This thread is a series of demos, examples and an explanation of different techniques used in creating washes in watercolor. There are many ways to utilize washes within a painting, and these are some of the techniques I use often within my paintings. The key for me is to experiment, and let the painting ‘paint itself’. I hope you enjoy my interpretations of some of the various wash techniques available.
Please feel free to ask questions, join in, and post your own work with explanations. This is not intended as a WIP, but a sharing of my techniques and thoughts about how exciting watercolor washes can be.
Please post your works and comments about them in the 2008 FEBRUARY HOMEWORK Thread here .
I have broken the thread into two sections, the first covering wet in wet techniques, and the second showing the effects of washes on dry paper.
The samples for the wet in wet blended technique are form a workshop I gave recently which was sponsored in part by The Studios of Key West, and Jack Richeson Fine Art Materials.
Creating A Blended Wash ~easy techniques in watercolor~
Many techniques are available to the watercolor painter to create different ‘looks’ and ‘feel’ to their paintings. Once mastered, several different techniques may be combined in one painting to create the illusion of texture and the subtle transition of color.
The blended wet-in-wet technique is perfect for capturing skies and atmosphere, lively sunsets, or for creating abstract backgrounds for floral compositions. Once dry, the foreground and other compositional elements can be over-painted either with more washes or dry brush techniques.
My personal favorite is the wet-in wet blended wash technique, where most of the color mixing is done on the paper rather than the palette, which creates a subtle blend of color, and can create some very striking transitional color combinations.
The type and quality of materials is the key to successful blended washes. If you want to achieve professional looking color-saturated results it is essential to use good quality pigments, thick watercolor paper and good brushes. Good quality materials do make all the difference!
Watercolor paper is available in a large selection of thicknesses and finishes. Cold press is a medium texture paper, hot press is smooth and rough is rough texture. Subtle differences vary from brand to brand, and even in different batches of the same brand. For blended washes I recommend a paper which is at least 140lb in weight, and preferably 300lb. Because you need to move the paper around, you do not want to staple it, tape it or stretch it on a backing board…so anything under 140lb will cockle and buckle. *I would highly recommend that you try out different brands and textures to find a paper that you are comfortable working with and will enhance your composition is sympathetic to the way you paint. I have used Arches Cold Press papers for many years and find this brand to be very consistent. Recently I have been experimenting with other types of papers such as Fabriano Uno and Jack Richeson papers.
Good quality artist grade tube watercolor paints are another component to creating successful blended washes. Good quality paints are saturated in pigment, and in turn give color-saturated results. Colors may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer even if they have the same color name. Transparent colors work well for blended washes, but I have also had good results with some of the more opaque colors. It is important to experiment with how colors work together when left to blend by them selves. You can achieve some extraordinary color mixes when you have the courage to ‘play’ with unusual combinations and not worry about the outcome. I have used Winsor and Newton artist grade watercolors for a long time, and like them. Recently I have also been using Maimeri Blue watercolors and the Steven Quiller range.
Brushes are equally important in creating good quality washes. I suggest you use the biggest brush you can afford ~even on small paintings~ as you will be using pigment loaded sweeping movements to create your washes. I use a different brush to lay down the water to wet my paper from the brushes I paint with. This stops accidental color contamination.
My personal favorite is the Isabey range of squirrel mop brushes, but these are expensive. Alternately I also use a Chinese hake brush to lay down the water, and a #26 or smaller round (with a point) to lay down the color. I also often use flat 2-inch and 3-inch wash brushes such as Robert Simmons Sky Flow brushes. Large Chinese Hake brushes can be split quite easily to make smaller brushes, and are inexpensive, but have a tendency to leave hairs on your paintings.
BLENDED WASH TECHNIQUE
Preparing for painting:
Before I begin a painting I find it helpful to determine my finished mat size. This gives me an idea of proportion and helps make decisions about the composition. I keep several pre-cut mats of various sizes to hand as sample mats so that I can check how the painting will look as a final piece at different stages of the painting process.
After determining the size of my painting, I tear or cut 300lb paper to size ~ usually 2 inches larger all round than my inside matt opening. After choosing my colors I mix up separate pools of color on my palette ready for use.
Using the Hake brush lay down clean water on the paper without gaps until the paper surface is saturated. Make sure the surface is covered as 300lb paper will soak up a lot of water and you may have dry spots. When the surface has sheen it is ready to continue. Too much water and the pigment will slosh around.
