handprint : laying a wash

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laying a wash
A wash is a large area in a watercolor painting where the paint flow and diffusion have been manipulated to efface individual brushstrokes. Within wash areas, color transitions are usually gradual and span analogous hues. Laying a wash — a flawless portrait background or a landscape sky that shades from bright to mist — is one of the most satisfying tasks in watercolor painting. It's a skill that takes practice to master, although the essentials are not difficult to learn.

the setup, brushes & papers pigment & paint behavior tilting the wash wash brushstrokes to wet or not to wet wash strategies basic wash principles

As a novice painter, I discovered that the instructions provided in watercolor handbooks are often inadequate. You're sometimes told to use incorrect techniques, or to use a single approach in all situations. An example: Set your board or block on a slant, raising the top edge about 1-1/2" to 2" off the top of the table. Load your 1" flat brush with paint and make a pass horizontally across the top of the paper. The paint will move downward, with a bead forming at the bottom of the stroke. Load the brush again, and make the next pass a little down the page, in the opposite direction, slightly overlapping the first. It's important to pick up the bead on each pass. Don't waste time: a line can form. It's also important to reverse the direction of the stroke with each pass. This will prevent a buildup of darker pigment on one side of the page. Repeat the process until the paper is covered. That's the total guidance. Even the wash instructions in David Dewey's watercolor book, though unusually accurate and complete, still leave many things unexplained ... what happens when I use different papers, different brushes, different brushstrokes, different types of paints, different angles of tilt? How can I vary washes



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to get expressive effects? The difficulty in learning watercolor is that there is too much going on at once. I found the only way to unlock the problem was to break the technique down into its basic components — brushes, papers, pigments types, paint behavior, tilting the wash, brushstroke techniques, prewetting, application strategies — then examine each component carefully, see what happens when I change or vary it, and finally put everything back together in a spirit of exploration and improvisation. That's the outline of this page. As with any skill, the key is practice and more practice. A good way to start is to try out the wash strategies described on this page. Buy six or eight medium sized (10"x14") watercolor blocks, five or six with rough (R) or cold pressed (CP or NOT) finishes and one or two with a hot pressed (HP) finish. Select different paper manufacturers so that you get different qualities of paper and variations in finish. Use these up (paint on both sides) as you explore the different wash techniques described here. I guarantee you will feel it is time (and paper) well spent.

the setup, brushes & papers
For starters, a few aspects of wash technique are part of your general painting methods and only require brief comment. These include the setup, brushes and papers. The Setup. Every painter develops a personal, habitual setup for painting. This work space depends on the space available, the painter's physical comfort and stamina, the typical size of work, and the artist's preferred painting technique. But a few specific requirements are necessary for proficient wash application. The essential thing is a clean and uncluttered working area. Everything extraneous to the wash task — pencils, brush holders, coffee mugs, tubes of paint — must



handprint : laying a wash

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be stowed or cleared to one side. All surfaces must be clean of dirt, hair, pencil shavings, eraser rubbings, drips of paint and anything else that might stray onto the paper. You also need a a tiltable work surface — the paper should lie on or be affixed to a hard, flat surface that can be tilted quickly to any desired angle. Some painters use a tiltable drafting table, which gives maximum control and comfort. Some work on the floor and tilt the surface by lifting a corner or edge of the sheet — this gives good control, but crouching to paint is physically tiring. My work surface is a compromise: the largest dining table I could find retail (about 4 by 9 feet, from Crate & Barrel), set away from the walls so it can be addressed from either side. This is my "floor". Paper rests on two or three sheets of Daniel Smith's watercolor board, 23" x 31", propped on a long strip of 2x2 or 4x4 lumber. This is my tilt, which I manipulate by turning, lifting or bending the sheet from the edges, or with a system of lumber and weights.

a generic wash setup You'll also want flat, reachable work space to hold all your incidental tools within easy reach. In my setup, this is the table on either side. Painters who use a tiltable drafting table



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set their tools on a taboret or nearby bookshelf. The wash mixture, or paints used to build the wash, should be in a separate container located close to the painting. Some painters mix their wash solutions in the mixing area of a flat palette, eldajon palette or butcher tray, which lets them swirl in a bit of fresh paint to adjust the mixture on the fly. I use a system of separate mixing dishes and premix all paints before starting work. Whatever your system, if the paints are not set close to the work, you'll find yourself making a rapid swing from paint to paper that can cause a hasty splatter. The container should be heavy and squat enough that it does not tip over if accidentally struck with the hand. Always mix up a generous quantity of wash mixture, more than enough to cover the entire area you want to paint, with slop off the sides. Running out of wash mixture before you are done is always fatal to the wash. But mix up a punch bowl, either. I find one tablespoon is just enough to cover a moderately sized full sheet. Finally, a water supply primarily for prewetting the sheet and gradating the wash density. (This should not be the brush rinse water.) I use both a bowl and a spray bottle. Other tools are useful. It is prudent to have paper towels at the ready, and a roll of towels within reach, to absorb excess runoff, blot or shape the wash edges, and catch drips before they sink into the paper. Many artists use hold fasts — bulldog clips, binder clips, carpenter's spring clamps (right), tacks, tape or weights — to hold the paper in place when it is tilted or to control cockling or warping. (Chinese painters use narrow lead weights to hold down their rice papers, but these may be insufficient for heavier cellulose papers and can slide if the support is tilted.) Many painters use tape, masks or resists to reserve areas that the wash should not cover,

a variety of clips, clamps and clamp pads



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or sheets of paper anchored with drafting tape to protect unpainted areas of the paper from drips or splatters. Should you stand or sit? Half sheet or smaller works are easy to bring off while sitting, though larger works are awkward to do. For small paintings, I prefer to sit on a small stool that raises me above the work but that I can kick aside to stand if necessary. If you find yourself rearranging tools and materials as you work, or putting tools down in a place different from where you picked them up, then reconsider your setup. You want to avoid any interruptions created when you have to stop and look for something, and especially the interruption created when you knock something over. Don't fight it: start by putting things where you conveniently or normally reach for them, and clear away everything else. A fresh, flawless wash usually requires a rhythmic and uninterrupted performance. You can't stop in the middle to answer the phone, let out the cat, or look for a different brush. It's tricky to go back and do a small section over. Once you start, you're committed to finish. That's part of the challenge and the fun. Take the phone off the hook, let out the cat, and you're ready to start. Brushes. The common advice is that you should use the largest brush practical for a wash. In fact, you can lay down a wash with almost any brush, but some brushes make the task easier than others. Most painters go to a 1" or less flat brush (bright or one stroke) or a #16 to #12 round brush; the flats are especially useful for carving precise edges or wedge shaped cutouts, or for "scrubbing in" pigment or paint over an area of especially rough paper texture, a folded deckle, or a blotch of water repelling tub sizing. However, in many situations a smaller brush



