Watercolor Workshop Part 2: Washes

Watercolor Workshop Part 1 Here.

Washes are the heart of watercolors. The smooth colors and gradients produced from a successful wash are hallmarks of the medium.

For parents, teachers and beginning artists, washes provide an excellent opportunity for practice and artistic exploration. Break out the paints, brushes and small cuts of paper; it’s time to get your art on.

Flat Wash

Start with a flat wash. Load your paintbrush with wet paint and quickly drag the brush across the page in an even stroke. Paint will collect at the bottom and ends of your wash. Don’t worry about that now.

Reapply pigment to your brush and repeat. Continue working quickly until your surface area is covered. When the whole page has pigment applied, use a dry sponge or paintbrush to collect any excess paint and water on the ends of your sheet. Allow your work to dry completely before continuing.

Caution: Be quick and delicate. Avoid reapplying pigments or water to areas already covered. This will smudge the paint.

Once you’ve mastered the flat wash, try a few other wash techniques.

A flat wash in blue.
A flat wash in blue.
A flat wash with a stroke of water brushed through.
A flat wash with a stroke of water brushed through.

 

Wet Wash

To create a wet wash, run a clean, wet brush over your surface, coving the whole area with water. Now apply paint to your brush and run it over the damp page. The paint pigments will diffuse through the wet surface, creating whirls and swirls and eventually fading along the edges.

Use a wet wash to paint a sky or mountains. Wet your area and then run the paint along the top of your image. The pigments will “melt” down the page.

A wet wash. Notice how the pigment fades through the water.
A wet wash. Notice how the pigment fades through the water.
This wet wash used multiple colors.
This wet wash used multiple colors.

Variegated Wash

Use more than one color to blend a variegated wash.

Caution: Mixing more than three colors often results in muddy images. Remember, watercolors rely on simplicity and patience.

Keep your brush clean by rinsing and dabbing between colors.

One of my favorite aspects of the variegated wash is breaking away from linear constraints. Explore this wash style by creating waves, dropping and splattering color. Water’s diffusive qualities will spread the colors, creating organic patterns and natural backgrounds.

The trick with a variegated wash is to apply your colors slightly apart and then blend them together.
The trick with a variegated wash is to apply your colors slightly apart and then blend them together.

Granulated Wash

The granulated wash is a favorite of artists and admirers of watercolor. In this type of wash, the pigment of two or three colors is separated, creating a grainy texture on the page. This technique shows best results with a heavier use of pigment.

To achieve a granulated look, apply your wash as normal using 1-3 colors. As the paint and water settle, experiment with a spray bottle or wet brush and splatter water gently across the painted surface. As the clean water strikes the page, it will push and pull the pigments creating granulations among the colors. This is how I achieved the “milky-way skies” of Sleepy Safari and the Dreamy Desert.

Caution: Experiment with the wetness of your page as you create granulated washes. Too dry and the paint won’t move; too wet and it will just diffuse away. Sometimes to get the desired effect, you really do have to watch the paint dry.

Clean water pushes the pigment away, creating these spectacular spots.
Clean water pushes the pigment away, creating these spectacular spots.
The granules are quite clear with heavier pigment.
The granules are quite clear with heavier pigment.

 

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