Turning a watercolour accident to your advantage

I usually paint with a ‘botanical’ style plain background. That means that if I drip/blob/smudge paint onto that background I’m potentially in trouble.

Especially if I’m, say, 15 precious hours into a painting.

Luckily though, I find that usually a small blob, if the paint is watery enough will lift off without issue (see this vid for a demo).

But sometimes the watercolour has well and truly stained the paper, and all dabbing at it does is ruin the surface of the paper.

Then what?

This has happened quite a few times to me and I find that the best strategy is, instead of panicking, to stay very OPEN to the idea that this could be an opportunity for a ‘composition correction’.  Because the times it has happened, I’ve actually found it ended up being a ‘happy accident’ that gave me an opportunity to improve my painting (after I finished swearing!).

Let me show you with these tulips I was working on for an exhibition in Madrid.

Things started well. As this was a painting on a big scale (for me), I was using my big brush (for me) and plenty of gorgeous rich red paint. Note the TWO leaves I’d washed in to the bottom left of the tulips:

Then, when working with that bigger brush came the almost inevitable flick of red paint onto the background – down in the bottom right corner. Sometimes if a flick of paint was small enough I’d just leave it as it wouldn’t be very noticeable. But this one was too big for that. Plus this was for an important exhibition…

Uhh ohh.  What could be done? It wouldn’t lift off with water/kitchen paper. What could I add to the composition to hide it?

Fortunately this blob was in a position which lent itself to being covered in another leaf.  And I say fortunately, but I’ve always found that a blob CAN be covered by another element of composition if you’re open to ideas.  So I drew in a new leaf to cover it:

And I actually think the composition was improved as a result – as has always been the case when I’ve adapted for a mischievous (or were they actually helpful) blob!

I wanted to share this to reassure you that this sort of thing happens even if you have loads of watercolour experience, and that there is no reason to flip-out when it does.

Instead, ask ‘How’s this helpful little mistake going to allow me to improve my composition?’.

Then don’t rush into anything. Take a break and plan a couple of options – use a sketchbook or mock something up in Photoshop if you need to!

I’d love to hear about your own ‘happy accidents’ – and even the not-so-happy ones, so please leave me a comment below.

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  1. Lynda Newnes on May 7, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Extremely helpful. More important. Good luck with the your babies birth. Often easy the second time xx

  2. Tari Eilbeck on May 7, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Hope your special day birthing will be wonderful and your little creation inspires you…enjoy the moments because they grow up too fast Thanks for all your inspiration you give all us who love to create

  3. jeanne worthy on May 7, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    A great tip, thanks for sharing it, and for reassuring all of us not to panic!!

    Do let us know when you have your babe….congratulations!!

  4. Carol staines on May 7, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you Anna! Your generosity in sharing technique is amazing. Good luck with impending delivery! Xx

  5. Renee Cassese on May 7, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Great advice and spiritually healthy to remain open to a new way of seeing your painting.

    Many blessings for your new baby and your family.

  6. Julie on May 7, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you, Anna! What a beautiful save! I love your red tulips. Also, best wishes on the arrival of your newest family member. These are exciting times for you!
    Love and blessings!

  7. Brenda Lobley on May 7, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Anna, I haven’t commented on anything you have emailed me in the past but I have always loved everything that you do. Thank you for finding time to share this latest tip as I am sure you have such a lot on your mind now. Looking forward to hearing about your new arrival ( much more interesting the one being broadcast at the moment).

    • Anna Mason on May 8, 2019 at 9:33 am

      Thank you Brenda 🙂

  8. 5Flavors on May 7, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing that even AMAZING painters make booboo’s. Best of luck to you.

  9. Brayden on May 7, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you for addressing this issue as it’s definitely a tough one in watercolor! When this happens to me, sometimes I will turn the painting in a fun one with a few dots and sprinkles of watercolor around the main painting to spice it up or I will add another object, (like you did with the tulips) to cover up the mistake.
    Good luck with your new baby!
    God bless,

  10. Linda on May 7, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Best wishes on your new baby!
    I turn these happy accidents into an insect.

  11. Brenda on May 7, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    Anna, Thank you all your amazing tips, you have saved me in more than one occassion‍ wishing you all the best with the upcoming birth extending your family! I love that you are so personable and include us in what is going on in your world! So down to earth and such an amazing teacher

  12. David Molloy on May 7, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    Hiya Anna, Firstly, I hope all goes well for the birth and new arrival. I know that feeling of a stray speck of paint or worse! Scrubbing at it sometimes makes things far worse so your solution is the one to go for. All of my best wishes to you all, God bless. David.