A smaller brush can also create subtle texturing variations. but this must be done before the wash has begun to dry. Of course. If the paint is more concentrated. Usually a dilute or granulating wash will dry under the object without a trace. that may be desirable in areas that represent the surface of water. and so on.handprint. They will take up a lot of paint and release it in an even flow. and a large carrying capacity. soft. grassy fields. A few artists use Japanese hake brushes for large wash areas. and more than 1" wide). no matter how many times they've been used before. On that point: don't try to brush hairs or debris out of a wash while it is still wet. Whatever brushes you use. A smaller brush is desirable when the wash area is not too large. the wash contours are too complex to render with a large brush. These have a very fat tuft (usually 1/4" or more thick. I find it is helpful http://www. The "old school" brushes. there are specialty wash brushes designed specifically for the job.handprint : laying a wash Page 6 of 50 — a 1/2" flat or a #8 round — may be the best tool for the job. or an area charged with additional paint. but they are too bulky to define precise contours at the wash edges. I find these brushes are good for smoothing out a wash that I have already laid with another brush.html 9/4/2010 . Traditionally they are used with resists or masking to define the wash edges. also shed hairs like a scurvy dog. Make your brush choice alertly: don't get locked into a single approach. long bristles. with the tufts set in a row of bamboo shafts. These brushes do not have enough carrying capacity or edge control to be useful as the primary application tool.com/HP/WCL/tech24. I keep a pair of fine tweezers handy to pluck out debris if necessary. or the object is large enough to pull paint underneath itself. or are used to lay down a sheet wide wash area that is painted over with the edge defining shapes. or the wash contains cut out areas (such as white clouds in a blue sky) that create spaces too small for a large brush to maneuver.

or of a sufficiently heavy basis weight (400GSM or higher) that it will not cockle or warp when wet. you're stuck. (Don't moisten with pure water. unless you intend to dilute the wash color. The larger wash brushes can conceal a lot of faults in your technique and give you excellent results in big areas. You can lay a wash on almost any kind of paper. http://www. The best paper for good wash results is moderately sized with a moderate surface finish or tooth (cold pressed or a gentle rough pressed). expressive variations. but the paper will ruthlessly show any irregularities in your wash mixture. Papers. but some papers make it easier than others. Most painters prefer the paper stretched. It's possible to lay a flat or evenly graded wash on hot pressed (HP) paper. If you can lay a good wash with the standard brushes.) A filbert brush or smaller sized round brush is most useful to refine the wash edge around areas of more detail. If the big wash brush is the only brush you know how to use.handprint : laying a wash Page 7 of 50 to have a second editing brush at the ready. I suggest you purchase and use the large wash brushes only after you have practiced your wash technique with a #12 or #14 round and a 1" flat. if you want a wash to show painterly. However.com/HP/WCL/tech24. then using the specialized wash brushes will be a pleasure. or soak up small quantities of excess wash.handprint. you will have difficulty laying down the wash mixture without pinholes popping open over the paper indentations. brushstrokes. especially for active pigments. but someday you will need to paint a wash that requires detailed edges or complex patterns where the standard wash brush is too big or clumsy to maneuver. premoistened with the wash solution and shaken out. or brush wetness. Note that a heavier basis paper generally has a slightly rougher surface texture. then hot pressed may be ideal.html 9/4/2010 . smooth out a blotch of coarse pigment. If the surface texture is too heavy.

so one "brown" or "blue" wash mixture is just the same as any other. so the types of paints in a wash mixture have a major effect on the quality of the wash and how the wash should be applied. provided that the brush pressure is kept constant across the paper surface and the paper is tilted enough to prevent puddling. pigment & paint behavior Most wash tutorials give the impression that paints don't matter in your wash technique: all wash mixtures can be applied in the same way. stop and give the area a quick. who teach that paints are just "colors".html 9/4/2010 . all over scrubbing with the brush tuft.handprint. the pigment behavior depends on how much the paint is diluted with water. If this happens. So painters need to consider both factors before they apply the paint to paper. once they have matured their technique. This assumption is a legacy of "color theorists". The behavior of pigment particles depends primarily on three things: (1) the weight of the pigment in water. Nothing is more disheartening when you are most of the way through a perfect wash than to hit a skid of invisible grease or heavy surface sizing that repels the paint to make an ugly white blotch. (2) the average pigment particle size. In addition. and it is relatively easy to lay a second wash over moderately cockled paper. In fact. painters make paintings with paints. vigorous. that it is straightforward to complete a single wash application before the paper absorbs enough moisture to cockle (especially if the paper is tilted to drain the excess paint downward). The surface of the paper must be absolutely clean.handprint : laying a wash Page 8 of 50 All painters discover. not with "colors". then retrace from the wash stroke above and continue downward. and (3) the color difference between small and http://www.com/HP/WCL/tech24. or its specific gravity. free of any oil or dirt from your fingers or the painting surface.

Like an infusion of tea. even the largest pigment particles are kept in suspension indefinitely by continuous jostling of water molecules.handprint : laying a wash Page 9 of 50 large pigment particles. and the distribution of sizes has a similar shape.handprint. It's the same with sand at the beach. as shown in the figure.html 9/4/2010 . the solution remains the same even if left undisturbed for several days. If you mix up a quantity of water and a grainy mineral http://www. The contrasting behavior of heavy pigments is probably familiar to you. All paints contain millions of microscopic pigment particles. These variations are always present. These differences in pigment behavior are enhanced by diluting the paint with water. which thins out the vehicle ingredients. Let's consider first how pigments behave when suspended in water. regardless of the average size of the particles. pigment particle size distribution In pigments that are relatively light in water and have a very small average particle size. Basics of Pigment Behavior.com/HP/WCL/tech24. but form a particle size distribution. These particles are not all the same size. gravel in the road or stones in the river bed: there is a size variation around the average.

and typically are lighter in value. then let the mixture sit undisturbed in a clear glass container.html 9/4/2010 . So many heavy pigments are really mixtures of two different paints — one made of coarse. by manufacturing pigments to different average particle sizes. then letting it sit undisturbed for two days. except that in pigments with medium to large particle sizes. In fact.handprint : laying a wash Page 10 of 50 pigment. saturated particles. pigment color can change with particle size: smaller particles are typically a different hue. You can observe this by mixing up a moderately diluted solution of cobalt teal blue (PG50) in a flat bottomed highball or drinking glass. pigment manufacturers can adjust a pigment's color. while the lighter particles remain suspended. but this is because the smallest http://www. but the separation always becomes more pronounced if you let the solution sit overnight: the concentration of paint changes from nearly transparent at the top of the solution to nearly opaque at the bottom. and the other made of whitish. How much of the pigment settles out depends on the weight and size of the largest particles. the paint visibly begins to separate after a few minutes. the paint will seem to have changed color to a dull bluish gray. such as viridian. This variation in particle size might be trivial.handprint. light particles. cobalt blue or manganese violet.com/HP/WCL/tech24. hiding power. settling of pigment particles in a wash solution The heavier particles sink to the bottom. Examined from above. lightfastness and other attributes.

which are whiter and bluer. and in high quality paints that are made with strongly tinting pigments (such as the phthalocyanines or dioxazine) where a little pigment goes a very long way. are formulated so that all "colors" behave the same. Most modern watercolors. The primary way the painter controls the effect of vehicle ingredients on pigment behavior is through the brand of paint you choose. bright turquoise particles become visible. or with fillers to moderate an excessively high tinting strength. filler and dispersant. These invisible ingredients are also dissolved or suspended in the paint solution. Finely divided pigments are also more likely to be formulated with a dispersant to aid in milling (mixing pigment and vehicle) when the paint is made. such as DaVinci. regardless of the pigments http://www.handprint : laying a wash Page 11 of 50 cobalt particles.handprint. The proportion of pigment in a paint varies across paint brands and types of pigment or paint. The proportion of pigment is also smaller in pigments with very small particle sizes. and the larger. In general the proportion of pigment is smaller in low quality or inexpensive ("student") paints. including binder. humectant. Two additional factors depend on the paint formulation and how much the paint is diluted with water. have settled as an opaque layer on the top. Paints contain many other paint ingredients besides pigment. Basics of Paint Behavior. and this larger total surface area requires proportionally more vehicle to cover or "wet" completely. Both aspects of paint formulation mean that the pigment behavior or "pigment personality" depends both on the type of pigment in the paint and the manufacturer (brand) that made the paints. Scrape this layer aside with a brush. or look at the container from underneath.com/HP/WCL/tech24.html 9/4/2010 . flows. settles and backruns when diluted with water and applied to paper. and they often affect how the visible pigment disperses. plasticizer. because the total surface area of pigment particles increases as the individual particles get smaller.

