paper as one of the values in the drawing not only saves time, but allows the artist to use graphite or other dark media to push darker values and white pencils or other light media to add highlights, making sketches and drawings pop.

Artwork by Justin Maas on Strathmore 400 Series Toned Gray Paper - See Justin's tutorials for drawing portraits on Toned Paper here.

5. Use a Masking Pen or Masking Fluid

There is no white watercolor paint that can create a highlight or a white as vibrant as the natural color of the paper. You could use white acrylic or gouache to add white back into a watercolor piece, but a clean and effective way to maintain bright highlights and white on the paper is to use a masking pen or masking fluid.

Masking fluid gets applied to the paper prior to laying paint down and will protect the surface from being penetrated by any paint. Once everything is dry, the mask can be peel up to reveal a clean, white surface. Masking fluid can be applied with a brush, or you can find masking fluids in pen/marker format, making it easy to deliberately reserve areas of white on the paper.

Check out how Kelly Eddington uses masking fluid to represent white flowers blooming on this tree. See the full video lesson here.

6. Painting Straight Lines

A ruler can be used in a traditional manner to create straight lines when drawing, but it can be more difficult to paint straight lines. If a ruler is laid flat on the paper to paint a straight line, paint seeps underneath and smudges on the paper.

Illustrator Graham Smith has 2 tips for creating straight lines when painting:

1. Use your finger along the edge of the pad as a guideline to keep your brush moving in a straight line.

2. Hold a ruler at an angle so the ferrule of your brush is up against it, then drag your brush along the ruler to create a straight line.

See Graham's full video lesson here for more sketchbook hacks.

7. Small Spaces = Approachable

Staring at a blank sketchbook page can be intimidating. All that open space to fill in! A great way to break down this barrier is to section your sketchbook pages into small squares and rectangles and create one small drawing at a time.

Sara Prentice used this method for her Inktober sketchbook. She said, “I've always wanted to participate in Inktober but never made the time. I wanted to fully commit and actually do a drawing each day, but it seemed too daunting to create anything large-scale. So I broke my sketchbook into small squares or rectangles that were either 2.5”x2.5” or 2.5”x5”. Looking back I could have gone even smaller than that. It made it so much easier for me to actually get my daily drawings done and by the end, I had a journal full of sketches!”

This is a great way to get daily practice in and will ultimately help you improve over time. It can also be a great idea starter and planner for bigger pieces.

8. Use Watercolor Pencil (Not Graphite) for Your Sketch Prior to Painting

Roughing in a sketch prior to painting with watercolor is a great way to guide yourself through a piece. However, graphite pencil is not water-soluble and may show through your finished piece if you get too heavy-handed. Instead, use a watercolor pencil to lightly sketch your outline first. Watercolor pencil is water-soluble and will dissolve right into the paint as you lay it down, so you won’t have any lines showing through your final piece.

9. Use Gouache to Enhance Watercolor Paintings

Gouache can be a great tool to have in your back pocket to enhance any watercolor piece. Because watercolor paint is translucent, it can be a bit more challenging to achieve a certain element of vibrancy. Many artists love the properties of watercolor just the way they are and use it because of its transparent nature. However, an exciting way to punch up a watercolor painting is to add gouache paint on top. Gouache is opaque, making it perfect for adding solid layers. You can also add gouache on top of dark colors unlike watercolor, where it is impetrative to work from light to dark.

The background of this piece was created with watercolor and the clouds were done in gouache.

Check out this article to learn more about the difference between gouache and watercolor.

10. Blending Charcoal

Artist Kirsty Partridge has a few key methods she uses that are effective for blending charcoal to create realistic drawings.

  1. Paint Brush
    Kirsty uses a round paint brush to smooth out the grainy look of charcoal and fill in all the white bits of paper that the charcoal didn’t reach

  2. Tissue
    To blend larger areas of a drawing, Kirsty uses a tissue in a circular motion.

  3. Blending Stump
    Blending stumps are great for getting into small details of a piece. It’s best to use a circular or sweeping motion, lifting the stump at the end of the stroke to avoid uneven blending that can occur with a back and forth scrubbing motion.

See full video lessons from Kirsty on Realistic Drawing with Charcoal.

Mix Mediums to Enhance your Piece

Don't be afraid to use multiple types of media on one piece to enhance it and get the most out of all your art materials. In the example below, the top piece was done in just watercolor. The bottom painting was done exactly the same in watercolor, then once it was dry we added colored pencil and white acrylic to enhance it. The key is knowing when to stop so you don't overwork a piece, but don't be afraid to add some colored pencil, acrylic, gouache, ink, etc. on top of watercolor to maximize your results!

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