  13. Carol Burkholder on May 7, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you Anna. Your tulips are amazing. Thank you again for your absolutely beautiful and informative books. I’ve learned so much from you. I had a similar “not so happy mistake’ when I painted the black tulips in your first book Wish I had added another leaf Lol. Wishing you and your family all the best with your upcoming delivery. We, your admirer’s will patiently wait for you to have the time to teach and encourage us in the future:). Take care Anna

  14. Barbara Johnson on May 7, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    After having a not so happy accident on one of my paintings, I began covering my background white area with tracing paper with just a cut out for the painted portion. The tracing paper protected my paper from drips and also any paint or oils on my hand that I might inadvertently transfer as I steady my hand on the paper while painting.

  15. Tanya T on May 7, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    Thank you, Anna for sharing this information about correction and for sharing your technique overall! You give so much happiness to people! It opens a new world! Wishing you all the blessing with upcoming baby arrival! Amazing time being pregnant and counting days to see the face of your child! ❤️

  16. Larisa Weber on May 7, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you so much for this lesson, Anna. You are such a beautiful and vibrant lady, just like your amazing watercolors ! Have a blessed and happy delivery of your baby. XOXO

  17. Hilary on May 7, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    It sounds like it may be a good opportunity to be extra creative. I try to resist the temptation to ‘bin’ anything I’m not pleased with and promise myself I’ll look again in the morning, usually it’s not so bad. I have a bad habit of not putting distance between me and the painting occasionally, then I micro criticise, stepping back a couple of yards helps me!
    Wishing you a safe delivery of your new daughter and a happy future for you all.

  18. Vickie Buccini on May 7, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Thank You for sharing your knowledge. Beautiful painting and great way to resolve a problem. Good luck with the exhibition and also the birth of your baby.

  19. Frances White on May 7, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks for the information, very helpful and always look forward for your tips. Congrats on your addition to your family.

  20. Corinna Mcgregor on May 7, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    What a great post! I think us novices often think we are the only ones that make mistakes. It’s terrible that it happened, but joyful that the rescue made the painting that much better! Blessings for an easy and wonder-filled birth!

  21. Elaine on May 7, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    Such a positive message looking at mistakes as being ways to improve work. Thank. Very best wishes for you and your family.

  22. Rupi on May 7, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Thanks Anna….for d great post… congratulations..and good luck for impending delivery..

  23. Sharon Elliott on May 7, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Good one! I often get mistakes like this one and will benefit from your fix! Good luck with the little one!!

  24. Linda on May 7, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    Thank you Anna for this helpful tip!
    All the best to you and the new little one!
    I love your work!
    Linda Stephan

  25. Linda on May 7, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Thank you Anna for this helpful tip!
    All the best to you and the new little one!
    I love your work!
    Linda Stephan

  26. Sharon on May 7, 2019 at 7:27 pm

    Wishing you a healthy baby following an easy delivery.
    Thank you for the tips. I have created a butterfly and
    Another bud, a couple of times.

  27. Judy Swindell on May 7, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you soooo much Anna for the very important information you shared with us. Very best of wishes on having your second baby. What a blessing they are to have and to hold and to watch them grow up. Cuddle, kiss, and love while they are small. as they grow up way too fast.

  28. Deepali on May 7, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    Thank you for important tips….. And best wishes for new family members….

  29. Melinda crues on May 7, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    You are inspiring me to go farther. I’m a fanatic about detail and have done large paintings with a tiny brush. Bought the brushes you recommended and the helped a lot. A painting takes me 6 months. I’m in the middle of one now. Then I will try your flowers exactly!! Exciting!!

  30. Andi Redfern on May 7, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you very he!pful, good luck with new baby, hope all goes wellxx

  31. Marilyn Franks on May 7, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    Happy Accidents Anna! So glad I still get your emails. And I am so happy to hear of the baby girl on the way. Prepare yourself for a totally different experience with learning how to manage two! And, you’ll be so tired and drained you won’t know what to do those first three months. But it will pass into something grand. You will also learn why we women ALWAYS go to the loo more than men (more nappies for little girls) lol I am thrilled for you and your husband and wish you all the best.

  32. Rita Judd on May 7, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    I painted a butterfly a have a smudge on the top of the wing. I tried to get rid of it but I can still see a faint smudge. I can see it. Maybe I will put a twig or branch as a background. I’m still pondering it. Good luck with the new baby.

  33. Sylvia on May 7, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Anna. Walking away to assess is great advice. Hugs to baby when he/she comes!

  34. Penny Taylor on May 8, 2019 at 12:39 am

    I’m sure this is a tip I’ll use… A LOT. Looking forward to hearing about your new addition.

  35. Coby Burns on May 8, 2019 at 12:51 am

    I sympathize! I was working on a pet portrait in watercolor and after a lot of hard work, finished and had it downstairs to iron flat before shipping and knocked a whole glass of water over it, then panicked and used my hand to swipe the water off. I’m sure the neighbors ears blushed hearing my laments. Once it dried I fixed the smears, the one on the background wash was the one I was most worried about. The fur was an easier fix. The customer loved it. And I had almost decided to toss it and start over!

