How to: Watercolor Rainbows

Written by tami mason
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How to: Watercolor Rainbows
Once you perfect realistic rainbows, you can create impressive works of art. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Ask any child to paint a simple rainbow, and the task will usually be completed fairly quickly, with line after line of different colours heaped on top of each other in a half-moon shape. Using watercolours to create a realistic rainbow, however, can be slightly more challenging. Rainbows occur when raindrops are hit by light, then the light is split into its individual colours. With plenty of patience and practice, you will soon be painting realistic rainbow scenes.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • White paper
  • Watercolour paint set
  • Synthetic paint brushes
  • Palette
  • Paper towel
  • Glass jar

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  1. 1

    Organise your supplies. Choose a good quality paper, around 63.5kg; the higher the weight the less the paper will warp when it gets wet. The colours of the rainbow are; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. One way to remember this is to remember the name ROY G. BIV. Fill the jar with water and moisten the brushes. If you are using watercolours from a tube, place a blob of each colour on a palette.

    How to: Watercolor Rainbows
    A palette is a must if you are using tube watercolours. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Place the paper on a flat surface. To begin with, practice on blank paper. When you are happy with the results, paint the background picture and when it is dry, paint a white line where you want the rainbow to be.

  3. 3

    Dip the wet (not dripping) paint brush into the red paint and paint a thin layer of red at the top of the rainbow. Clean the brush and repeat the procedure with the yellow paint. You will note that the next colour in a rainbow after red is orange. However, overlap the red and yellow and you will create a layer of orange where the red and yellow mix together. This overlapping method also ensures soft, smudgy lines instead of sharp layers of colour.

    How to: Watercolor Rainbows
    Always soften the brush bristles in water before you begin painting. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  4. 4

    Clean the brush again, and paint a thin layer of blue underneath the yellow. Remember to overlap the blue with the yellow, to create a green line of colour. Clean the brush and repeat the procedure again with a thin layer of violet, overlapping the violet with the blue to create an indigo colour.

Tips and warnings

  • Don't be put off if the rainbow isn't perfect the first time. Keep practicing and you will soon start to see pleasing results.
  • The colours of the rainbow should not appear too strong, if the colours are looking a bit bright, add a little more water to the brush. Watercolours are a wash of colour, not bright, sharp, thick paint.
  • If the paper starts to warp as it gets wetter, allow it to dry a little before proceeding.

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