Who Invented Watercolor Paint and How It Became a Popular Medium for Artists

Discover the origins of watercolor paint and learn about its evolution over time. From ancient civilizations to modern-day artists, watercolor painting has a rich history that continues to captivate art lovers around the world. Find out who invented watercolor paint and how it became a beloved and timeless medium.

Who Invented Watercolor Paint?

Watercolor painting is a beloved and versatile medium that has been used by artists for millennia. Its unique qualities, such as its translucency and delicate nature, have captivated artists and art lovers alike. 

But who invented watercolor paint, and how did it become a popular medium for artists? 

In this article, we'll explore the origins of watercolor paint and how it evolved over time to become a beloved and popular medium for artists.

A Brief History of Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paint has been around for millennia, dating back to ancient civilizations. In the Paleolithic era in Europe, early humans used natural pigments to create beautiful works of art on cave walls. 

We have a lot of evidence of the popular use of watercolors and inks in Egypt and China. 

The ancient Egyptians used watercolor painting to illustrate manuscripts. They decorated papyrus scrolls with watercolors for ceremonial or religious purposes:

“The use of color in Egyptian paintings was highly symbolic and strictly regulated. Egyptian painters relied on six colors in their palette: red, green, blue, yellow, white, and black. Madder and Indigo were known principally as textile dyes, but may also have been employed in ink form as artists' pigments.” https://www.webexhibits.org/pigments

The Chinese used watercolors for calligraphy and painting. 

“Traditional Chinese watercolors are mineral and vegetable pigments, premixed with some kind of binder, mostly animal glue. They are used in the same way as the Western watercolors by adding some water and after painting they fix perfectly on the rice paper.”

~ https://www.theartofcalligraphy.com/chinese-watercolors

It wasn't until the Renaissance that watercolor paint began to gain popularity in Europe.

During the 16th century, watercolor paint was used primarily for botanical illustrations and scientific drawings. It was the medium of choice for scientists because, due to its delicate nature, it could reliably portray the characteristics of a specimen. Where other paints failed, because of their heaviness and viscosity, watercolor won the world over with it’s ability to easily give life to a drawing. 

Remember! This was the time before photography! 

It wasn't until the 18th century that watercolor painting began to be recognized as a legitimate art form in its own right. 

Artists such as William Blake and J.M.W. Turner helped to elevate the perception of watercolor painting to a respected medium. 

It continued to gain popularity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (I am going to write a whole other article on the Royal Watercolor Society soon!).

From this era, you will find this tutorial on copying the famous 1909 painting by John Singer Sargent's "The Bridge at Rialt."

This tutorial is led by easy-to-follow William Dunn: 



How Watercolor Paint Became a Popular Medium for Artists

While you are curious who invented watercolor, you might also be curious how and why watercolor paint became a popular medium for artists due to its unique qualities and versatility. 

Unlike oil or acrylic paints, watercolor paint is translucent and delicate, allowing artists to create subtle variations in color and tone. Additionally, watercolor paint is easy to use and can be applied quickly and effortlessly. This made it a popular choice for artists who wanted to create spontaneous and expressive works of art.

The portability of watercolor paint also contributed to its popularity among artists. Unlike oil paints, which require a studio and specialized solvents, watercolor paint can be used almost anywhere with just water, making it a convenient choice for artists who want to work en plein air or while traveling.


How Watercolor Paint Works

Watercolor paint is made up of pigments that are suspended in a water-soluble binder, such as gum arabic. When water is added to the paint, the binder dissolves and the pigments are released, creating a translucent and delicate effect. The pigments might be plant or mineral-based based or even compounds, depending on the paints you are using. 

One of the unique qualities of watercolor paint is its ability to create subtle variations in color and tone. 

By adding more water or less water to the paint, artists can create a range of effects, from bold and vibrant to delicate and subtle. You can also get some interesting spreading or blooming effects by pre-wetting the page and using a very watery mix. 

You can also create a variety of color combinations and effects in your paintings, such as using warm colors to create a sense of energy and vibrancy, or cool colors to create a sense of calmness and tranquility. 

REMINDER: It's important to be cautious when mixing warm and cool colors, as using a warm blue instead of a cool blue, for example, can accidentally create a dull, muddy color.

It took me ever so long to really understand the colors and how they react to each other. Before I watched these videos, nearly half the time I was baffled with the color that I blended. 

I had NO IDEA how blue and red can make MUD instead of purple!

(Remember, these lessons are all included in the $ 19-a-month promotion we have on right now!)

Another important aspect of watercolor painting is the use of paper. Watercolor paper is specially designed to absorb water and hold the paint in place, allowing artists to create layered and textured effects. 

I found this tutorial which explains the best paper to choose pretty well:

One of the best ways to improve your watercolor painting skills is to practice regularly. Set aside time each day or week to work on your paintings, and don't be afraid to experiment with new techniques and materials.

You can also attend classes to learn from experienced watercolor artists. All of the 80 courses on the Watercolor Painting website are included in the monthly fee and I can tell you that I have learned a ton from these amazing award-winning artists. 

These classes can provide you with valuable guidance, and following us on social media will also allow you to connect with other artists who share your passion for watercolor painting.


Watercolor Painting Today

Today, watercolor paint is used by artists of all levels, from babies to hobbyists to professionals. In the end, watercolor paints were invented for your convenience and pleasure.

If you are lucky enough to capture its elusive nature, you will be able to make magic. It is a popular choice for artists who want to create delicate and nuanced works of art. 

If you are still learning, don’t worry, it took Michaelangelo 4 years to paint the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel and apparently, he was learning as he went. 

I believe in you! 

For the lovers of classical watercolors (and for horse lovers too!), I have a perfect tutorial on how to paint a racehorse in the loose, beginner-friendly style taught by William Dunn.


by Mari (Agnieszka)

September 27th, 2023