  36. Jeanne Crook on May 8, 2019 at 12:54 am

    That is a really helpful tip Anna! I’ve had that experience & thought all was lost!
    Best wishes with your new baby. It’s such a special time for you & your family.
    Best wishes Jeanne xxxx

  37. Rosario on May 8, 2019 at 2:53 am

    Thanks for your help. I always threw it in the trash. Now I know I just have to paint another thing. And God bless your new baby.

  38. Dene Douglas on May 8, 2019 at 2:58 am

    Best wishes for your family in welcoming a new baby.
    Anna at times I have had similar problems with an odd paint splash and even changes of mind on placement of things. I have used the white cleaning sponge to carefully soak the mark then gently wipe off. Let it dry completely and then rub with the finest sandpaper you can obtain. Let the paper rest then polish with a smooth polishing stone I use a round smooth piece of rose quartz. Providing you have used good quality paper such as Arch it will easily stand up to this treatment. If you have hD a change of mind and used this technique and you are ready to paint over the area and you would like to resize the affected paper you can do so. The key is be gentle don’t fluff the paper up.

  39. ART FAELNAR on May 8, 2019 at 2:59 am

    Always beautiful. Always helpful. Wishing you a trouble-free delivery. God bless.

  40. Majella Ryan on May 8, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Thank you for all your good advice. Wishing you and your new baby everything that is good.

  41. Penny Crichton-Seager on May 8, 2019 at 8:00 am

    The easiest way to get rid of unwanted droplets etc is to use a magic sponge – dense, white rectangular. It will usually lift even staining colours like the pthalos. I don’t paint like you, my style is looser and portraiture, so droplets etc are welcome. Occasionally I may need to do a big shift and then the magic sponge comes in very useful. It will pretty much remove the surface of the paper, so it’s good for areas not to be painted. If you do have to go back in then add a little gum arabic to the paint to resist too quick an absorption. Do not waste money on so called art sponges – you can buy a pack of 10 from the cheapest shops for a couple of pounds. You can

    • Anna Mason on May 8, 2019 at 9:29 am

      I’ve tried the magic erasers Penny and they’re good to have in your kit, but I find for my big white plain paper backgrounds, they do damage the surface too much when dealing with a staining paint.

      • Jenny Thomas on May 8, 2019 at 5:56 pm

        I did a wonderful portrait of mt granddaughter but her mouth was not quite right at one corner. Unfortunately I tried to lift it out, and then used (don’t collapse) a rubber ! Off course I took the surface off and it’s beyond repair!

  42. Laurette Searle on May 8, 2019 at 8:44 am

    May your little person join you in this world with all well ! Thank you for all the details you give us to do our painting. You are the best!

  43. Adrienne Saunders on May 8, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Wonderful news that your baby is due to arrive soon and wish you and your family all the very best wishes for your future together,
    Thank you for your post and I will use your tips as they are totally the most helpful.

  44. Shipra Shah on May 8, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Thanks Anna very helpful and reassuring when it comes from an accomplished and experienced artist like yourself. The two petals look like they were always there!
    And yes all the best for your delivery

    Thanks and Regards

  45. Jane on May 8, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Awesome! Great to know how you can turn a potential disaster into an even more beautiful composition!!!
    Best wishes for a safe delivery and healthy baby!

  46. Molly Caton on May 8, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Thank You Anna, good luck on the birth of your baby x

  47. Molly Caton on May 8, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    Thank You Anna. Good luck on the birth of your baby , hope everything goes well x

  48. Rivkah LaFille on May 8, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    I often keep paper over all areas except where I am currently working (and no still-wet areas obviously), but I had one time where my son decided to play trains on my very much off limits work area and spilled coffee across the entire bottom of the piece. Thankfully, it was ocean, so I was able to shift the colors fairly easily, but unfortunately it threw off the light/dark balance in the entire piece, so I had to go back over the rest of it to match. It was frustrating, a huge piece with a lot of detail that had been only a few hours near completion. And I can’t say the final piece came out better, just darker and more high contrast than I would have liked. And literally days more work!

    Lesson learned? Keep my coffee AWAY from my desk when I leave it, and put my art where my toddler won’t be able to get to it, whether intentionally or inadvertently (I have also found him drawing with crayons on the sheet of paper I usually keep on top to protect my work!

    The only other really huge mistake I made on a big project was when I changed my mind about the red on a dress and realized it needed to be yellow! I literally cut out the entire dress with watercolor paper behind it to exactly match the cut out hole, and then I taped on the fresh piece from the back and filled in the minute gaps with watercolor ground.

