What Does Watercolor Symbolize? Exploring the Meaning Behind the Brushstrokes

Watercolor painting is a versatile art form that can produce a wide range of emotions and symbols. With its vibrant hues and fluid texture, watercolor has come to express a lot more than the mere aesthetics of a scene. It is said that every brush stroke carries a separate meaning, and painters use this medium to express their thoughts, introspections, and personal styles. While the meanings of watercolor paintings can be subjective, certain colors and elements can carry universally accepted symbolic representations.

When it comes to watercolor symbolism, blue is perhaps the most universal and recognized color. This tranquil hue represents purity, calmness, and peace. Blue watercolors can transform into a serene ocean or a calm sky, both the symbols of tranquil and meditative environments. Similarly, green is symbolic of nature, vitality, and growth. Its various shades can express the vibrancy of a dense forest or the stillness of a meadow. Together, blue and green can produce some of the most calming and tranquil watercolor paintings.

On the other hand, red, yellow, and orange are colors of warmth, passion, and excitement, adding an energetic flair to a watercolor painting. Red can express love and sensuality or anger and rage. Yellow is symbolic of happiness, hope, and optimism, while orange is associated with creativity and enthusiasm. Watercolors that contain these hues can evoke a myriad of emotions, leaving an everlasting impression on the viewer. With a vast range of meanings and symbols, watercolor has come to embody the essence of creativity and self-expression.

History of watercolor painting

Watercolor painting is said to have originated in ancient Egypt, where it was used to decorate papyrus manuscripts. However, the technique of painting with watercolors as we know it today dates back to the Renaissance period. During this time, watercolors were predominantly used as a medium for sketches, studies, and formal presentations.

Throughout history, watercolors have been used by many artists including William Blake, J.M.W Turner, and John Singer Sargent. The portability and fast-drying nature of watercolors made it a popular choice for artists who wanted to capture the beauty of landscapes and scenes from everyday life. The medium also gained popularity among illustrators and botanists who used watercolors to document their observations and discoveries.

Characteristics of watercolor painting

  • Transparency: Unlike other painting mediums, watercolors are transparent, allowing the background to show through the layers of paint.
  • Fluidity: Watercolors are known for their fluidity, which can result in unexpected textures and effects on the paper.
  • Layering: Watercolors are versatile in the way they can be layered to create depth and dimension in a painting.
  • Color intensity: Watercolors can produce rich, vibrant colors that are difficult to achieve with other mediums.

Symbolism in watercolor painting

Watercolor painting has been associated with different meanings and interpretations throughout history. Some common themes include:

• Serenity and calmness: The fluid and transparent nature of watercolors can evoke feelings of peace and tranquility. Watercolor paintings of landscapes or seascapes are often used to create a sense of serenity and calmness.

• Emotional intensity: Despite its gentle appearance, watercolor painting can also be used to convey powerful emotions. The interplay of colors and textures can create a sense of drama and intensity.

• Simplicity and minimalism: Watercolor paintings are often characterized by their minimalist approach, using a limited color palette and simple brushstrokes to create a sense of understated beauty.

• Playfulness and whimsy: The fluidity and unpredictable nature of watercolors can be used to create fun and playful paintings. Watercolor paintings of animals or characters often use bold colors and exaggerated features to create a sense of fun and whimsy.

Artist Painting
Winslow Homer The Herring Net
John Singer Sargent Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose
David Hockney A Bigger Splash

Watercolor painting has a rich history and continues to be a popular medium for artists today. Its versatility, fluidity, and vibrant colors make it a great choice for expressing a range of emotions and themes in art. Whether used to create serene landscapes or playful character illustrations, watercolors are a beautiful and expressive form of art.

