One-Color Watercolor: An Instructional

Now that my fingers have thawed out from the brutal temperatures and snowfall, I can properly share what I’ve been doing over my short hiatus! I think such is the life of any art hobbyist–“life” takes over, things get busy, and we can’t always do all of the things we intend. But I’ve been making the most of the time I’ve had these past couple of weeks and have managed to crank out a couple of pieces. Today’s post is going to be dedicated to the one-color watercolor!


When I was first learning how to use watercolors in high school, we were asked to complete this exercise. For me, this exercise was most beneficial in helping me learn how to control the medium.

One Color Watercolor - Warmup


  • Watercolor paper – Any kind will do as long as the surface is at least as large as 8″ x 10″ to give you room to practice. I chose my watercolor sketchbook.
  • Pencil/Eraser
  • Ruler
  • Watercolor – Choose one color. I chose black, but you can choose any color you like.
  • Brush – I prefer a flat shader brush, but use whatever you’re comfortable using.
  • Water


  1. Create a row of squares across your watercolor page with your ruler and pencil. I suggest giving yourself at least 1.5″ x 1.5″ so there’s enough room to focus on the colors. When I did it, I ended up with a row of 10 squares.
  2. Dark-to-Light: The first exercise is to move from dark to light. The goal is to progress from the strongest concentration of color to the weakest concentration of color. The leftmost square should be as dark as you can possibly get it (hint: the less water you use, the better!) and all subsequent squares will become lighter (hint: add more water!) until you reach the last square. The last square should look as though there is almost no color at all.
  3. Light-to-Dark: The second exercise is to move from light to dark. The goal is the opposite of the previous exercise–you’ll be moving from the weakest concentration of color to the strongest concentration of color. The leftmost square should be as light as you can possibly get it and all subsequent squares will become darker until you reach the last square. The last square should be the darkest concentration of color.

If you’ve done it correctly, you should end up with a spectrum ranging from very dark on one end to very light (almost non-existent) on the other. I haven’t done this warmup in a while and admittedly need more practice–a lot of the shades in the middle look alike!

The Result:

As you practice, you’ll be able to create one-color pieces with a variety of different shades. To me, using the variation in intensity feels a lot like when I do pencil drawings. The piece below was done on an artist square with black watercolor. The subject (as most of mine are these days) is a vintage photograph of Liza Minnelli I found while browsing the history boards of Pinterest.

Liza Minnelli fanart

I often like to section off a 0.5″ – 1″ border with painter’s tape. This serves 2 purposes: 1) to keep the watercolor paper from curling up when I paint it and 2) it often prevents pieces of the work from being cut off if I decide to mat and frame it. I also happen to like the clean look it has when the tape is removed.

Artfully Megan Signature

What has your experience been with watercolors? If you try this out, I’d be interested in hearing your experience!