Watercolor Techniques

Washes and Glazes

Washes and glazes are the basic watercolor techniques, especially to transparent colors.


What is a wash? It is not about cleaning and washing. It simply means to apply a uniform color over a large area of the painting, e.g. a light blue wash for the sky, or a uniform green or blue color on a field or other area.

ferryfrontThe washes can also be uniformly moving from a darker shade towards a lighter shade like in a blue sky, where the nearer parts of a sky is darker and it becomes lighter when it is near the horizon. Other colors can also be blended in, e.g. the gradual changing from blue to orange when depicting a sunrise or sunset.

Painting “Wet-in-Wet”

Two methods of applying paint to the surface for special effect are “wet-in-wet” (or “wet-on-wet”) and “dry brush”. Wet-in-wet is used when painting a wet surface to avoid a hard edge at the margin of the paint.

The somewhat unpredictable results of the wet-in-wet technique can lead to some surprising affects. That’s where practice comes in. Some people considers watercolour painting difficult to master because it could be unpredictable.

Dry Brush

Dry Brush is used to obtain a rough, textured appearance for the objects. It very effectively achieves this result especially when done over a rough or medium rough paper.

In this technique, a brush loaded with relatively thick paint is lightly pulled over the dry surface of the medium.

Painting Light-to-Dark

ferrydestinationUnlike oil colours, watercolors are painted with transparent washes. Watercolors are typically made darker on the paper by repeated application of the same color. These coats of paint are called “glazes”. A glaze of a different color can also be used to create a combined color so that the transparent glaze over the underlying color achieves the desired hue and darkness.

Limited Palette

Some artists creates other colors by mixing two or three colors from the limited set. However, one has to be very careful because mixing more than three colors can result in a muddy color that is dull.

A palette for the watercolorist can be very simple. Just a dish will do. This is because most of the colors are not mixed, but are applied pure to bring out the radiance in the colors. The color blend is on the paper rather than at the palette.

sunlitsailboatThough there seem to be endless colors available in tubes, one need only a very limited palette. Consider a primary color palette of blue, yellow and red to include: Lemon Yellow; Cadmium Yellow; Cadmium Red; Alizarin Crimson; Cerulean Blue; French Ultramarine Blue; Phtalo Blue; and perhaps Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna.

These nine colors will give you the ability to mix virtually any color possible. A brief summary of color mixing is: A red and a yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green; blue and red make violet. A red, yellow and blue make gray and if mixed dense enough, black.