View Full Version : Why my colours do not blend?

06-04-2013, 08:10 AM
I am having hard time trying to blend the colours together in my watercolour paintings. I do not know if it is the paint or the paper, most probably the latter. While I am using the rather expensive Fabriano Artistico W/C Paper 640 gsm HP, the colours still do not seem to blend properly. The paint I am using is Holbein artists' water colors.

Please see my recent painting below for reference. I would appreciate some advice from the experts.


06-04-2013, 11:57 AM
I wet the area adjacent to where I intend to paint to get a blended edge. Alternatively you could paint a base colour and apply extra colours while wet.


M.L. Schaefer
06-04-2013, 12:52 PM
Exactly as Doug said! I've heard that Holbein paint is unusual as it allows brush strokes to show (???), but doing as Doug said would fix all that, I'm sure. :)

:heart: Margarete

06-04-2013, 01:08 PM
I've never used Holbein artists' watercolors, so I can't comment on their properties. But, it looks to me like you have your paint too thick. Do a test. Draw 2x4-inch rectangles on a piece of scrap paper or the back of a ruined watercolor. Paint in a red wash on half a rectangle. Then immediately paint in a blue wash starting from the opposite side. Paint right up to the red and just let the two paint colors kiss. Lift your brush and watch. The colors should merge together with the red, violet, blue blending from one to the other. If you have mostly red, the red is too thick. If you have mostly blue, the blue is too thick. Repeat exercise until you get a nice color blending.

06-04-2013, 01:13 PM
You have a point. When painting portraits I build up the tones very gradually, using many applications of pale washes.


06-04-2013, 01:41 PM
Thanks for the useful information Doug, Margarete and Jan. I did start with a very thin layer of paint (as in the left arm) but as I keep adding new layers, the colours do not seem to mix in harmony as I expected.

I will start wetting the area as Doug said in my future arts. But even with wetting which I did in my rose bud art posted under the same category, as I start adding layers, the colours just don't blend.

I watch watercolour art demos on youtube and imagine I could do so much better only if my colours blended as I want them to. I guess I need to keep practicing.

06-04-2013, 01:54 PM
Is the position of my paper to blame as well? I keep it flat on the desk as I do not have a stand.

06-04-2013, 01:56 PM
Try using cold pressed paper. Paint tends to lie on the surface of some Hot pressed papers, cold pressed is more forgiving.


Brian Barnes
06-04-2013, 03:20 PM
Doug has said what I was about to say. :)
And that is that HP (hot pressed) paper releases the dried paint particles very easily when the brush passes over them again. Hence the streaking. The solution for me has been either to use cold press (CP) or to not brush over dry paint if using HP.

HP is a beautiful paper, giving lovely results when certain techniques are used ... but you have to take it's properties into consideration when planning a painting. ;)


06-04-2013, 04:58 PM
Is the position of my paper to blame as well? I keep it flat on the desk as I do not have a stand.

If you tape your paper to a board before starting to paint, you can prop the top of the board on something (I use a roll of tape that is 2" thick). That elevates it enough to let gravity help the paint to flow easier on the paper.

I lay it flat to let the wash or glaze dry. When I want to add more wet paint, I elevate the top again. :D


06-04-2013, 05:24 PM
It's a lovely drawing, and I'm sorry you're frustrated by streaks.

I agree, water, water...and...water!

I've lately switched to Fabriano HP, and have not experienced streaking. However, I have noticed that synthetic brushes do smoosh around pigment. :( Very gentle touches with a very soft bristle brush seems to work fine. I use sable brushes or squirrel (if you keep your eyes peeled you can snatch them up on sale or as part of free gift offers). There are some very soft synthetic brushes out there, but I have not personally tested them.

Some ways to get blending: Drop color using the tip of the brush onto damp paper and let the capillary action pull the pigment around (I like this because without brush strokes there is nothing to hide or blend away). Chase your brushstrokes with a clean, barely damp brush to blend the pigment line. Paint a line of water with a barely damp brush up to the paint line. Dry brush your detail, then paint over with a damp brush to merge the details together.

HP paper seems to like transparent, non-granulating paints. Here is an article by Virgil that helps show the differences:


If you are using an opaque paint for the skin it will look very solid and heavy and lift easily. It can look very nice, but has to be handled with a very delicate touch, like petting butterfly wings.

06-04-2013, 06:18 PM
In my recent multi-brand testing of watercolors, I've done tons of swatches which are just 1.5"x1.5" little washes from full saturation to almost white.