humectant and plasticizer) to pigment. Wash Mixture Guidelines. average particle size and hue variation across particle sizes. but the dispersant causes these paints to diffuse rapidly when applied wet in wet. sugar and little else. as they are more diluted. which contain pigment.Graham tube paints. M.html 9/4/2010 . gum. and pigments tend to behave more differently. However. size and color variation • heavier particles sink faster than lighter particles to the bottom of a diluted wash solution • larger particles sink faster than smaller http://www. the less effect vehicle ingredients have on pigment behavior. the proportion of vehicle (binder. show a wider range of pigment behavior. Student paints often rely more heavily on dispersants to reduce the time required to mill (thoroughly mix) the paint. These basics of pigment and paint behavior suggest these important wash principles: • concentrated paints impede diffusion and flow.handprint : laying a wash Page 12 of 50 in the paints. producing irregularities in the wash • diluted paint mixtures more easily produce a flawless paint application with no visible brushstrokes. and the proportion of paint to water (dilution) also change the paint behavior. you usually must add water to the paint to get a suspenison of pigment at the right concentration. and magnify differences in the rate of evaporation between paint areas of different wetness. but these effects are weaker in heavily diluted paints. The quantity of dispersant in the paint. glycerin. This is the second way that the painter can control the effect of vehicle ingredients on pigment behavior.com/HP/WCL/tech24. and especially the Kremer pan paints. but enhance pigment effects related to weight.handprint. To sum up: the pigment behavior in a wash is determined by three pigment attributes — weight in water. So paint brands tend to behave more alike. and the more water added to the paint.

indanthrone blue (1.5).0). phthalo blue. and the flow of wash solution down the page Four Types of Pigment. because a dispersant has been added to the vehicle to help it completely wet the extremely small pigment particles.6). can behave like active pigments when http://www. brushstroke irregularities. causing the pigments to diffuse more aggressively wet in wet. active pigments have high tinting strength and therefore comprise less than 20% of the total paint volume (a vehicle to pigment ratio of at least 4 to 1) — most of what you apply to the paper is binder. (Ultramarine blue and ultramarine violet. dioxazine violet (1. though they have much larger particle sizes. Excepting the iron oxides. and most of the quinacridones.handprint : laying a wash Page 13 of 50 particles — the smaller particles are kept suspended by the jostling of water molecules around them • larger vs. These vehicle ingredients increase the osmotic difference between paint and pure water. They often diffuse or shoot wildly across wet paper. smaller particles separate in a wash: and if there is a noticeable color difference between large and small particles. which tend to clump or cake during milling. and to dry more slowly. These pigments are very light (specific gravity under 2. have a very small average particle size (less than 0. They include iron blue. then their separation creates a visible color separation as well. • light. plasticizer. which creates backruns and other visible imperfections in the wash texture. and little color variation across particle sizes. small pigment particles are also more easily moved along by capillary flows that occur in the last stages of drying. we can conveniently classify all paints into one of four pigment types: Active pigments. By combining the basics of pigment and paint behavior.html 9/4/2010 . The light.com/HP/WCL/tech24.handprint. small particles are more easily displaced by capillary water movement. carbon black (specific gravity 1.8). humectant and filler.5 micron).

and http://www. orange and yellow cadmiums (specific gravity 4.9).handprint. a medium to large average particle size (on the order of 5 microns or more). Heavy Pigments.5).5 or more. Muddy Pigments. and some red iron oxides labeled "transparent" that in fact have a granulating texture. cobalt turquoise (3. The vehicle usually contains proportionately more gum arabic and glycerin to prevent the large.) In general. but are susceptible to diffusion and backruns. Because larger pigment particles require less vehicle to be thoroughly wetted. or they will produce a dark blotch where the brush first touches the paper. The large.1). there are some exceptional pigments that are both very heavy (specific gravity above 4.1).5). chromium oxide green (5. heavy particles rapidly sink out of a wash solution. sienna or ochre. and significant color variation across particle sizes. and blotches or irregularities usually can be smoothed out with a brush while the paint is still wet. specific gravity 5.5 micron or less) and little color variation across particle sizes. Finally. which must be stirred each time the brush is charged. cobalt blue (4. hard. manganese violet (3.2). the pigment usually comprises more than 40% of the paint by volume (a vehicle to pigment ratio of about 1 to 1). In most brands of watercolors.com/HP/WCL/tech24. But they do not diffuse wet in wet and are resistant to backruns even when rewetted with paint or water. active pigments apply smoothly. these include the red.4 to 4. any opaque but nongranulating umber. The thicker vehicle makes these paints more likely to streak or show brushstrokes if applied at high concentrations. and contain the least dispersant. These have a specific gravity of 3.html 9/4/2010 . heavy particles from separating out in the tube.9).handprint : laying a wash Page 14 of 50 dispersants are used to wet the pigment particles during milling.0) and cobalt green (4. cobalt violet (3. and are especially difficult to apply evenly to dry paper.8).0) yet have average to small particle sizes (0. red iron oxides (venetian red or indian red. Pigments of this type are mostly metallic crystalline pigments such as viridian (specific gravity 3.

and consistent color across all particle sizes.handprint : laying a wash Page 15 of 50 chinese white (5. are resistant to backruns when moderately or heavily diluted. Very often the paints mixed in a wash solution contain two or more pigment types. These usually have a specific gravity between 2.6). streak or bronze when applied near full strength. They usually have a high refractive index. Pigment Mixtures. the small particle size. What remains are the pigments that do not fit into any of the previous categories. • Heavy + Muddy. but are likely to cake. In dilute solutions they are as likely to backrun as the active pigments.handprint.0 and 3. opaque texture caused by the heavy pigment specific gravity. yellow iron oxides. consistent across different concentrations of paint and water. and producing a flat. http://www. so more pigment must be used in a wash to obtain the same color density as other paints. In these paints the pigment usually comprises around 30% to 40% of the total paint volume (a vehicle to pigment ratio of about 2 to 1). The mixture of two granulating or powdery mineral pigments (synthetic inorganic compounds of cobalt. These paints have a dense. Nearly all of these average pigments are synthetic organics (most of them laked dyes).5. The proportion of gum arabic or glycerin in the vehicle is higher than in average pigments but not as high as in other heavy pigments (cobalts). The painter can manipulate the wash behavior by the choice of these pigment combinations. and a few synthetic inorganic pigments such as nickel titanate yellow and the metal azomethines. Most watercolors are manufactured so that these "average" pigments behave the same way: relatively inactive wet in wet.5 and 1 micron. low tinting strength and in many cases a relatively dull color. Average Pigments.com/HP/WCL/tech24. an average particle size between 0. textureless color no matter how they are applied.html 9/4/2010 . and the relatively limited variation in the size of particles (or particle aggregates) produced by the methods of chemical synthesis and finishing.