Techniques used in watercolor painting

Watercolor is a versatile medium that has been used for centuries to create beautiful, unique pieces of art. One of the reasons for its popularity is the range of techniques that can be used to create different effects. Some of the most common techniques used in watercolor painting include:

  • Wet-on-wet: This technique involves applying a wet wash of color to a wet paper surface. The colors will blend together and create soft edges and gradients. This technique is useful for creating backgrounds or atmospheric effects.
  • Dry brush: This technique involves using a dry brush to apply pigment to the paper. It creates a scratchy, textured effect and is great for adding details to a painting, such as branches, twigs, or fur.
  • Wet-on-dry: This technique involves applying a wet wash of color to a dry paper surface. The colors will stay where they are placed, creating defined edges and sharp lines. This technique is useful for creating details or highlighting specific areas.

Other techniques used in watercolor painting include lifting, glazing, and salt effects. Lifting involves removing pigment from the paper with a damp brush or towel to create highlights or add texture. Glazing involves layering transparent washes of color to create depth and luminosity. Salt effects involve sprinkling salt onto a wet wash of color to create a speckled, textured effect.

Mastering these techniques takes practice and experimentation. Many artists recommend starting with simple exercises to become comfortable with the medium before moving on to more complex paintings. By practicing a variety of techniques, artists can create unique pieces of art that symbolize a variety of emotions, experiences, and concepts.


Watercolor painting is a beautiful art form that allows artists to express themselves in unique and creative ways. By mastering a variety of techniques, artists can create paintings that are filled with emotion, depth, and meaning. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned artist, exploring the world of watercolor painting can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

Watercolor as a medium for expressing emotions

Watercolor is more than just a painting medium. It is a way for artists to express themselves and convey their emotions. With its transparent and delicate nature, watercolor can be used to create soft and subtle paintings that evoke a sense of tranquility and calmness. But it can also be used to create bold and intense paintings that convey strong emotions and feelings.

  • Transparency: Watercolor’s transparency makes it a perfect medium for expressing emotions. The transparency allows the artist to build up layers of color, creating a sense of depth and complexity. It can be used to create soft and ethereal paintings that convey a sense of calmness and tranquility.
  • Color: Color is a powerful tool for expressing emotions, and watercolor provides a wide range of colors that can be used to convey different emotions. The artist can use warm colors like red, oranges, and yellows to create a sense of passion and energy. Cool colors like blues and greens can be used to create a sense of calmness and serenity.
  • Technique: Watercolor’s technique allows the artist to create a range of effects, from soft and subtle to bold and intense. The artist can use different techniques like wet-on-wet, dry brush, and glazing to create different effects and convey different emotions.

Below is a table that shows how different colors can be used to convey different emotions:

Color Emotion
Red Passion, Energy, Love
Orange Excitement, Enthusiasm, Warmth
Yellow Joy, Happiness, Optimism
Green Balance, Harmony, Growth
Blue Calmness, Serenity, Trust
Purple Imagination, Spirituality, Luxury

Watercolor allows artists to express their emotions in a way that no other medium can. Whether it’s through the transparency, color, or technique, watercolor can be used to create paintings that convey a range of emotions and feelings. It is a medium that encourages experimentation and creativity, and it allows the artist to express themselves in a unique and personal way.

Watercolor symbolism in different cultures

Watercolor is a medium that has been used in various cultures throughout history to symbolize different meanings and beliefs. Here are some of the watercolor symbolism in different cultures:

  • China: In Chinese culture, watercolor symbolizes peace, harmony, and tranquility. The color blue, especially in watercolor, is associated with the element of water and is believed to bring good luck, longevity, and prosperity.
  • Japan: In Japan, watercolor is commonly used in traditional art forms such as sumi-e and ukiyo-e. It symbolizes simplicity, elegance, and purity. The color pink, which is commonly used in Japanese watercolor, represents cherry blossoms – a symbol of beauty and transience.
  • India: In India, watercolor symbolizes vibrancy, spirituality, and divinity. The color yellow, commonly used in Indian watercolor, represents the sun and is believed to bring knowledge, wisdom, and enlightenment.

Watercolor is not limited to these cultures alone; it has been used by various cultures across the world to convey different meanings and messages.

