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Watercolor (American English) or watercolour (British English; see spelling differences), also aquarelle (French, 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 paper . Other supports include papyrus, bark papers, plastics, vellum, leather , fabric, wood and canvas . Watercolor paper is often made entirely or partially with cotton , which gives a good texture and minimizes distortion when wet. 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 . In East Asia , watercolor painting with inks is referred to as brush painting or scroll painting .