com/HP/WCL/tech24. The synthetic organic pigments produce a bright. but it is very difficult to get an even. perylene. it picks up the heavier. juicy applications. phthalocyanine. If the brush is swept along the bottom of the container. manganese or magnesium) with a synthetic organic or "staining" pigment (such as iron blue or any quinacridone. and importantly reduce the staining behavior of a concentrated mixture. dioxazine or benzimidazolone). The crystalline components settle out of solution quickly. If the brush is dipped into the surface of the wash mixture.handprint : laying a wash Page 16 of 50 cadmium. These mixtures produce http://www. by the way the brush is charged with new paint. but at different rates. lighter pigment particles. and create subtle color variations in concentrated applications due to small backruns. making the paint easier to lift or edit. mineral appearance. which usually provide a more fluid color. coarser pigment particles — and usually leaves a heavy paint concentration or grainy blotch where the brush first touches the paper. the heavier mineral pigments mute backruns and induce pigment texture in diluted. otherwise the heavier pigments (cobalt teal blue in solution with a phthalocyanine) or heavier pigment particles (in grainy pigments such as cerulean blue or cobalt violet) separate in solution. it only picks up the smaller. However an unstirred wash mixture provides the painter with a simple method to modify the paint color on the fly. such as viridian or a compound of cadmium.html 9/4/2010 . cobalt. flat color. randomly varied brushstrokes on flat paper. Wash mixtures normally should be stirred each time the brush is charged. chromium or iron) of very different particle sizes is the most difficult of all wash mixtures to control. Painted with juicy. An especially versatile mixture consists of a granulating or powdery mineral pigment (a heavy pigment. consistent and strongly tinting basic color. • Active + Muddy. these mixtures dry with a mottled. and usually one pigment is more concentrated in the first touch of the brush. manganese. • Active + Heavy.handprint.

with two exceptions: the smaller particle size of the muddy paints makes the mixture more susceptible to backruns at all concentrations. • Average + Heavy/Muddy/Active. or by lightly stroking satin wet wash areas with a thirsty or wicked brush. or pigment banding during the wash application. but want to minimize the paint texture or pigment separation. mixing behavior. or the bottom of the cone could be pinched with thumb and finger (to trap the http://www. lack of alternative paints). and typically makes the mixtures more staining. These mixtures. and must be discovered by trial and error. The largest. are very stable in solution. but the amount of change depends on the specific paints used and their concentration in water. while the heavier particles would quickly sink back out of reach). If you require a granulating (usually blue or violet) pigment for one reason or another (hue. The "average" pigments generally mute or buffer the attributes of any of the other pigments.handprint : laying a wash Page 17 of 50 similar paint behavior as the active+heavy mixtures. for example a phthalocyanine with a quinacridone. a traditional remedy is to decant the paint solution. producing very subtle. Decanting Pigments.html 9/4/2010 . • Active + Active. In the 19th century. These can be produced by brushing upwards into the previous was stroke after each new stroke is applied. out of reach of the tip of the brush.com/HP/WCL/tech24. On paper. heaviest particles sank into the point of the cone.handprint. feathery contours of color within the wash area. The paint mixture could then be drawn directly from the cone (though the solution had to be regularly stirred to keep the smaller particles in suspension. slight backruns may cause the two pigments to separate. The amount of color variation depends on the specific pigments and brands of paint in the mixture and the absorptance of the paper. the procedure was to pour the wash or paint solution into a paper cone (like the paper cups used for "snow cones" today).

The same trick works well today.handprint.) tilting the wash A traditional component of wash technique is the tilt of the painting surface. and if you can't buy the snow cone cups at a party supply or culinary supply store. called the wash bead. allowing it to flow down the stroke to the new edge.com/HP/WCL/tech24. A sludge of the largest pigment particles remains behind. the downward flow of the wash bead Each brushstroke cuts into the existing wash bead and creates a wetted area underneath it.handprint : laying a wash Page 18 of 50 heavy particles in place) and the rest of the paint solution poured off into a mixing cup. let the paint settle for an hour or so. then decant the paint by pouring it off into a second mixing cup. or a funnel rolled from heavy waxed paper with the tip folded upwards to seal the bottom. This pulls the wash solution from high to low and collects the excess liquid in a reservoir. use a sharply tapering cocktail glass (some martini glasses work fine). (Keep in mind that decanting off these largest pigments will usually alter the paint color. I prefer something simpler: I mix up the paint in a mixing cup. This downward flow has three functions: http://www. along the bottom edge of the last brushstroke.html 9/4/2010 . The tilt creates a fall line or directed gravitational flow across the paper.

tilting the surface upwards at a greater angle as you go.handprint : laying a wash Page 19 of 50 • It erases brushstroke edges.com/HP/WCL/tech24. A little trigonometry shows that you get a tilt of 40° by raising the back edge of the painting support by about 2/3d's (64%) of the support height. you must raise the top edge so that it about 2-1/2 feet higher than the bottom edge to get a 40° tilt. let's make the inquiry: what are the actual limits on the tilt you can use in painting? • If you lay horizontal brushstrokes of clear water on watercolor paper. producing an even concentration of pigment down the paper. eventually the wash bead will break and run down the paper. The advice quoted above suggests 2 inches — which can be almost any tilt. the puddle of water starts to run downwards at a tilt of about 6°. and makes it easy to wick up excess paint with a thirsty brush. • It prevents upward backruns as paint is applied. depending on the size of the painting support. if your drawing surface is four feet from top edge to bottom edge.handprint. That is. by flowing perpendicularly (across) the horizontal direction of the brush. • It equalizes variations in the quantity of paint applied in successive brushstrokes. First. there is little or no tilt effect below 6°. Rex Brandt suggests you tilt the surface to 15°. Because gravity does dislodge this large puddle of water if the tilt is below 6°. then slowly tilt the surface upward. http://www. • If you pour a teaspoon of pure water on a flat watercolor paper. David Dewey suggests 40°. The question is. and why? Watercolor tutorials differ as to the optimal tilt to use. So 40° is the upper limit on a tilt that still lets you confidently control a wash. This usually happens when the tilt is around 40°. how much of a tilt should you use. one below the next.html 9/4/2010 .

which is more likely to break and run down the paper. A 30° angle requires a tilt of exactly 2/4 (or 1/2).handprint. How does the tilt affect the paint behavior? As you increase the tilt of the watercolor surface. These proportions are easy to judge by eye. several things happen: 1. this water collects into a tighter. Greater tilt causes more water to flow from the top edge to the bottom edge of a new wash stroke in the time between strokes. there are two convenient benchmarks. larger bead at the bottom edge of the wash. A 15° angle is obtained by raising the top edge of the drawing surface to a height equal to 1/4 of its top to bottom dimension.html 9/4/2010 . So the tilted wash forms a larger wash bead that is more likely to drip and therefore must be watched and manipulated with more care. the painting surface at a 15° and 30° tilt Within this range. a tilted wash forms a larger wash bead brushstroke viewed from the side http://www.com/HP/WCL/tech24.handprint : laying a wash Page 20 of 50 A 6° tilt requires you to raise the top edge by about 10% (or 5 inches/4 feet).

leaving less pigment on the paper above. the tilted wash dries more quickly from top to bottom than a wash painted on flat paper.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech24. this capillary pull can cause backruns. more pigment is swept into the wash bead by the faster water currents and force of gravity. because excess water is drained away. as a result the tilted wash leaves a lighter color than a wash painted on flat paper. This leaves less opportunity to brush out small imperfections and less leeway to vary the tempo of your brushstrokes. a tilted wash has a lighter color 4. So a tilted wash is less likely to backrun as it dries. Because a greater tilt causes the wash solution to flow more quickly off the surface of the paper. There is increased gravitational resistance to the capillary pull upwards of water in the new wash stroke. caused by the evaporation of water from the previous wash strokes. a tilted wash dries more quickly 3.handprint : laying a wash Page 21 of 50 2. (Backruns can still form from a wash bead that http://www. As the tilt increases.html 9/4/2010 .