Below is a table that shows some of the common watercolor symbols across cultures:

Culture Symbolism
China Peace, harmony, tranquility
Japan Simplicity, elegance, purity
India Vibrancy, spirituality, divinity
Middle East Hospitality, warmth, tradition
Mexico Celebration, color, life

Watercolor symbolism in different cultures is a testament to the universal appeal of this medium and its enduring significance in the art world.

Popular watercolor motifs/symbols

Watercolor can perfectly capture the beauty of nature, and that is why it has become a favored medium among many artists. One of the most common themes in watercolor art is the use of symbols and motifs that have deep meaning and significance. From flowers to animals and everything in between, watercolor motifs offer a subtle way for artists to communicate their message.

The Number 5

The number 5 is considered a powerful symbol in many cultures and religions. It represents balance and harmony and is often associated with the five elements of nature – Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. This number is also connected with the five senses – Sight, Hearing, Taste, Touch, and Smell.

In watercolor art, the number 5 is often used as a motif to represent balance and unity. It can be depicted using various techniques, such as creating an arrangement of five flowers or painting five birds in flight. The use of five colors is also a popular way of portraying this symbol, with each color reflecting one of the five elements.

Element Color
Earth Green
Air Yellow
Fire Red
Water Blue
Spirit Purple

The number 5 can also be used in abstract watercolor art to create a sense of order and balance. By strategically placing five shapes or lines on the paper, artists can create a composition that is pleasing to the eye and creates a harmonious effect.

How feelings can be depicted through watercolor symbolism

Watercolor painting is a creative way to express one’s emotions. This medium gives artists the freedom to paint a wide range of emotions, from happiness to sadness, anger to joy. A skilled artist can use watercolor symbolism to depict emotions so vividly that they feel almost palpable.

Common watercolor symbols for emotions

  • Red: Often associated with passion, anger, and love
  • Yellow: Often associated with happiness, joy, and optimism
  • Blue: Often associated with sadness, calmness, and serenity

Depicting emotions with watercolor techniques

There are several watercolor techniques that an artist can use to depict emotions. One such technique is to use bold, contrasting colors. For example, an artist may use a mix of red and black to depict strong feelings of anger or frustration.

Another technique is to use muted or pastel colors to depict sadness or melancholy. This creates a soft, dreamlike quality that emphasizes the emotions being conveyed.

Textures and patterns can also be used to create an emotional response in the viewer. For example, jagged lines and rough textures can represent strong, intense emotions, while smooth, flowing lines can represent calm and peaceful emotions.

Examples of watercolor symbolism for emotions

One example of watercolor symbolism for emotions is using bright, bold colors to represent happiness and positivity. For example, an artist may use shades of yellow and orange to depict the feeling of being carefree and joyful.

Emotion Color Symbolism
Sadness Blue Muted or pastel shades create a dream-like quality
Anger Red Bold, contrasting colors with rough textures
Love Pink Soft, flowing lines with delicate textures

Another example is using autumnal colors to represent nostalgia and the passage of time. The use of brown, red, and orange may evoke a sense of longing for the past, which can be a powerful emotional response.

Overall, there are endless possibilities for how watercolor symbolism can be used to convey emotions. It takes practice and skill to create a piece that truly captures a feeling, but the results can be incredibly moving and powerful.

Contemporary Watercolor Art and Symbolism

Watercolor painting has been a popular medium for artists for centuries. The transparent, fluid nature of watercolor makes it an ideal way to capture the ethereal beauty of landscapes and other subjects. But watercolor art is not just about beauty and technique; it also often carries deeper symbolism.

Contemporary watercolor artists continue to incorporate symbolism into their work, using the medium to convey complex emotions and ideas. Here are some examples of symbolism you can expect to see in contemporary watercolor art:

  • The number 7: In many cultures, the number 7 has special significance. In Christianity, it is associated with perfection and completion. In many Native American traditions, it symbolizes the cycles of life. In watercolor art, the number 7 is often used in composition, often in groupings of seven objects or with seven colors.
  • Flowers: Each type of flower has its own symbolic meaning, from the purity of the lily to the passion of the rose. Watercolor artists often use flowers to convey emotions or ideas, such as the impermanence of life or the tenderness of love.
  • Water: As the medium’s namesake, water is a common subject in watercolor paintings. It can symbolize purity, life, or transition.

