Watercolor Painting Tips: The Basics of Watercolor Paint Granulation and 5 Great Granulating Paint Tutorials

Discover how to choose and use granulating paints in watercolor painting. Learn about granulation, which styles of art use granulating colors, and why some artists prefer them. Includes links to 5 great granulating painting tutorials.

Watercolor granulation is an interesting effect that can add cool effects to your painting. It would be a great tool for Meditative Painting like we did last Sunday.  It’s not for those who want to create hyper-realistic paintings. This is for people who want to dive into the magic of watercolors. Let’s dive in!

What is Watercolor Granulation?

Watercolor granulation is an effect that occurs only in some of the pigment blends. Some love it while others hate it. 

When the pigment particles in the paint settle unevenly on the paper causing ‘blooming’ or ‘cauliflowers’ or other effects this might mean your paints are granulating. 

The real granulating paints create a textured, grainy effect that spreads as the paints dry. It can add depth and interest to your paintings but if you ever hoped for a smooth gradient you might be put off by the grainy look of the granulating paint. 

Granulation is favored for creating natural scenes, such as landscapes, seascapes, and skies. It can also be used to create interesting textures and patterns in abstract paintings.

Which Paints Granulate

Not all watercolor paints granulate. Some paints dry smoothly creating a seamless gradient. Some paints are more likely to granulate than others, depending on the pigment used. 

As you might know, many pigments are made from grinding or crushing rocks. Some ingredients are certain to granulate. Some depend on how finely the pigment was ground. Pigments that are heavier and have larger particles are more likely to granulate. 

Some common granulating pigments include ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, Prussian blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, burnt umber, raw umber, viridian green, sap green, and yellow ochre.


Using Granulating Paints

Here are some tips if you want to dive right into the granulating paints. 

  • To get your paints to granulate, you need to use the wet-on-wet technique. Spray the paper first with clean water, (like we do during the live videos on Sundays) then apply the paint. 

  • You don’t have to wet the whole paper.  If you want to create the granulating effect on a smaller area, just wet the area you’re working on, not the rest of the paper. 

  • You can use two different pigments on different sides of the wet area and watch them granulate towards the center of the wet area. As the paint dries, the colors will settle unevenly, creating a granulated effect. 

  • You can also add a dry-brush technique on top of this to create interesting textures and patterns.


Styles of Art that Use Granulating Colors

Granulating colors are traditionally used for creating natural scenes, such as landscapes, seascapes, and skies. 

They can also be used for abstract paintings or in loose watercolor paintings or backgrounds. 

Some artists use granulating colors to create a vintage or antique effect in their paintings or to paint a vignette.


Why Some People Prefer Granulating Paints

It’s just a matter of style and preference. There is no right and wrong way. This is art, after all--it’s all about expressing your vision!

Some artists prefer granulating paints because they add depth and unpredictability to their paintings. 

Granulating paints can create a sense of texture and movement that is impossible to achieve with other techniques.

They can add a sense of realism to natural scenes, particularly when you are painting water and sky. 

Granulating pigments can also work well for more impressionistic or abstract images.

Points Of Caution With Granulating Pigments

Granulating paints are unpredictable, you have to remember that. I would almost say that granulating paints are a different medium than regular watercolors. 

They do what they want and you really need to be a watercolor master to fully control and direct them. This can be frustrating for some artists. 

The effect will vary greatly depending on the paper you use, the amount of water you use, the brand you use and the technique you use. 

I suggest that you experiment with granulating paints and don’t expect too much of yourself all at once.  Over time, I’m sure that you will learn to achieve beautiful effects with them.


5 Practice Tutorials 

I searched through the website and found you some great tutorials where you can practice with granulating paints. I love the Steve Curl tutorials… it’s because he really gets into the granulating paints and shows how to use them to your benefit. 

Some of them are beginner classes and some are more advanced - your choice! 


1 How To Paint Stunning Sunset Skies Using Just Imagination - A simple sunset

This is a good example of beginner practice painting with Steve Curl, but look at the granulation in the background! 



2 Foggy Morning Landscape 

Here is a slightly more complex painting tutorial with Vinita Pappas where the granulation is used in the sky and the water.



3 Docked Boats In Sunny Waters 

This one is even more complex, but look at the granulation in that sky! Vinita Pappas is a great teacher with a smooth voice. 



4 Classic Seascape From Start To Finish 

This is a great step-by-step with Steve Curl. Water can be hard to master… and here you can practice it under great tutelage and practice granulation at the same time.



5 Classic Tutorial: The Fully-Clothed Standing Human Figure: Teddy Roosevelt

Take a look at the background in this advanced full-figure painting tutorial by Steve Curl. 




When choosing granulating paints, consider the effect you want to achieve and experiment with different techniques. 

Granulating paints can be used to create interesting textures and patterns in many different kinds of paintings. 

Granulating paints can be unpredictable, but they can add a sense of texture and movement that is impossible to achieve with other techniques.


by Mari (Agnieszka)

September 22nd, 2023