The tilted wash brushstroke impairs brush action by forcing the brush toward a horizontal angle to the ground (if it is held perpendicular to the paper) or forcing an oblique angle of contact with the paper (if it is turned vertical to the ground). This is also puts the least strain on the wrist. the increased angle also forces the wrist into an uncomfortable extension. rather than coming to rest on the paper where they are applied.handprint.html 9/4/2010 . More of the large pigment particles are swept into the wash bead by the faster water currents.) 5.handprint : laying a wash Page 22 of 50 is not wicked up from the bottom edge of the wash. The tilted wash brushstroke shows heavy pigment banding. The optimal wash brushstroke is achieved with the brush handle held nearly vertical to the ground and perpendicular to the paper surface. while a flat stroke has none. larger pigment particles form bands in a tilted wash brushstroke viewed from the side http://www.com/HP/WCL/tech24. but these large particles settle quickly on the paper underneath the wash bead before the next brushstroke can be applied. a tilted wash can impair brush action 6.

especially around "cut out" forms — actually compensates for the supposed advantage of a tilted painting surface. pigment banding. If a hard edge does begin to form. This means there are really only two unique benefits to tilting the paper (#4. especially on a dry painting surface and for average or active pigments. But you have to be pretty stingy with paint application in order for this to happen. we should tilt the paper no more than necessary — just enough to get the beneficial effects. fewer backruns and #7. If we view the wash benefits in terms of the four types of pigment. it can usually be scrubbed out with the brush as the next brushstroke is applied. tilting the painting surface is not the most effective way to control whether edges form in your wash area. too rapid drying and #3. Some watercolor books explain that.html 9/4/2010 .handprint : laying a wash Page 23 of 50 7. In addition. in a tilted wash. and several potential drawbacks (primarily #5. #2. All things being equal. impaired brush action and #6. more even color). lighter color). the appearance of dried edges can be better controlled by prewetting the wash area.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech24. The ease of applying a wash when the surface is relatively flat — the paint can be applied more quickly and with less worry about managing the wash bead. the wash bead presses with a greater volume of water against the lower edge of the stroke. so a tilted wash creates more even color. and this inhibits evaporation or capillary action along the "dry" edge of the wash area that can form a hard edge of paint by drying. Overall. but often also #1. The increased water flow and paint movement downward effaces any unevenness in the density of pigment applied by the brush or marks left by separate brushstrokes. larger wash bead. Tilting therefore seems overall like mixed bag. but not enough to amplify the drawbacks. then three basic http://www.

handprint. This can usually be accomplished by using a tilt of 15° or more. and these paints usually apply very smoothly at moderate dilution. • For average pigments and diluted muddy pigments. the wash bands formed by the largest particles form more quickly the more the painting surface is tilted. the pigments are usually homogenous enough to minimize brushmarks and banding. and for most heavy pigment paints (the cobalt paints. This can usually be accomplished by using a tilt of 6° or less. So the tilt should be just enough to smooth out the wash (keep the wash bead moving down the page to efface brush strokes).handprint : laying a wash Page 24 of 50 approaches emerge: • For active pigments and concentrated muddy pigments. The benefits #4 and #7 are most important. But their lower tinting strength makes drawback #3 more significant. http://www. especially) backruns almost never occur unless they are mixed with a different type of pigment. and too rapid drying (#2) is a significant hazard because it can induce backruns from the wash bead. the tilt may be sharply increased — up to 90° if desired — to drain the paint more forcibly and produce a greater blending or smoothing effect on paint irregularities or color transitions.com/HP/WCL/tech24. provided this does not aggressively drain the color or cause the wash to dry too quickly. So the principal goal is to tilt the wash far enough to prevent backruns. while minimizing the drawbacks caused by the increased downward flow. • For heavy pigments. For these wash situations the best approach is often to use a minimal tilt or to paint the wash on flat paper and then immediately but very slowly tilt the paper to drain off the excess liquid (as described below). Once the wash application has been finished. the benefits #4 and #7 are relatively less important — the capillary forces that can cause backruns are not as strong. This can usually be accomplished by using a tilt between 6° to 15°.html 9/4/2010 .

To find the best way to grip the handle of your brush. backruns and other paint behavior is controlled in a wash.com/HP/WCL/tech24. But the rule is a useful starting point and can guide your judgment as you look for the right solution. http://www. rather than one thick application. Yet the brushstroke is an aspect of technique that you can (and should) adjust to suit the pigment and the kind of wash texture you want to achieve. All watercolor handbooks recommend applying the wash with quick. horizontal brushstrokes. sometimes 60° or more.handprint : laying a wash Page 25 of 50 These tilt recommendations apply to a diluted wash mixture as it is brushed on. pigment banding. a smoother wash texture can always be obtained from two or three diluted applications. paper. Holding the Brush. which is the primary way that the wash bead. as well as the wash appearance you want to achieve. The tilt no more than necessary rules depends on the dilution of the wash mixture and the type of paint. Thicker paint mixtures must be applied at a more extreme tilt. wash brushstrokes Now we turn attention to the brushstroke. color gradients or imperfections are blended less forcibly by extreme tilting. to compensate the increased viscosity of the paint mixture with an increased gravitational pull. You learn to navigate the nuances through experience. paper surface and brush you are using.html 9/4/2010 .handprint. and backruns caused by too rapid drying (#2) are more of a hazard. Thicker wash mixtures may show no water movement at tilts of 15° or less. even. If a high color density is required in the wash. consider the different ways you will need to adjust the angle of the brush to the paper.

html 9/4/2010 . These movements set the brush tuft as a cup or wall under the bead before you break its surface tension. To make a smooth wash. then hold the brush with the handle nearly parallel to the paper surface. If you are using a round. gently pull the brush upwards into the bead. touch the lower corner of the tuft at an angle to the paper. This reduces the rate of liquid flow from the brush. A vertical brush increases the liquid flow from the tuft and also strikes the tips of the hairs against the paper: this helps to fill in pinholes on the paper. If you want to show more of the paper texture (or the texture of the brush bristles). Do not dip the brush into the bead or into the lower edge.com/HP/WCL/tech24. so any drip of water is caught before it gains momentum. If you are using a flat wash brush. This will break the liquid's surface tension. always brush upwards into the wash bead from the dry paper underneath. and hits the paper with the sides of the hairs instead of the tips: both contribute to make a scratchy. http://www. irregular wash application that highlights the texture of the paper. hold the brush handle as near to perpendicular to the paper as you can without limiting your arm movement or cramping your wrist.handprint : laying a wash Page 26 of 50 right and wrong start to a wash brushstroke When you start the new stroke. then press the brush to lay it flat against the paper.handprint. touching the wash bead with the upper corner. but provides nothing below the water to stop its downward flow.

