20+ Fresh Watercolor Ideas for Filling Up Your Sketchbook

watercolor ideas

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Are you struggling to come up with watercolor painting ideas? Inspiration has always been difficult to find. But it’s okay!

Relax, take a deep breath, we’re here to help you!

In this article, we’ve listed plenty of easy watercolor painting ideas for you to try out!

As a bonus, there’s a section at the end where you can find some instructions on how to test and improve your current watercolor skills through a Watercolor Sketchbook Challenge!

Level 1: Easy Watercolor Painting Ideas!

1. Paint Your Favorite Flower

Our first watercolor painting idea is to paint your favorite flower! Easy, right?

Well, the reason for the simplicity is that some people who wrestle with finding watercolor painting ideas are not necessarily suffering from a lack of inspiration. It might be art block instead. In this case, more ingenious watercolor painting ideas may pose more stress for them.

In comparison, a simple and easy-to-paint subject like watercolor flowers in the video above would be more beneficial. At least, it can help them get rid of that white space sooner — avoiding ‘white paper syndrome’, which is one of the more common causes of art block.

As for how to make the most of this easy watercolor painting idea, you can try the following:

  • Change Painting Style: From uninhibited and loose to realistic botanical illustrations, you can choose either/or and explore the different modes in between.
  • Time Limit: Paint the first flower for 30 minutes, then the second for 15 minutes, and the last one for 5 minutes! Compare and contrast, which do you like more?
  • Limited Palette: Help spark your creativity more and test your watercolor painting skills with a limited palette when painting!

paint your favorite flower

2. Try a Classic Fruit Still Life Painting Session

Next on our easy watercolor painting ideas list is a fruit still life! There are many fruits out there, so this watercolor painting idea is just like the previous one. Different ways to interpret this watercolor painting project include:

  • Paint a single fruit under a lamp for maximum details.
  • Paint a type of fruit in various forms (e.g., a cut lemon, uncut, prepared into a dish, etc.)
  • Paint a basket of different fruits in vivid colors!

Like the previous watercolor painting idea, this one can’t be said to be unique or mind-blowing. But that may just be what you need to break out of your rut if you’re suffering from art block!

3. Pick a Vegetable in Your Fridge to Paint

pick a vegetable from your fridge to paint

Speaking of unusual watercolor painting ideas, you’ve probably seen people paint flowers and fruits before, but how about vegetables?

Yes, no? Either way, most people have at least one type of vegetable in their refrigerator. It won’t do any harm to take it out for a short still-life painting session~!

The result is also not that bad whether it’s a cartoon or realistic painting style. Take a look at @PaintingHyun’s “Purple Onion” watercolor painting video above and you can see what the prospects of this easy watercolor painting project are.

4. Watercolor Cactus Painting Study

Continuing in the vein of ‘plant-related’ easy watercolor painting projects, our next suggestion is to do a watercolor cactus study!

Cacti are very easy to paint. The structure is simple, and you can make it even simpler by painting a cartoon version.

PRO TIP! The most difficult part of painting cacti is the thorns that catch highlights naturally. It’s easy to be tempted to paint a cactus entirely with wet paint — which can cause you to ignore leaving out these highlight areas. BUT! Don’t worry. This is where masking fluid comes in. Just mask the highlight areas before applying wet paint and you’re good to go!

5. Paint Cute and Chubby Mini-Succulents

Don’t like cacti? You can choose to paint cute and chubby mini-succulents instead!

Succulents are very pleasing to look at, and you can arrange them in a sketchbook spread for your watercolor journal like @rurupoi on the YouTube video seen above to look even better.

The best thing is, just like the previously mentioned easy watercolor painting ideas, succulents are small and have a clear structure, so it doesn’t require an experienced artist to accomplish it. It can be considered a de-stressing watercolor painting project to work on when you have free time!

paint cute and chubby mini-succulents

6. Cute Mushroom Watercolor Painting Studies

Sticking with organic subjects that you might have easy access to, we move to mushrooms!