    I don’t think that would fly on a gallery piece, but for a piece meant for reproduction in a publication instead of to hang on a wall, it worked. 🙂

  49. Loralyn on May 8, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    When I painted the sweet pea (I believe that was the painting) my blob became a little bee!

  50. Sharon k Schuyler on May 9, 2019 at 12:02 am

    So excited to hear about the coming baby! Congratulations! May God bless you with a healthy, happy little one! Hopefully you will post a photo. Enjoy your blogs. Thanks for sharing with us.

  51. Jo-Ann Siemienowicz on May 9, 2019 at 5:32 am

    Thank you so much Anna have had this happen a few times. Each time I thought it couldn’t be saved and started a new painting. Now thanks to your wonderful creative composition idea I won’t have to worry about this any more. Am very new to watercolour and am looking forward to taking classes with you, in the near future.
    Good luck with the birth of your new little one. Such an exciting time.

  52. Janet Kyle on May 9, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Anna, your advice is always so helpful so thank you.
    Wishing you an easy delivery for a healthy little one. Congrats!

  53. Helen T on May 9, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Happy birthday Anna! Nice to know I’m in good company;)

    This is stunning & a big help, thank you x

  54. mmstickney on May 9, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    My cats visit my painting station every session. They lounge and relax smack dab on my painting- gasp. Drink out of the paint water oh my. Every one of my paintings has cat splotches and paw marks. I do my best removing hair and paw prints. I know which paintings are mine in a lineup! Anna you are the most helpful teacher in my life. In retirement I am finally able to become a painter because of your desire to share. Have a safe delivery and enjoy the time you have with your family. We all await anxiously for the new arrival. Peggy

  55. Victoria Eugenia on May 9, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    Thanks for this information.
    Happy birthday. I also want to wish you happy delivery of your soon newborn baby.

  56. Cousin on May 9, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    Great Ideas, Happy Birthday Anna!! I can’t wait to see pics of the new baby!!

  57. Sue Cannella on May 10, 2019 at 2:55 am

    Thanks so much, Anna. You came up with the perfect rescue for your painting, and a very valuable tip for all us aspiring artists. Happy birthday, and endless good wishes for you and your new little family member.

  58. Bronwyn Bossley on May 10, 2019 at 5:42 am

    Thank you great help. Have an easy birth lots of Taurus around ha. Happy Birthday mine is the 220th.

  59. Nisha on May 10, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Thank you so much and Congratulations

  60. Cinny on May 10, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Great idea! I’m sure I’ll use it sometime…..BTW I’d love to paint those tulips, they’re so vibrant and full of movement …tutorial?????

  61. Magdalena Errázuriz on May 10, 2019 at 11:53 pm

    Dear Anna:
    Really helpfull! And lots of congratulations for being a mom again. The most important work in life.
    Regards, Magdalena Errázuriz.

  62. Dena on May 11, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    That beautiful leaf would never have existed without the ‘mistake’! A lesson both in art and life. Love your work and creativity – you’re a real ray of sunshine- may you and yours always be healthy and happy. Thank you for channelling your special gifts and support to the rest of us xx

  63. MammaLsrla on May 11, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    Well that was just the best! I am going to go look at my “Pink Cosmos” Nd see what I can do!

    Also, now that Megan gave birth to Archie (love that all boy name), it’s time for your bundle of joy to come! Wish you the best and take lots of pictures as they change so much so quickly’

  64. Ann on May 12, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Thank you, Anna for this very useful tip & best of luck for your Tulips Exhibition entry, which is as always – Stunning! I dropped my paint brush on a finished landscape fortunately, it fell on the sky & able to cover it as a bird in flight!
    Thank you too, for sharing your gift of art.
    Wishing you an easy delivery with baby & looking forward to hearing your news….X

  65. Anna Mason on June 20, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

  66. Sharon3 on August 25, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    love, love the fact that you are such a wonderful painter. I hope your little ones pick up the brush and enjoy painting too. thank you Anna for making my day.

  67. Bhupinder Kumar on September 17, 2019 at 10:42 am

    HEY Anna How you doing
    Sometimes I use the same kind of methods to cover my color blobs. Recently a blob of watercolor fell on the watercolor paper. Then i sprinkle such more blobs on the paper to create a beautiful background.


  68. Syndy on November 27, 2019 at 2:18 am

    It happened with my mouse tutorial – that vibrant green reacts so quickly with anything damp next to it! I scrubbed and now need to burnish the paper… haven’t tried that before and hope it works but, of course, that’s nothing like an exhibition piece.
    Step 1: freak out, let it out but don’t overindulge, and most of all don’t panic!
    Step 2: breathe deeply a few times (you’ll exit ‘flight or fight’)
    Step 3: now that we’re calm, think clearly and creatively
    Step 4: step back and admire the result
    What a lovely leaf! and I can’t imagine that painting looking as balanced without it! It was meant to be.

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