Watercolor (American English) or watercolour (British English; see spelling differences), also aquarelle (French, from Italian diminutive of Latin aqua “water”), is a painting method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. Watercolor refers to both the medium and the resulting artwork. Aquarelles painted with water-soluble colored ink instead of modern water colors are called “aquarellum atramento” (Latin for “aquarelle made with ink”) by experts. However, this term has been more and more passing out of use.
The traditional and most common support—material to which the paint is applied—for watercolor paintings is watercolor paper. Other supports include papyrus, bark papers, plastics, vellum, leather, fabric, wood and watercolor canvas (coated with a gesso that is specially formulated for use with watercolours). Watercolor paper is often made entirely or partially with cotton. This gives the surface the appropriate texture and minimizes distortion when wet.Watercolor papers are usually cold pressed papers, and gives better texture and look with GSM between 200 and 300. Watercolors are usually translucent, and appear luminous because the pigments are laid down in a pure form with few fillers obscuring the pigment colors. Watercolors can also be made opaque by adding Chinese white.
Watercolour paint is an ancient form of painting. In East Asia, watercolor painting with inks is referred to as brush painting or scroll painting. In Chinese, Korean and Japanese painting it has been the dominant medium, often in monochrome black or browns, often using inkstick or other pigments. India, Ethiopia and other countries have long watercolor painting traditions as well.
American artists in the early 19th century seemed to regard watercolor primarily as a sketching tool in preparation for the “finished” work in oil or engraving.