dissolve surface impurities. The straight brushstroke (left) is the commonly recommended approach. Now. These edges usually require flexible wrist movements.html 9/4/2010 . The strokes are made to overlap just enough to break the wash bead at the bottom of the previous stroke. Three Wash Brushstrokes. and spreads the pigment evenly across the stroke. a light touch also keeps the bristles from pressing heavy pigments deep into the paper texture. breaking the tension along the bottom edge and allowing the excess paint and water to flow across the width of the new brushstroke and form a new wash bead along its bottom edge. and these "cutout" edges must be painted cleanly and accurately. perpendicular angle to the paper. http://www. Heavy pressure forces the paint away from the center of the stroke and toward the edges. This draws the pigment evenly from the brush (rather than extruding it with pressure). lightly touch the brush to the paper with just enough pressure to maintain contact.com/HP/WCL/tech24. and flexible wrist movements. Finally. many washes must be applied around the edges of objects that are perceived to stand in front of the wash area. which are more difficult if the wrist is held at an awkward angle.handprint : laying a wash Page 27 of 50 Third. The top edge of the brush passes through the bead in the stroke above. or cover up the texture or pinholes in a rough paper. what pattern of brushstrokes should you use? The diagram shows the three basic types of wash stroke patterns. gentle pressure across the stroke. You should be able to perform these across a wash stroke of any length with any type of brush you want to use. unless you are scrubbing the paper to disperse heavy pigment deposits. Try different ways of gripping the brush until you find one that gives you the most flexibility to perform these four essential brush movements — upward movement at the start of the wash stroke.handprint.

If you always start at the left (or right) edge of the wash area. horizontal wash brushstrokes pigment mixing in horizontal wash brushstrokes left to right only (left) or alternating directions (right).handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech24. tilted surface. in the http://www.html 9/4/2010 . most of the paint applied to the paper is actually drawn right out of the brush: the paint in the wash bead flows downward only toward the end of the stroke. completing one horizontal stroke all the way across the page before starting the next. first stroke is yellow. bottom: refreshed horizontal brushstroke At the start of each new straight stroke. all other strokes are blue top: full width horizontal brushstroke. when the brush runs out of liquid. such as clouds. which limits your ability to handle complex edges or cutout shapes. A back and forth stroke also improves pigment mixing. You are locked into a fairly mechanical rhythm. the concentration of paint is not the same on the two sides of the paper. The straight stroke is fine for average pigment washes: but with active or heavy pigments it causes three annoying problems. where the brush has little liquid left. This can cause irregularities in the wash color.handprint : laying a wash Page 28 of 50 You must alternate the direction of the brushstroke to keep the pigment coverage even: either by brushing in the opposite direction over the stroke you have just made. or by switching direction from one brushstroke to the next. If all the strokes are made in the same direction. as shown in the examples below. the bead is large on that side and small on the opposite side. or backruns.

com/HP/WCL/tech24. The scalloped brushstroke (right) solves these problems by creating an irregular. broken pattern to the wash strokes. movement — don't daub or dither with it. which is easier for the eye to detect. Each scallop creates its own small wash bead at the bottom of the curved stroke. especially with a flat brush. then back up into another bead nearby. but varied to fit the location and shape of the specific wash area you paint.handprint : laying a wash Page 29 of 50 middle of the wash. because the longer the time between strokes. the more visible imperfections will result. light. Or you can start below one wash bead. so the timing and flow of the wash application can be adjusted with great flexibility and accuracy.html 9/4/2010 .handprint. pull it downwards. the action of brushing in alternating directions can be awkward to manage with one hand. Mechanical repetition creates a regular pattern. backruns will appear just from capillary action at the upper edge of a stationary wash bead. If you're using heavy pigments. You can make the lower edge sharply curved. combining two beads into one. pull downwards to make a new bottom edge. The scalloped stroke lets you control banding. to add paint or move a bead that has been resting for too long. If you're using an active pigment. freeing the artist to add new paint randomly over the entire surface of the wash. These backruns or pigment stripes will show up very clearly when the wash has dried — even though they may not be apparent while the wash is still wet. Second. the bead quickly collects the largest and darkest pigment particles. The shape of the stroke should not be mechanical. Lay this stroke down in a graceful. You can start with the wash bead of a stroke. then brush upwards into a second wash bead to dislodge any heavy pigment particles. you must work as quickly as you safely can. Finally. Just make a new scalloped stroke anywhere along the irregular bottom edge of the wash. and this bead is picked up by the new stroke coming underneath it. scalloped wash brushstrokes http://www. brushstroke edges and backruns with greater freedom.

In short. giving you much greater control over the overall movement of the wash. to spread the wash bead across a larger edge. and except for the strokes at the top of the page. the start of http://www. M.handprint. quickly refresh any wash beads that have gathered for too long. the crossed brushstroke (right) is the most aggressive. If banding occurs in the scalloped wash beads across the wash area. and so on. You can paint part of an edge. the scalloped strokes allow you to break these maneuvers into small segments. the irregular shape and placement of these bands will make them much less noticeable and create a subtle textural variation that blends well into the overall watercolor effect. and solve problems the moment you see them appear. overlapping strokes. If you must paint against very complex or detailed edges. painted with straight (left) and scalloped (right) brushstrokes on a tilted surface cerulean blue washes The example shows the difference between these two strokes for a robustly granulating pigment. The paint is laid down with short. Graham cerulean blue (PB36).handprint : laying a wash Page 30 of 50 to create a focused wash bead.com/HP/WCL/tech24. or nearly flat. paint another increment of edge. independent of the overall accumulation of the wash. Finally. The banding on the left shows the straight brushstroke at its very worst: but the scalloped stroke solves the banding problem completely. you can fit the stroke to the situation.html 9/4/2010 .

Complex Cutouts.handprint : laying a wash Page 31 of 50 each stroke crosses over the end of a previous stroke. as it can pull the darker wash mixture downward much more effectively than the scalloped or straight strokes. the diagram shows downward strokes. which are safest to use only when the painting surface is nearly flat. provided that you (1) control backruns. this stroke is useful for heavily granulating pigments. The normal procedure is either to use a straight http://www. If necessary. are common challenges. you can go back into an area of the wash that you've already laid down (to add paint or smooth out visible brushstrokes).com/HP/WCL/tech24. such as cerulean blue or manganese blue. However. By this time you should have guessed that you can use pretty much any application method or combination of brushstrokes. Clouds or a city skyline against the sky. Most washes necessitate a "cutout" at the edges — painting around the edge of a differently colored area.html 9/4/2010 . (2) efface brushmarks and (3) obtain even paint distribution. or the background behind an object. The crossed brushstroke is also useful in painting graded washes. these are painting with very crossed wash brushstrokes little tilt anyway. may require this kind of aggressive brushing to smooth out irregularities in pigment density at the start and end of a single wash stroke. and to break up bands that form within the wash beads. so that any collection of heavy pigment particles that may have formed is dispersed by the new stroke.handprint. The strokes can be crossed with either an upwards or downwards direction. Complex cutouts require technical flexibility. because heavy pigments tend to backrun very little when new pigment or water is added to them. which rely only on the flow of the wash bead. and (as discussed in the section on tilting). Very coarse pigments. The brush is used almost with a scrubbing emphasis. You fit the application to the problem.

http://www. then down the other side. narrowing spaces. I wanted to use an active pigment (phthalo turquoise).handprint. I did not want to go to the utter fuss of reserving all the botanical detail with a liquid resist. The example shown below is a recreational painting (unretouched) that I knocked off in a few hours because I enjoyed looking at the subject. to reduce the length of each horizontal stroke. but decided that wouldn't be much easier. I could have turned the paper sideways. The problem here was to get a homogenous background behind the weave of stems and petals. Botanical painters are familiar with even more complex situations. where the upward and outward radiation of stems and flowers produce many separate. scrubbing out the edge would leave a backrun.html 9/4/2010 . I could not get a horizontal stroke across all the detail edges before the start of the stroke had dried to a hard edge.com/HP/WCL/tech24. but the paper was relatively absorbent which minimized the problem of backruns.handprint : laying a wash Page 32 of 50 brushstroke which you break and then continue on either side of the foreground form (s). or scalloped brushstrokes to take the wash first down one side of the form. especially as i wanted to paint it freehand (without an underdrawing). effectively painting left to right down the sheet.

as shown by the white dots.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech24.html 9/4/2010 . and then (3) painted the background sequentially with the paper laid flat. (2) painted in all the botanical detail first. Each of these areas could be painted independently of the others.handprint : laying a wash Page 33 of 50 wash sequence around complex shapes a still life watercolor (top) and the strategy used to paint the background (bottom) Instead I (1) simplified the design. The design was simplified by carrying a few stems to the paper edge. http://www. These cut the background into four detached areas (not counting the peekthrough areas around the vase handle). as shown above with arrows and numbers.