But symbolism isn’t just limited to subject matter. Contemporary watercolor artists also incorporate symbolism into their use of color, brushstrokes, and composition. For example, the way an artist applies a stroke of paint can convey energy or tranquility. Or the way they arrange objects in the painting can create a sense of harmony or discord.

If you’re interested in exploring the world of contemporary watercolor art and symbolism, start by seeking out artists whose work speaks to you. Look closely at their paintings to see what symbols and techniques they use, and how they convey their emotions and ideas through the medium of watercolor.

Symbol Meaning
Number 7 Perfection, completion, cycles of life
Flowers Purity, passion, impermanence of life, tenderness of love
Water Purity, life, transition

Overall, contemporary watercolor artists continue to push the boundaries of what the medium can do, using symbolism to explore complex emotions and ideas. By understanding these symbols and techniques, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the power of watercolor art.

Importance of Color in Watercolor Symbolism

In watercolor painting, color is more than just an aesthetic choice or a way to add beauty to a piece. It’s an important tool for visual communication, as each color can convey specific emotions, moods, or even cultural meanings. Thus, understanding the symbolism of watercolor colors is crucial for artists and viewers alike.

The Symbolism of Number 8 in Watercolor

In numerology and spiritual beliefs, the number 8 represents a symbol of eternity and infinity. It’s also associated with prosperity, wealth, abundance, and success. In watercolor symbolism, the number 8 can be used to represent a sense of completeness, balance, and harmony.

  • The color eight in a watercolor piece can be used to symbolize abundance and prosperity.
  • The number eight can also be used to represent a harmonious balance in the subject matter.
  • In certain spiritual beliefs, eight can be seen as a symbol of infinity and eternity, which can add a sense of timelessness to a watercolor painting.

The Importance of Color Choice in Watercolor Symbolism

The choice of colors in watercolor painting can make or break the symbolic meaning of the piece. Each color has its own connotations and can represent different emotions or moods.

For example, a deep blue can symbolize stability and calmness, while a bright yellow can represent happiness and optimism. Additionally, cultural context can play a role in the symbolism of color. Red, for instance, can mean love and passion in Western culture, but it can represent luck and prosperity in Eastern cultures.

Therefore, it’s important for watercolor artists to understand the different associations of colors and choose their palette wisely to effectively convey their intended message.

The Symbolism of Common Watercolor Colors

Color Symbolism
Red Passion, love, energy
Orange Warmth, excitement, enthusiasm
Yellow Happiness, optimism, joy
Green Nature, growth, harmony
Blue Calmness, stability, trust
Purple Royalty, luxury, creativity
Black Mystery, elegance, formality
White Purity, innocence, cleanliness

Understanding the symbolism of common watercolor colors is a great starting point for artists looking to add meaning and depth to their pieces. However, it’s important to remember that the symbolic meanings of color can vary depending on cultural context and personal experiences.

Famous watercolor paintings and their symbolism

Watercolor painting is an art form that dates back to ancient Egyptian times and has been used to capture a wide range of subject matter and emotions. Some of the most famous watercolor paintings are renowned not just for their beauty, but also for the symbolism they convey. Here are some examples:

  • The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai: This iconic Japanese print depicts a towering wave with three fishing boats in the foreground. While the painting is often interpreted as a tribute to the power of nature, it also symbolizes the inevitability of change and the fleeting nature of life.
  • Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh: This post-impressionist masterpiece captures a starry night sky over a quaint village. While the painting is often seen as a celebration of the beauty of the night sky, it also alludes to van Gogh’s struggles with his mental health and his belief in the spiritual power of nature.
  • Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth: This haunting painting depicts a young woman lying in a field with her back turned to the viewer. The stark landscape and the woman’s distant gaze give the painting a sense of isolation and melancholy, while also suggesting the resilience of the human spirit.

