Watercolor washes

Watercolor Washes

The final set of watercolor exercises!

When it comes to watercolor painting three basic washes are crucial for any beginner to learn. This set of watercolor exercises will revolve around those three washes. I’ll begin by introducing each wash and then onto the actual exercise itself.  

Before we begin just remember to try and enjoy yourself, if you don’t get it the first time don’t be too hard on yourself. It took me a few too many tries before I was satisfied with the outcome. 

A flat wash is created when there is an even layer of paint covering the surface of the paper. 

 All washes can be painted using the wet on wet or wet on dry technique. It usually depends on the artists preference or what effect they’re going for. For example, the wet on wet technique produces a softer flat wash.

I will be going over both methods and you can decide for yourself which you prefer. 

A graded wash is basically created when theres a transition of value from dark to light.

A graded wash is achieved by adding watter to the paint mixture and diluting it as you reach the bottom of the page.

This technique can be useful when painting landscape backgrounds or simple skys.

A variegated wash is one that involves two or more colors that meet somewhere along the paper and blend together smoothly. The aim is to have one color softly transition into the other, meanwhile avoiding harsh edges.

 Theres two versions of  a variegated wash and I will be showing you both. Remember, you can use any depending on what you’re painting or personal preference.

Below I am only using two colors, but you can surely experiment with more.

Material for these exercises

Board- A board will provide you with flexibility. You’ll be able to tilt it at different angles thus, causing the paint to flow in different directions. 

Watercolor paint- Any color can be used during these exercises, just make sure to have them ready on your palette. When working with watercolor washes you need to work quickly, so having enough paint on your palette will make a huge difference.

Watercolor brushes- You need to work as quickly as possible so try choosing a brush that is big enough for the area of paper you are going to cover. In addition to that try choosing a brush that has a big belly and soft hair. A mop brush would be ideal for creating large washes, however, a flat brush or round brush will work as long as the size is big enough. (I used a round brush)

Two jars of water- Make sure you have two jars of water; you’ll need one for cleaning your brush and one to supply you with clear water. 

Towel or paper napkin- You”ll need one of these so that you can clean off the brush in between washes and dab off excess water.

Masking tape- To secure your paper

Flat wash:

Wet on dry

  1. Begin by mixing a large amount of paint on your palette
  2. Tilt the board about 45 degrees forward.
  3. Start painting across the top of the paper in horizontal strokes.
  4. You’ll notice the paint will start to gather in a linear puddle (as shown in the image)
  5.  Paint over it and keep going down. Remember you want to make sure that the paint doesn’t get lighter or darker. So keep using the same paint ratio as the beginning.

Wet on Wet

  1. This time you don’t have to tilt the board. Start by mixing a enough paint so that you can work quickly.
  2. Next, start by pre-wetting the paper with clean water
  3. Paint over the whole paper with the premixed color. With the wet-on-wet technique, you don’t have to paint in straight horizontal lines. As you can see below:
  4. Once you’ve covered the whole paper let it dry.

Graded wash:

Wet on dry

  1. Begin by tilting the board forward and securing the paper 
  2. Take your brush and paint across the top. Remember, this first stroke should be rich in pigment.
  3. Because the board is tilted you’ll the paint gathering in a line/bead. Keep brushing over it (take it down). If your brush has too much water you’ll see the paint rolling down instead of staying in a puddle.
  4. As you go down, clean off your brush and use more clear water to change the value. Do this by adding clear water to your puddle in the mixing palette. (more water, less paint ratio)

Wet on wet

  1. Tilt your board as you did for the wet-on-dry technique.
  2. This time however, paint a coating of clear water over the paper. Not too much, just enough so it’s shiny but there are no puddles.
  3. Start by painting across the top with a heavier load, as you go down begin to dilute the paint mixture. Unlike with the wet-on-dry technique, you may notice that the wash is much lighter. This is because the water on the paper helps dilute the concentration.

Variegated wash- method 1

Wet on dry

  1. Slightly tilt the board towards you. Next, prepare a big puddle of paint for each color you are going to use.
  2. Start out the same way you did with the flat wash.
  3. You’ll notice the paint gathering in a bead, keep painting over it.
  4. When you reach somewhere along the middle it’s time to introduce the second color. 
  5. Quickly clean off your brush and paint over the bead with the second color.

Wet on wet

  1.  You can tilt the board for a smoother effect however, this is not necessary. Because the paper is already wet it’ll be easier to blend the two colors.
  2. After preparing your paper and paint mixture, wet the paper with clean water. 
  3. Like we did with the flat wash: paint in the first color with flat horizontal brushstrokes. When you reach the middle you can introduce the second color.

Variegated wash method 2:

Wet on dry

  1. As always, mix a large puddle of paint and water on your palette for each color you’re using. 
  2. Start the way you would a graded wash; rich in pigment at the top and lighter as you go down.
  3. This time, however, paint the lightest value in the middle of the page.
  4. After you reach the middle flip the board upside down and begin adding your second color. Make the second color as you reach the middle.

Wet on wet

  1. Start by preparing your paint on the palette like usual
  2. This time, however, paint a coating of clear water over the paper. Not too much, just enough that it’s shiny and there aren’t any puddles.
  3. Start the same way you did with the wet-on-wet graded wash(lighter as you go down). This time, however, the bead of paint won’t form because the paper is wet.
  4. Paint the first color until you reach somewhere in the middle of the paper. Next, turn the board upside down and paint in the second color.
  5. You can lift the board and tilt it to make the colors blend. Just remember the key is to work quickly and try not to back after it starts to dry.

Congratulations!! You have finished all my beginner watercolor exercises. I hope you enjoyed them and found them useful. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you have confirmed your subscription! If you still want to learn more about watercolor painting check out my posts on watercolor techniques.