I painted without the wash bead because I didn't need it to get color homogeneity. With the paper laid flat the "bead" is really the wettest paint edge. and I finished by filling in the leftover peek through areas (16). Others wet the area in the same way. which left me more time to paint the detail cutouts with care. then lay in the wash while the surface has a shiny to satin wetness. to wet or not to wet The final wash nuance is whether or not to prewet the wash area or the paper as a whole.html 9/4/2010 . to improve control. Other sections were completed in the same way. I carried this edge around the second stem and repeated the strategy into the next area (6.com/HP/WCL/tech24. That is.handprint : laying a wash Page 34 of 50 I started with an upward path (1) that let me practice the petal cutouts early on. then across the remaining area to the corner. Still others paint the wash directly on dry paper. but this also reduces the paint flow onto the paper and produces uneven color and minor backruns. even in active pigments. Some artists first sponge or brush the area with water and let it dry completely. I painted outward and downward along a gradually expanding edge (3). then carried this over the top of a bordering stem (2).7). This completed the first background section and I stopped for a rest.handprint. This strategy works because at every spot where I had to negotiate detail cutouts. backruns will not usually form. With a small paint edge to control there was no panic imperative to keep working quickly. and ensure even paint application. The crux is that it is normal to increase pressure on the brush during detail painting. the stem patterns left me with only a few inches of wash bead to keep wet and moving forward. and when the paint reached the opposite stem I painted first down (4) while lightly rewetting the edge along (5). http://www. but as long as this edge is kept moving at a constant rate with even paint application.

If you do not want to disturb the surface texture (especially in a hot pressed sheet). There are two types of problems. Do this before you begin to draw or paint on the sheet. scrubbing or polishing motion. http://www. The first is fine pinholing — tiny white flecks that appear in a wash after it has dried. The entire sheet should dry in even gradations of wetness from top to bottom: any areas that will repel a wash become visible as prematurely "dry" patches on the surface. After this brief cleaning. related problem is unsightly large whitish splotches that appear immediately after a wash has been applied. but I have also encountered them on supposedly high quality individual sheets from large manufacturers. Both problems can be prevented by prewetting the entire paper with pure water or with a highly diluted gum arabic solution. hang the paper vertically until it is completely dry.handprint : laying a wash Page 35 of 50 Prewetting as Surface Preparation. The usual causes in both cases are impurities such as oils on the paper surface or a somewhat thick layer of gelatin tub sizing that has collected in the paper depressions and will repel paint until it is dissolved. Both these problems seem to occur most often on block sheets.html 9/4/2010 . and also slightly raises the nap of the compacted cellulose fibers. The second. This treatment dissolves away any surface impurities. making the surface more absorbent. as a way to minimize or eliminate contaminants on the paper surface that can destroy an otherwise smooth wash texture. you can identify large problem areas by first flooding the paper surface with water.handprint. Many artists habitually prewet a wash area. breaks up the dried skin of tub sizing on the paper. then immediately holding the sheet vertically by one corner to drain the water away.com/HP/WCL/tech24. rapid. then quickly and lightly "polishing" the paper surface with an acrylic flat brush or large sponge in a gentle. or the entire paper surface.

where extra time is especially valuable and a smooth mixture (between paint and clear water. If pinholes appear while the paint is still completely wet. Prewetting the surface is also a simple method to improve the evenness of the wash. Prewetting for Paint Blending.com/HP/WCL/tech24. Paints made with a high pigment to vehicle ratio (cadmiums and iron oxide pigments) or large particle size (cobalts) are less affected. quinacridones. which is especially useful in a graded wash. dioxazine violet and carbon black. iron blue.html 9/4/2010 . Prewetting is awkward when the painting http://www. These require extra attention as you paint. scrubbing motion to work the paint into the imperfections. finely divided pigments with a low pigment to vehicle ratio — typically this includes the phthalos. Prewetting also encourages different colored paints to blend.handprint : laying a wash Page 36 of 50 These should be treated as described above.handprint. Prewetting is also advantageous when painting around complex edges. you can use it to produce a glittery visual texture in a dark color area. Don't do this if the paint has partly dried. so it is an obvious help for pigments that dry quickly or have a tendency to streak (the heavy pigments in particular). If you can learn to produce pinholing at will through your choice of paint and paper. It obscures brushmarks and prolongs the wash drying time. A partial remedy is to use a stiffer wash brush and to pull the brush more slowly across the paper. go back into the area with the brush and a little more paint and use a circular. If the pinholes appear long after the paint has been applied then the only remedy is a second coat of paint. But keep in mind: anything that happens while you paint can be used for expressive effect. as you will create blossoms or backruns. as the longer drying time gives you more time to paint accurately. but can still show this problem in diluted solutions. or two different colors of paint) is hard to achieve. Tiny pinholing usually occurs in paints made with dark valued.

If I stumble into a problem with the wash application.handprint. If the edge area is dry. but the area near it is moist. If you mix a wash with a cobalt and quinacridone pigment. when you apply a violet mixed from a dark magenta quinacridone and a light cobalt teal blue. making a crisp and slightly darkened border around the wash http://www. prewetting and then applying the paint in a level wash is best. assess the timing of the wash application. just as if I were applying the actual wash. Of course.html 9/4/2010 .handprint : laying a wash Page 37 of 50 surface must be tilted (that is.com/HP/WCL/tech24. a prewetted application will give the quinacridone more incentive to separate and blossom away from the cobalt. prewetting gives pigments of very different textures more time to separate on the paper. not actually up against them. I find this out with an almost invisible tint of water instead of an irreversible layer of paint. then I must let the area completely dry before I can apply the paint. these become more spectacular when the separate pigments are very different colors from their mixture — for example. or locate a splotchy patch on the paper surface. producing more interesting blossoming and two color effects. This prewetting lets me practice the overall wash strategy. then the prewetting actually helps to wick paint toward the edge as it dries. for active pigments). and recognize any difficulties created by complex edges. I use water that is very lightly tinted with the wash solution or a harmonizing color. It's always harder to paint a complex edge twice rather than once. I prefer to prewet the wash area with brush and water. Whenever possible. or discover that water is evaporating too quickly. Also. For these pigments. So I save the one time for the actual paint. as the wash bead will not form on the wet surface — the brush strokes immediately start to diffuse down the page. This prewetting will make the paper more receptive to the wash layers whether or not you let the paper dry. I wet approximately around complex edges. and if I prewet beyond the edge by mistake. so that I can see where the paper is still dry.

