Laying down even watercolor washes (flat, graded and variegated)


Practicing washes on good (100% cotton rag) and cheap (student pads made from wood pulp) watercolor paper will really show the difference between the watercolor papers.
1.  Tape the edges of the paper down (9″x12″ or larger) to a piece of larger mat-board or cardboard covered in contact paper (1″ blue painter’s tape will peel off easily).
2.  Using a large flat watercolor brush (1-2″) pre-wet the paper with clean water. (I use the 1.5″ “Black Velvet series” flat wash brush from Silver company through www.
3.  Mix up a large puddle of juicy color (non-granulating pigments are easier initially) on your palette.
4.  When the shine of the water is beginning to disappear, gently drag your loaded large flat brush across the top of the paper and continue stroking down the sheet slightly overlapping the previous stroke of wet color. Load your brush for each stroke if needed. This can be done flat or on a tilted surface (at least 15 degrees).
5.  Tilt paper taped to board at various angles (incl. upright) to distribute the wash, if needed.
6.  Collect any pooling color at the bottom of the paper with a “thirsty” damp brush (or a corner of a paper towel) to prevent back-washes or blooms.

NOTE: Any secondary wash laid down subsequently (after the first is completely dry) is now referred to as a GLAZE


1.  To produce a graded wash, mix up a juicy mix of color in your palette and drag the loaded brush across the top of the dry (or moistened) paper.
2.  Dip brush 1x into clean water and remove excess on side of the container. (this will remove about 15% of the color)
3.  Stroke brush across paper directly below last band, overlapping slightly.
4.  Dip 1x again into water and remove excess water on side of container….repeat until bottom of page is reached.
Alternatively, your initial puddle of color can be diluted by adding water-in even increments (eg. 2 squirts from a water bottle), mixing thoroughly and adding to successive bands with the large flat brush OR you can start with clean water and gradually add even increments of color (eg one corner of flat brush into freshly squeezed watercolor), mixing thoroughly before adding successive strokes.
All these methods can work. Try which one is most comfortable for you.


1.  Make large puddles of similar concentration of 2 or more different colors in your palette.
2.  Load the large flat brush and stroke across the top of the paper with one color.
3.  Without rinsing the brush, pull a little color from the second puddle into the first color and mix. Load this directly below the last stroke, overlapping slightly.
4.  Repeat 3 until the change of color is complete or you reached the bottom of the page.
Alternatively, this effect can be produced by doing 2 separate graded washes, one starting from the top of the paper, drying completely, and then repeating the other color over it from the bottom of the paper up.

Subject matter painted over
a variegated wash

Variegated washes make great sunset scenes and can be painted over with darker colors to create drama. This is also known as an underwash/underpainting or toning the paper.

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