Art Materials,  Materials & Techniques,  Techniques

Dip-dyed Landscapes

I love water-colour, I love landscape art, and I also love the dip-dyed effect. However in spite of my love of watercolour, I’ve never really mastered it as a technique – as a medium it can be difficult to control – and perhaps that’s where my problem has always been, I was trying to control it too much.

I recently treated myself to some new water-colour inks, and decided to just play with them for a while purely for the sheer pleasure of it. Me and the boys did a lot of this while my computer was broken, and you’ll probably see lots more of it on here in the coming weeks, but one of the most effective projects we (or perhaps I should say ‘I’ here, since it was I confess, mainly me) undertook were these dip-dyed landscapes, which allow you to create wonderful fantasy landscapes using very little skill. The effects produced can be a little hit and miss, but then that is part of the fun, and it’s rather like seeing pictures in the fire, you can make of them what you will.

I used empty ice-cream tubs for the inks, and heavy absorbent watercolour paper which really is essential. If you cut it into small strips it doesn’t work out too expensive. The watercolour inks I used were in powdered form, which is a really cost-effective way of buying them. A little really does go a long way. I mixed up about a centimetre or so of ink in different colours and strengths in each tub, and also had a tub of clear water available. I did try it with food colouring instead, but by comparison the results were quite disappointing – the colours just weren’t as rich, and didn’t have the same depth and saturation to them.

The effect you achieve very much depends upon how wet or dry the paper is when the ink is applied, and it may be helpful to bear the following tips in mind if you fancy having a go yourself:

  • If you want a softer effect with no defined line (good for skies) then dip the paper when it is still wet.
  • If you want to create a more defined line, for example for a line of hills, then add the paper when it is dry, tipping the container and the ink so that it creates curved lines on the paper.
  • When creating skies especially on wet paper, you can help to ‘guide’ the paint a little after dipping, by tipping the paper as the colour spreads, or dipping the edge into water again to dilute and encourage the paint to spread a little more.
  • The impression of trees can be added by adding small amounts of ink to the paper when it is just damp, rather than wet.
  • Further effects can be created by drawing with a wax candle to create a resist onto either the white paper to create highlights, or onto a coloured layer which has already dried before you dip it again.
  • Don’t be afraid to trim away mistakes from the edges.  Sometimes a promising landscape will be inadvertently ruined at one stage, but all is not lost if you can trim it away, leaving the best bit – nobody need ever know!


The fun really is in just experimenting to see what you can do and what effects you can get.

This is a project which can be done with children, but personally I think this would probably be best done with older children. Patience is required, and a ‘landscape’ can take a while to create. You need to allow time for the paper to dry in between the various stages, or for the ink to soak or bleed into the next layer.  Because of this it’s worth having several ‘on the go’ at one time. I should confess at this stage that the examples shown here were all created by myself – the kids did get involved initially, but got bored with having to wait around before they could finish it.

To give an indication of how they were created, the following images demonstrate the stages involved in creating the  ‘landscape’ below:




1)  The paper was soaked in water for a minute or two.

2)  While still wet, the paper was then dipped into well-diluted yellow ink.

3) Again, while still wet the yellow area was partially dipped into well-diluted pink ink, and then allowed to dry propped upright with the pink at the top, so that the colour continued to bleed into the yellow area below.

4)  The above stage was repeated, this time using purple ink, and allowed to dry as above, so that the purple colour continued to bleed into the pink area below.

5)  Once the whole piece is dry, the other end of the paper is dipped briefly into dilute purple ink, and allowed to dry again to give a crisp line.

6)  The same end of the paper is then partially dipped and allowed to stand in purple ink, to achieve a good depth of colour.

To finish, I dampened the paler purple line of hills a little, and added a tiny amount of purple ink to the top of the darker ‘hill’ so that it would bleed into the area around and suggest trees.



Once finished, your ‘landscapes’ can be further embellished as in these examples, with drawn details in pen, an applied acrylic jewel as a star, or golden metal leaf sun. Less is more.





What has become clear to me from this whole exercise, is how much planning needs to go into what can deceptively appear to be a completely effortless and spontaneous watercolour!