Changing to a large round brush, and picking up a lot of pigment from the prepared wash on your palette, lay down color at the top of the piece of paper. You may also put some pigment where the horizon line would be. Pick up the paper with both hands and turn it vertical, horizontal and move it around. You will quickly see the pigment spreading on the wet paper. You may add another color in certain areas of the composition at this stage if you want to introduce another color. Move the paper again, and let the watercolor wake it’s own journey……the painting will practically paint itself!
As the paint moves with the clear water it will blend. You can control where it is going by laying the paper flat again on your working surface.
If the paper is very wet, mop up drips from one corner with a clean dry brush or paper towel. If the paper is still wet enough you can add a further application of one of the colors…or both…depending on how saturated you want it to look. Remember that watercolor dries much lighter that it appears wet.
** If your paper is partially dry when applying more color on top of the initial layer, you will get what is known as ‘blooming’, which will create an uneven blended wash. ‘Blooming’ has its uses, such enhancing compositional elements such as foliage…but I find it a little unsightly when trying for smooth transient color of a blended wash.
If you are unsure how dry your paper is it is better to let the paper dry completely before laying down another wash.
Let this first layer dry completely. Often thick watercolor paper feels dry to the touch, but is still damp in the core. Give it enough time to dry. It is good studio practice to be working on a second and even a third wash painting while you are waiting for the first one to dry.
When your first layer is dry, you may add another layer of wash. However, not all paintings need a second or subsequent layer of color.
Re-wet your entire painting with clean water using your Hake brush, using gentle strokes. If you are gentle, and the painting is totally dry, the paint should not lift from the first layer. Apply paint to this layer in the same manner as the initial wash, making sure to think about how the finished piece might look…. paying attention to where the horizon line might be and suggestions of any foreground. You may want to lay down more pigment in those areas, and leave a lot of the sky as a pale blend. If there is an area of too much pigment you can lift it of with a clean blotted Hake brush.
Continue in this fashion letting the layers dry thoroughly between applications.
** More is not always better! Sometimes I am satisfied with the first wash I have put down, but you should practice and experiment with what happens to colors when they are layered in this way.
When your initial washes are dry, mix up a darker color in the same range as your washes…or use a darker color of choice. This wash needs quite a lot of pigment in it……this is the color you will use for creating your palm tree or foreground etc.
If you want to add distant hills or land to the horizon line, use a diluted mix of this color by first applying clean water to the area of the distant hills and then a light wash (this in itself is also a wet-in-wet technique in a controlled area).
Let this dry before adding more to the composition.
Usually for palm trees I just let the brush do the work and don’t draw them first. Use a #12 or larger brush with a good point, and ring it out so that it is almost dry before loading with pigment/wash. Test out on a scrap of watercolor paper until you are comfortable with creating sweeping palm fronds and tree trunks! I start with the trunk and let it flow upward towards where the fronds will be. You only get one chance at this, so really focus on how you want the finished painting to look! Once the trunk and fronds are painted you are pretty much stuck with the placement.
To make a mottled effect on part of the frond or trunk, dab here and there…just a little with a paper tissue to lift off the paint. This is known as a dry brush technique ~ dip brush in pigmented wash and blot out a little on a paper towel, drag brush over the paper.
** If your trunk is too dark or heavy you can scrape back a little when the painting is completely dry by using a sharp blade with a gentle scrapping action. This is good for making the little horizontal lines on the tree trunks, or for creating a little sparkle on the ocean. A little of this technique goes a long way!
In the last stage I often paint in some squiggles to represent boats on the horizon line using a tiny, tiny rigger brush. Dab with a soft tissue if you want them to be more subtle and muted.
Remember it is your painting……
. and to a certain extent you are in charge of it. When the washes are blending and running into each other you are still in control by the way you move the paper and how much pigment you use. I always feel I am just helping the paint make it’s own journey….it takes a leap of faith to push through the washes and turn your painting into something uniquely yours.
Enjoy yourself and let the paint makes it’s own way. Hone in on your intuitive senses to paint with out drawing on the paper first and learn to have confidence in bold blended color washes. Paint with confidence and it will show in your work.
Wetting the paper
In the above painting I used two unusual colors……Sepia and Naples yellow…
..Just to show that you can use more opaque colors with this techniques as well as the transparent ones. I chose these colors to achieve a ‘moody’ effect. I liked the finished painting enough in this raw blended wash form, and thought it depicted a marshland scene and atmosphere fairly well. Sometimes I over paint more detail when the washes are completely dry, but have not done that in this case.
The painting below shows how important it is at every stage to use your mat as a visual tool to crop some of the messy bits out, or to find a good compositional background to over paint the foreground. You can also see that I work on many at one time, letting the washes dry completely while I am working on another painting.
More to follow in a few days.....