While these famous watercolor paintings are often open to interpretation, their symbolism has helped to secure their place in art history and the wider consciousness.

Role of Nature in Watercolor Symbolism

Watercolor painting is known for its expressiveness, fluidity and delicacy. It is a medium that is deeply connected to nature, and as such, watercolor symbolism often draws inspiration from the natural world. Here, we explore how nature plays a crucial role in watercolor symbolism.

  • Water: Water is the most significant element in watercolor painting, and is used to create the transparency and fluidity that is characteristic of the medium. In watercolor symbolism, water often represents the ebb and flow of life, change, and the unpredictability of the natural world.
  • Flowers: Flowers are a common subject in watercolor painting, and in symbolism, they represent beauty, delicacy, and the fragility of life. Different colors of flowers also carry particular meanings, with red symbolizing love and desire, yellow representing friendship and joy, and white standing for purity and innocence.
  • Trees: Trees are a symbol of growth, strength, and resilience. In watercolor painting, trees are often depicted with their roots firmly planted in the earth, representing the connection between us and the natural world.

Watercolor artists often use the beauty of nature to convey deeper meanings and emotions in their paintings. For instance, a simple landscape painting can evoke a sense of peace, tranquility, or nostalgia. The colors and shapes used in the painting can also convey specific emotions. For example, warm colors like reds and oranges can represent passion and energy, while cool blues and greens can convey calmness and serenity.

Watercolor symbolism also incorporates the seasons as a means of conveying emotions and ideas. Spring represents new beginnings and growth, while summer symbolizes youth, abundance, and vitality. In contrast, autumn represents maturity, change, and letting go, while winter stands for stillness, rest, and introspection.

Symbol Meaning
Water Ebb and flow of life, change, unpredictability
Flowers Beauty, delicacy, fragility of life
Trees Growth, strength, resilience

In conclusion, watercolor symbolism draws heavily from the natural world to convey deeper meanings and emotions. The ebb and flow of water, the beauty of flowers, and the strength of trees all serve as symbols for different emotions and experiences. By incorporating nature into their paintings, watercolor artists create works that are not just aesthetically pleasing, but also convey profound messages about life, beauty, and the human experience.

What Does Watercolor Symbolize FAQs

1. What does watercolor symbolize in art?

Watercolor is often seen as a symbol of purity and transparency in art. Its delicate and fluid nature can convey feelings of lightness, simplicity, and freshness.

2. What does watercolor symbolize in philosophy?

In philosophy, watercolor can be seen as a symbol of the impermanence of life and the beauty of the moment. Its ability to capture fleeting emotions and sensations makes it a fitting representation of the transience of existence.

3. What does watercolor symbolize in literature?

Watercolor is frequently used in literature to symbolize the power and beauty of nature. Its soft and subtle tones can evoke feelings of peace, calm, and serenity, making it ideal for portraying the natural world.

4. What does watercolor symbolize in spirituality?

In spirituality, watercolor can represent the fluidity and interconnectedness of all things. Its ability to blend and merge colors together can symbolize the idea that all beings are ultimately connected and part of one wider universe.

5. What does watercolor symbolize in culture?

Watercolor is often used in different cultures to symbolize various ideas and concepts. In Japan, for example, it is associated with the idea of transience and the beauty of the fleeting moment. In Europe, it is frequently used to represent nature, landscape, and outdoor scenes.

6. What does watercolor symbolize in psychology?

In psychology, watercolor can serve as a symbol of emotional expression and release. The medium’s free-flowing, unstructured nature can help to facilitate the exploration and processing of emotions and feelings.

7. What does watercolor symbolize in design?

In design, watercolor can be used to symbolize creativity, innovation, and the freedom of expression. Its loose and flowing brushstrokes can evoke a sense of playfulness and spontaneity, making it popular in branding and marketing.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to learn about what watercolor symbolizes. Whether you are an artist, writer, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of this versatile medium, we hope this article has provided you with a deeper insight into its many meanings and interpretations. Be sure to check back again for more articles and resources related to art, culture, and creativity.