Mushrooms, like succulents, look quite cute. Point speaking, take a look at this watercolor painting video from @Nianiani of “Round-Head Mushrooms”, isn’t it good?

Having a watercolor painting sketchbook filled with different paintings of mushrooms is quite satisfying once you think of it!

7. Learn About Herbs through Quick Paint Studies

Speaking of filling up watercolor sketchbooks with plants. How about you try herbs next?

learn about herbs through quick paint studies

Herbs come in many varieties — most of which regular people have never come into contact with in their daily lives! Why not broaden your knowledge scope by learning a bit about them?

Herbs are relatively easy to paint anyway. And you can make it even easier by doing limited-time watercolor painting studies of 10 or 5 minutes each. This way, you won’t be completely clueless when identifying different leaf shapes when doing broader landscapes in the future.

If you’re not sure where to start, you can take a look at @ShaydaCampbell’s easy watercolor painting step-by-step tutorial for herbs.

8. Use House Plants for Rigorous Watercolor Painting Exercise

We’re slowly moving into the easy watercolor painting ideas suitable for intermediate beginners now. At least, the purpose of this next watercolor painting idea is to exercise your watercolor painting skills with a detailed house plant study.

An example would be @NitinSingh’s YouTube video, which is a detailed guide on an exciting way to improve your watercolor skills bit by bit by doing short watercolor paintings of the same plant over and over again.

Said like that, it sounds a bit boring. But this is an easy project that will teach you how to improve your observational skills, which is important for any artist.

Of course, if you really don’t like the idea of painting the same plant over and over again, you can limit the number to 3-5 times on each plant or change the angle. You can also mix things up even more by doing ‘Limited Time’ painting studies with strict time structures (e.g., from an hour to half an hour to a quarter of an hour, etc.)

use house plants for rigorous watercolor painting exercise

9. Try Abstract Watercolor Painting

Of the watercolor painting ideas on this list, this may be the most whimsical, but it has its purpose! Don’t look at abstract art as random or messy.

It’s actually quite difficult to think up a good composition for an abstract watercolor painting that can catch the eye of viewers. Of course, our purpose with the current watercolor painting ideas list is to help you relax, not to create fine art, so this fun project is also very suitable.

try abstract watercolor painting

So, our recommendation is to do an abstract watercolor painting experiment based entirely on your intuition. This is the time to take out all of the watercolor painting techniques you’ve learned thus far to add texture and various special effects, as well as your best watercolor paper and watercolor paints (to get the best effects!)

The best watercolor paper is to make sure that your painting surface can take the beating, whilst the best watercolor paints will naturally be more vivid.

If you’re really not sure where to start with this watercolor painting idea. You can watch some abstract watercolor painting videos — like @LemonCreation’s video tutorial — to get some inspiration!

Level 2: Intermediate Watercolor Painting Ideas!

10. Paint Your Lucky Item

Do you have any items you particularly love? It can be a unique stone or shell you picked up one day, a pair of accessories that you think are particularly lucky, or a toy that your parents gave you when you were still young.

If there’s really nothing like it, you can choose any item you are familiar with! In any case, the main purpose of introducing this particular watercolor painting idea is to test your painting skills.

Basically, when you know an object well enough that you don’t have to strain your observational abilities, what kind of painting can come out of it? Now’s the chance to find out!

11. Loose Figures: Paint Your Favorite Outfit

Another relatively simple watercolor painting idea is to paint your favorite outfit.

It’s said to be relatively simple because many artists struggle with painting figures and clothes. If that’s the case with you, the best thing to do is to go watch a watercolor painting tutorial or do some watercolor painting studies of folds.

12. Paint the Night Sky

The Night Sky is a popular subject for many beginners. It’s relatively simple, and you can also use up the black paint that tends to pile up after a while.

PRO-TIP! If you want to see an example of a beautifully painted night in watercolors, we recommend checking out @KarenRiceArt on YouTube. The resulting watercolor painting is very beautiful!

