Tips and Ideas for Pearlescent Watercolours

Have you ever tried pearlescent or metallic watercolours? I’m not a “bling” on everything kind of girl, but I believe that a little bit of sparkle makes everything a bit more magical. 

If you’ve never tried metallic or pearlescent watercolours, they are a fun and easy way to add an extra special touch to your paintings.

Pearlescent watercolours are great for adding a metallic or delicate sheen to your artwork. They can be used alone mixed or glazed over the top of other traditional watercolours. 

It took me quite a few years to delve into the world of glittery, metallic paints, and to be honest, I was a little nervous about trying them. I didn’t know exactly how they would work, and nobody likes the thought that they might ruin a painting! 

But I recently tried the Etchr Pearlescent Watercolors which includes 12 half pans in either golden hues or a full rainbow of colours. I was pleasantly surprised to find that pearlescent watercolours aren't at all hard to paint with, and I had a lot of fun learning how they behave. 

The best way to learn to get familiar with metallic or pearlescent watercolours is to try them out for yourself. But, here are a few tips and ideas to get you started.

Tips for using Pearlescent Watercolors

1. Swatch Test First!

Before you begin, be sure to swatch test your colours. This is something you should do anytime you get new paints, whether they are glittery or not. 

Watercolours often look much different in the pans than they do when they’re painted on paper, but for some reason, I didn’t think this would be the case with the pearlescent pigments. It turns out, I was very wrong. 

As I was painting my swatches, I was surprised at how different some of the colours looked from what I expected. This was a good thing because, in the pan, several of the colours looked very similar to one another. Painting them on the swatch card provided allowed me to see their nuances.

2. Spray with Water to Activate

Mica-based watercolours can be a bit harder to rewet than regular colours. You may want to spray the palette with water before you begin painting. 

This should allow them to soften to a creamy consistency. I also like to use a synthetic brush that has a bit of spring to it that makes it easier to get more pigment on your brush if you need to.

3. One Last Layer of Darks

Some people say you should add metallic colours last, but in my experiments, I found that I often accidentally covered up my darkest darks with sparkle and they lost their punch.

But it turns out, layering dark pigments on top of the sort of pearlescent paint removes the shimmer, so it’s easy to bring back any dark areas that you lose with one final pass with dark pigment after the metallic paint.

4. Use Restraint

There’s a saying that goes, “If you make everything important than nothing is.” 

These paints are so fun to apply and it can be tempting to go crazy and add shimmer to your entire painting. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find yourself happily applying golden accents and having so much fun, only to realize you’ve made everything glittery. Oops! 

For best results, try to apply pearlescent paint in the same way you would add highlights to a painting. In most cases, the effect will be more impactful and pleasing when you choose just a few key areas to apply the pearlescent colours to.

Remember that once the pearlescent colours are applied, it’s not easy to lift the sparkle. You can always paint over it, but it’s difficult to remove from areas that you want to keep light, so try not to go overboard!

5. Use Contrast

When creating art, contrast is one way that we can get the viewer to look where we want them to. The contrast of colour, shape, line and value are just a few of the ways that you can draw attention to important areas in your artwork. 

Pearlescent watercolours allow us to create an additional type of contrast: the contrast between things that are shiny and reflective, and flat things.

Our eye is naturally attracted to things that sparkle and shine, so pearlescent watercolours are just one more tool you can use to draw attention to focal areas and make your art more impactful.

And speaking of contrast, those pearlescent watercolours will pop when you put them next to dark values!

6. Blend Them

Try blending the pearlescent colours with one another or with other normal colours in your palette. I liked the combination of the copper tones with ultramarine blue to get a pretty, shimmery grey.

Experiment and see what happens! You can also create graded washes using two different pearlescent colours, or try a gradient with one pearlescent colour and one regular colour.

7. Paint on black

Pearlescent colours are really beautiful when painted on black paper or dark ground. Try painting a dark wash of black or Payne’s grey or even ultramarine blue and then add the pearlescent colours on top once the dark paint is dry.

8. Build opacity with layers

These colours are very versatile because you can choose how strong you want the effect to be by building them up with layers. For a more delicate sheen, use a thin layer of paint, and for a more opaque effect use several layers of the pearlescent pigment.

What can you paint with pearlescent watercolours? Here are some ideas:

· Under the sea: Shimmering fish, jellyfish, seascapes, mermaids, sunken treasure, octopus, seashells, a giant shiny crab 

· Celestial scenes: glowing moons, stars, suns, planets, galaxies

· Robots/machinery: cars, space ships, friendly droids, lightsabers

· Gleaming, reflective surfaces: metals, shiny hair and fur, water

· Landscapes: golden hour, water, dappled light, sunrises and sunsets, clouds, mountain scenes, alpenglow, snowy forests

· Portraits and characters: with dramatic rim light, elaborate historical costumes, medieval armour

· Plant and Animal Studies: dewy florals, shiny insects, birds with iridescent feathers, copper-coloured foxes, owls with big eyes

· Night scenes: Chinese lanterns, fireflies, bioluminescence, northern lights

· Magical/mythical creatures: fire-breathing dragons, medusa, faeries, Will-o’-the-whisps, unicorns, firebirds, pixie dust

· Fairytale Vibes: armour, gilded castles, magic lamps and carpets, golden eggs, harps, Rapunzel, candlesticks, golden geese, magic slippers, pumpkin carriages, illuminated letters, books with gold leaf on the cover

If you get a chance to try out one of the Etchr Pearlescent watercolour sets, be sure to use the #etchrpaints tag and show us your work!

Kristin Wauson is a children’s book author/illustrator and certified yoga teacher based in Austin, Texas. She’s a wife, mother of boys, a chocolate lab and a dragon (a bearded dragon, that is). When she’s not making picture books, you’ll probably find her fermenting something, baking or cooking up a new recipe. She is represented by Adria Goetz at Martin Literary Management.
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