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Vvzela Kook
A travel to Hung Heung Loo in Dream, 2019
Watercolor, watercolor pencil and pencil on paper
67 x 160 cm (26.4 x 63 in.)
Courtesy of the artist

The term watercolor refers both to a type of paint itself (medium) and artworks that are painted using the medium. Watercolor paint is soluble in water and can be diluted down to have transparent qualities. Watercolor paint can be layered using methods such as wet-on-wet (applying a layer on semi-dry or still wet surface) and wet-on-dry (layering when the most last layer is completely dry), giving a softer end result than when other types of paints are layered, such as acrylic and oil paint. The most popular support for watercolor is paper, but canvas, other fabrics, and wood are also used for particular effects.

In the ancient Egyptian time, water-based paints were applied to decorate walls of temples, tombs and public spaces by fingers, bones, and brushes made out of plant materials like grasses and reeds. Artists grounded their own pigments from minerals such as ochre, cinnabar, malachite, and calcite. Binders made from natural substances like gum arabic (dried substances from acacia tree) were used to hold pigments together and build up viscosity.

Heelan Jin
Sunrise of Cheonwangbong peak, 2019
Traditional ink and color on paper
130 x 193 cm (51.2 x 76 in.)
Courtesy of the artist

Watercolor has a rich history in East Asian cultures such as China, Korea, and Japan, with an additional element of ink (liquid stain) as a dominant medium. Ink-and-wash painting belongs to the concept of watercolor painting, which were often used for calligraphy and scroll painting on silk and hand-made paper to create traditional painting mostly depicting landscapes, which developed around 4,000 B.C and led to become itself as an independent art form.

In the West, the common use for watercolor paint was primarily for preparatory sketches and map-making for the ‘finished’ work in oil or engraving. The first prominent painter to use watercolor paint was the German Renaissance master, Albrecht Dürer, mainly using the medium to record details of plants and animals. One of the earliest examples of use of watercolor paint by Dürer is Left Wing of a Blue Roller (c. 1500 or 1512), where he carefully depicted and captured the structure, texture, and shimmering color of the bird’s feathers by contrasting vivid colors.

Albrecht Dürer
Left Wing of a Blue Roller, c. 1500 or 1512
Watercolor and gouache on vellum, heightened with white
19.6 x 20 cm (7.7 x 7.9 in.)
© Albertina Museum, Vienna

Conservation of watercolor based artworks are a delicate matter as the medium tends to fade quicker than other types of paint. To appreciate the work for a long period of time, it is essential that it is displayed in a light, humidity, and temperature controlled environment. As watercolor is mostly painted on paper, which light is a major catalyst, prevention of paper from becoming bleached or yellowed is also another element to consider; although filtered glass or acrylic frame delays the damage, they are not absolute protectors.

Anupam Sud
Untitled, 1963
Watercolor on paper
15.2 x 28.4 cm (6 x 11.2 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and DAG, New York

Wet on Wet

Referred to as direct painting, it allows the watercolor paint to spread and blend into one another. This method is considered to be a little challenging, as controlling is needed, but it takes advantage of beautiful blending of colors, producing soft edges and layers.

Wet on Dry

This technique helps to manage sharp and hard edges on watercolor painting as layers are applied when the previous coat is completely dry. It is useful for adding details and to build up colors; laying down the lightest colors first as the base, then adding darker tones over the top.

Related categories


Landscape Painting


Works on Paper

(Inspired by) Traditional Korean Art

Portrait Painting




Asian Art

Watercolor Painting

Asian Traditional Landscape Painting

Ink Painting


Watercolor on Paper

Mineral Pigments

Natural Pigment

Chinese Calligraphy

Wall Painting


Blurring Boundaries

Watercolor on Canvas

Wet on Wet

Gouache Paint

Natural Pigment on Silk

Decorative Art (Art Deco)

Color on Paper

Watercolor on Board