I can verify what a lot of the reviews about Holbein say, while the pigment is very finely ground and seems like it should explode through a wash, it feels more like it sort of thuds onto the paper and sticks there, even using CP. It's one of the reasons that I shied away from it after trying a half dozen tubes.

A lot of people have suggested using a flow medium with it, but I don't have any, and found that a couple of other brands behave more like I expect them to.

I'm sure there's a market for that sort of formulation, but I found it kind of frustrating to pull a wash using side to side strokes and ended up having to sort of 'drag' the color along in the direction of the wash to get the gradient.

Hope you get it figured out, I can see why you're frustrated, that's no fun. It's a nice looking picture but you're being forced to fiddle where it should just flow into place.

Don't give up!

M.L. Schaefer
06-04-2013, 08:20 PM
I use Fabriano HP exclusively, and now struggle with CP :lol: ! Some good ideas above, but especially from Abigail (Drollaeem). Soft brushes are definitely the way to go..I have a number of soft brushes, some with razor points, others full-bellied that hold much paint and water. I keep stiffer brushes for practicing my acrylics. You can get beautiful results from HP, but be patient (and alas, you may have to invest in some more user-friendly paint for your portraits, or really really practice with the Holbein until you work out a system that works for you. You may want to try mixing your skin colors with the slightest bit (very slightest bit) of a white (buy a blend of Zinc White PW4 and Titanium White PW6, which is the best of two worlds. If you don't have that blend, the gentlest mix would be with Zinc White since Titanium White used alone may overwhelm the natural tint you want to reach.)

:heart: Margarete

06-04-2013, 10:17 PM
Are you trying to make softer transitions between the lighter and darker parts of skin? It looks like you're not using the brush enough to make the darker areas fade more gradually into lighter areas before they dry. Also, you could try using a bit of paper towel or sponge to soak up excess dark paint along the edge where you want a smooth transition into the light color.

I think she is coming along nicely though. I would keep adding more paint. I like Fabriano HP, and tend to use lots of layers. It does need a soft touch if you want to keep smooth washes though. I haven't used Holbein. It may require more coaxing with the brush to sweep it where you want it to go.

06-04-2013, 10:45 PM
I find hot press paper needs to be wet ted first the other idea is the paper may have lost it's sizing and is grabing the pigment .

06-05-2013, 11:04 AM
Thank you Doug, Brian, Sylvia, Abigail, Karl, Margarete, Cathy and Querin for the very useful information.

I have started to experiment with colours to figure out exactly where the problem arises. I have ordered some CP Bockingford and Saunders Waterford W/C papers from the UK as I have a hard time finding reasonably priced art materials here in Australia. Hopefully they will arrive within a couple of weeks and I will be able to experiment on them.

In my preliminary experiment, I found that the "hard to blend" colours can be more or less persuaded to blend by wetting the area of paper so that they do not leave hard edges or streaks. Then there are some colours which can not leave hard edges even if I tired, no matter what kind of paper surface I use.

06-05-2013, 01:07 PM
Hi Frenly,

Good paper makes a world of difference in making a painting.

Another way to soften your edges is to use two brushes. When you place the color down on the paper, use a second brush that is moist (but not soakingwet) to gently go over the edge. That will soften it and let it meld with the previous layer of paint a bit more.

Practice it on a piece of scrap paper. It takes a bit of a gentle touch to get it right.

Doug also mentioned moistening the paper where you will want the edge to be soft and then painting up to that moist area.

Practice it too and see which one you prefer. :D


06-05-2013, 01:51 PM
Thanks for the instruction Sylvia. I will give it a try. I am also thinking of experimenting with some W&N Cotman paints.

I forgot to respond to the suggestions regarding brush. Most of my brushes are natural kolinsky sable hair brush which I bought from Rosemary and Co. recently. So, I do not think the brushes are stiff enough to cause the problem.

06-05-2013, 11:19 PM
Welcome to the Forum, Frenly! Your choice of paper will definitely make a difference in the behaviour of your washes. Try to remember that you're guiding your washes on your paper. You aren't really *painting* in the conventional sense as you would in other mediums.

However, I firmly believe that you also need to focus on water. One of my favourite reference books was written by Ewa Karpinska. It's out of print and very expensive now. But, Bruce McEvoy wrote an excellent summary on his Handprint website, The Six Stages of Paper Wetness (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/wet1.html). I highly recommend that you spend a few minutes digesting this.

06-06-2013, 08:11 AM
That was an interesting read Char. Thanks for sharing with me. I will use it as a guide in future.