13. Paint a Quaint Watercolor Painting of Doors or Windows

Take a look at this watercolor painting vlog of a window. Doesn’t it look fresh?

In terms of scope, it’s certainly not of the same level as previous watercolor painting ideas. However, it’s still relatively easy for beginners to accomplish.

The trick here is to start with a relatively detailed sketch and work your way from there!

14. Watercolor Landscape: Misty Forests and Mountains Painting

Stepping into the realm of watercolor landscape paintings, the first one we recommend you try is ‘Misty Forests and Mountains’.

watercolor landscape

The misty painting photo may look mysterious and complex when you look at it as a whole. BUT, the process of painting such a watercolor painting is actually very simple!

It might even be finished in less than 20 minutes  (e.g., @JacksonPeacock’s video)!

The key here is to build up layers. The ones in the background are no-brainers. They lack detail and can be said to be mostly random. Closer to the front, you have darker colors and the shapes are more defined, but they can’t be said to be completely detailed either.

If you want to paint landscapes, ‘Misty Forest’ or ‘Misty Mountain’ scenes are definitely the best. The mist covers up many things, leaving you with far less work to do.

15. Paint Your Favorite Desserts in Watercolors

Next on our watercolor painting ideas list is food-related.

paint your favorite desserts in watercolors

Food not only relies on taste but also all five senses! It needs to taste good, smell good, and look good. Case in point, take a look at this mini-cake, doesn’t it look good?

Of course, it doesn’t have to be limited to cakes. There is definitely plenty of room to branch out — enough to fill several watercolor painting journals!

You can even assign different journals with themes. For example, one journal can be chocolate-flavored desserts and another can be vanilla! For more inspiration, check out this video by @Nianiani on strawberry-flavored desserts in 4 styles.

Level 3: Advanced Watercolor Painting Ideas!

16. Paint Watercolor Pet Portraits

Are you a pet lover? Whether it’s a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a snake, a spider, etc. As long as it’s a pet, it can be painted!

Portraits of pets or animals can be considered an advanced form of watercolor painting, but it’s not impossible to do it even if you’re a beginner. Of course, if you’re still uncertain, you can go and check out watercolor painting tutorials in this area.

For example, this “Watercolor Dog Portrait” step-by-step tutorial is quite good! Very educational, and the paints used are also very budget-friendly.

17. Loose Figures: Paint Your Favorite Movie Scene

Next in our watercolor painting ideas list is another ‘loose figure’ study. This time, we recommend painting your favorite movie scenes:

loose figure

  • Type 1: Comprehensive watercolor painting of your favorite iconic movie scene, characters, background, and all.
  • Type 2: Emotional watercolor painting of iconic characters in the midst of dramatic or memorable moments.
  • Type 3: Picturesque watercolor painting focused on capturing beautiful landscapes seen on the wide screen!

For some inspiration, we recommend watching @EmilyHughe’s vlog on how she herself became inspired to make watercolor paintings based on her favorite movies and TV series.

18. Paint a Detailed Watercolor Koi Fish

paint a detailed watercolor koi fish

Have you seen koi fish? In terms of shapes and patterns, they can be considered very beautiful!

It just so happens that the patterns of Koi fish fit very well with the natural fluidity of watercolor paints — so you can get twice the effect with half of the effort!

PRO-TIP! You can even make it simpler by relying on specific watercolor painting brush techniques — which you can learn from this video by @JessEngle. Master these techniques and with a good pair of brushes, you can do anything!

19. Watercolor Landscape: Seasonal Landscape Painting

Next, let’s talk about painting seasonal landscapes:

  • Spring: For spring, picture a vast field of flowers with all kinds of vibrant petals and green leaves facing the morning sun.
  • Summer: Next, why not paint a scorching hot seaside landscape with white sand, blue skies, white clouds, and flowing waves?
  • Autumn: You can’t have autumn without red and orange trees to mark the change in season!
  • Winter: Picture evergreen forests with warm wooden cabins covered by white snow.

Whatever season you like best or makes you most inspired, don’t hesitate to paint it!

20. Ink & Watercolor Painting Sketches

If you like to travel, loose ink & watercolor painting sketches are a good way to take advantage of bursts of inspiration when on the go.

You can do quick ink sketches with a waterproof pen when traveling or eating out, then finish it off as a watercolor painting when you get home! (Of course, you can also take some reference photos when appropriate so that you can complete your watercolor painting in more detail).

21. Paint Famous Buildings

Speaking of ink & watercolor painting sketches, our next watercolor painting idea can be said to be in the same vein. After all, old buildings and structures look particularly good in inks and watercolors. You can see an example of this in the image below:

paint famous buildings

22. Mix-Media Watercolor Painting

If you don’t like inks, you can try other mediums for your mixed-media watercolor painting.

For example, you can use watercolor pencils like @PaintingandChocolate or use markers or gouache paints.

23. Watercolor Painting: Portraits

Finally, the last item on our list of watercolor painting ideas is portraits!

Portraits can be considered relatively advanced and may not be suitable for beginners. But, for those who are already armed with advanced drawing techniques, doing portraits with watercolors is not necessarily difficult.

It’s all about using the right watercolor paints, paper, and brushes to get that beautiful blended look. There’s no need to pay attention to super-realism unless that’s what you’re going for. Just as long as the essence is there.

If you want some reference, @HamRib on YouTube has many watercolor painting tutorials with people as the main subject!

Watercolor Sketchbook Painting Challenge!!

Now, let’s move on to the promised watercolor sketchbook challenge. All that you need to do is as follows:

Step 1. Prepare Materials for Painting

First, let’s talk about the materials that you need to prepare for the challenge:

  • Watercolor Sketchbook: For your chosen sketchbook, it’s best to pick one with watercolor paper that is at least 95 lbs or 140 lbs. As for texture, it’s up to you to choose whether you want hot-pressed or cold-pressed paper for your watercolor painting.
  • Watercolor Paint: No hard requirements, but for maximum effects, artist-grade watercolor paint is recommended.
  • Brushes: It’s best to have a set of brushes in a variety of sizes.
  • Miscellaneous: To make watercolor painting more convenient, it’s best to prepare water jars, towels, masking fluid, heat guns, etc.

If you like mixed media, you can also prepare watercolor pencils, markers, gouache, etc.

Step 2. Pick a Sketchbook Theme

We’ve already talked about several examples of potential sketchbook themes in our watercolor painting ideas list, but here’s a more comprehensive list for your reference:

  1. One-Subject Sketchbook: Whether it’s a sketchbook full of watercolor flowers, 100 heads, an encyclopedia of common herbs/mushrooms, a picture book of different landscapes, a collection of your favorite movie scenes, etc. A one-subject sketchbook is a good choice because it’s very cohesive.
  2. One-Style Sketchbook: If you want to train your watercolor painting methods towards a certain style, a good way to do so is to fill an entire sketchbook using said style. You can see the effect here in @KellogLoops’ watercolor painting journal. There’s no limit on the type of subject, so you can use all the watercolor ideas we recommend.
  3. One-Palette Sketchbook: Trying out new paints? Or, do you want to try out a limited palette made from a collection of your favorite paints? Then a one-palette-themed sketchbook is exactly what you need! Again, no limits on style or subject, but each watercolor painting must be painted with the same watercolor palette.

These three are just examples of challenge themes that you can try! If there’s something else that has inspired you, then by all means~

Step 3. Set a Deadline

In order to instill a sense of urgency that will push you to finish your watercolor painting sketchbook, it’s best to set a deadline! That way, you can prepare an appropriate schedule based on the number of watercolor paintings required each day.

Final Thoughts:

Hopefully, we were able to inspire you to continue on the road of watercolor painting! If you think your skills are not yet up to par, make sure to check out this beginner-friendly Domestika course on watercolor painting basics.

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