glycerin. There are three ways to approach this. These preparations require carefully adjusted concentrations of pigment in the mixture. http://www.handprint. then wick off with a brush any puddles of water in the wash or around the edges. to break the water tension. Homogenous Wash Techniques. wash strategies So: we've divided up the wash into its separate components and examined each in turn. The Level Wash. or alcohol. Now we can put these back together in wash practice. If areas of the wash begin to dry before you have finished. Using whatever brushstrokes are convenient. Some artists use special wash additives in order to manipulate the drying time or viscosity of a wash solution.handprint : laying a wash Page 38 of 50 area. In this method you lay the paper perfectly flat to start. I urge you to experiment with these additives to learn their effects.html 9/4/2010 . using whatever combination of methods is appropriate to get a specific result. quickly and lightly brush over the entire area as needed to ensure smooth coverage. Let sit undisturbed until dry. When the entire wash area is covered to an equal wetness. The goal in a homogenous wash is to create a colored area with no perceptible variation in the color. texture or value of the paint. I excluded them from my own methods on the grounds that I did not want additional equipment (chemicals) as part of my wash technique. and because my limited experiments with these additives did not show me that they added anything essential. rewet them with a moderately wet brush. I've also experimented with adding a little glycerin soap to the wash solution. you cover the area to be washed with paint to a shiny wetness.com/HP/WCL/tech24. and the use of paint additives such as ox gall.

html 9/4/2010 .) This is a spontaneous approach that lets the water play a natural role in the finished effect.com/HP/WCL/tech24. with surprisingly lyrical results. You begin the wash with the paper tilted to a small angle. you can control the pattern of the backruns without adding more water. The level wash also interacts strongly with the paper surface. and not going back to rewet areas that begin to dry too quickly will increase these random variations.handprint : laying a wash Page 39 of 50 This wash covers the paper with a good dark color and slightly uneven texture — and that's the main point of a level wash. You normally use a straight or scalloped stroke. which have already started to dry. feathery texture. Finish off with strokes that do not add more paint. (Painting the wash in one pass. brushed out or not. the dried pigment can show impressively complex. Papers that are heavily sized and therefore relatively unabsorbent. so they will backrun into the earlier painted areas. These texture variations largely follow the patterns in which the wash area was painted: the last painted areas are the wettest. random variations in pigment color and density. or thin papers or papers that have already been wetted and have cockled. tend to show subtle backruns and streaking as well. will show slight variations in surface pattern. and pull the wash bead downwards as you go. This is the commonly recommended approach. Active pigments. By varying the amount of wash solution painted down at the start and finish. so that http://www. and apply the paint to dry paper from top to bottom of the wash area. and by choosing the start and finish of the wash and the sequence of areas painted in between. using the minimum amount of wash liquid. will cause pooling or puddles in the wash.handprint. Heavy pigments can be smoothed out nicely with the brush to create a somewhat random. If a large amount of liquid accumulates in the pools. These create areas of darker color and also areas at the center of expanding backruns. such as prussian blue or ivory black. The Tilted Wash. But all wash applications.

Let stand undisturbed to dry. and above 25% the pull is very strong. and continue to wicking off any excess that collects along the bottom edge. and use a moist brush (shaken out. The Two Step Wash. especially for active and heavy pigments. Wick off excess paint as it forms a bead along the bottom edges.handprint. Sufficient wash liquid is used to bring the paper to a soaked wetness. Continue increasing the tilt and wicking off the excess until the wash area has stabilized or the paper is tilted vertically. Once all brushing is done. The two step wash is the only method that can suppress irregularities in very active pigments. This method combines the two previous approaches and can be very effective. For the majority of watercolor paints. You can adjust the force of gravity on the water by changing the tilt of the board: below a 10% slope there is very little pull.html 9/4/2010 . thirsty brush to wick off any excess paint that beads at the bottom edge.handprint : laying a wash Page 40 of 50 you use up what remains of the wash bead in the bottom of the wash area. The paper is laid perfectly level to start. Let sit until dry. http://www. and the wash area is filled in completely with paint using a scalloped or crossed brushstroke. or when using a large brush that applies a large amount of liquid in one stroke. When the downward flow of paint at this tilt begins to slow. tilt the paper slightly higher to keep the water moving.com/HP/WCL/tech24. or wicked on a paper towel) to draw off the excess liquid at the bottom. yet can be manipulated to produce subtle or strong variations in wash texture with heavy pigments. As described above. tilt the surface up very slightly (about 5°). you use a higher tilt primarily to inhibit backruns in lighter than average pigments. The surface is extremely even and consistent. this method works fine. with one exception: a darker band of concentrated pigment may form along the bottom edge of the wash area. using a moist.

but it can also be a transition from one color to another. onto the stretching tape or the paint board. heaviest particles (note also the dark band at the bottom). as the wicking can cause backruns. it also contains visible grains.handprint. I find it is also possible to lighten this band by wicking directly from it. to keep backruns from forming!). rather than from the edge of the paper — but this is a little risky. all the wash techniques get good results: the level wash technique gives the richest color with subtle and expressive variations in paint density. paper and Daniel Smith iron blue (prussian blue. the objective is to create a gradient in the hue or value of the color area. http://www. Most often this means an even transition between a full strength mixture and a transparent wash (pure water). by tilting the surface more slowly as it dries (this requires some practice.com/HP/WCL/tech24.handprint : laying a wash Page 41 of 50 You can suppress this darker band by using less paint. or by carrying the bottom edge of the wash entirely off the painted area. which will cause banding in a tilted wash with straight brushstrokes.html 9/4/2010 . Graded Wash Techniques. tilted (center) and two step (right) wash technique The example shows these three techniques used with the same brush. iron blue will backrun slightly if capillary movement is not controlled. An active pigment. three washes of iron (prussian) blue scalloped brushstrokes with level (left). while the two step method gets a really impressive flatness and a perfectly random distribution in the darkest. Using a scalloped stroke. PB27) wash solution. In the graded wash.

and you have crisp. There is a lot of diversity in the gradient wash methods — explore different combinations of these methods to discover what works for you. the edges created by resists look contrived and artsy. and it verges on the impossible if you must also manage complex edges or cutouts as you work. For example. and appears as part of the overall textural variations in the painting.handprint. Don't get discouraged. it is hard to paint complex edges exactly the same across all the different washes.html 9/4/2010 . though: practice will bring you familiarity with the common problems and how to deal with them. Once the washes have dried. remove the resists. then a missed gradient is along the diagonal. and either tilted or laid flat to start. you'll also discover design points that make the finished result more acceptable. Dry Gradient Wash. I'll describe three different approaches. any deviation from a perfect gradient shows up with exasperating clarity. use a moderately steep angle (15% to 30%) to enhance the blurring of the gradient across wash strokes. The other approach is to reserve the whites with tape or resist. and then paint one or more wash gradients with abandon. in particular. Orient the paper http://www. In this approach. With experience. so that the imperfections in each wash average out. and resists and tape are a major addition in equipment and fuss. They also tend to make the finished paintings appear mechanical. If tilted. for example in imitation of late afternoon light or a slanted shadow across a wall. if the wash gradient is exactly parallel with vertical. I find that this often only invites disaster several times instead of once. the paper is dry. One approach is to build the gradient through two or more wash applications.com/HP/WCL/tech24.handprint : laying a wash Page 42 of 50 This is the most difficult wash effect to do correctly. perfect edges. To my eye. If you tilt the gradient slightly to one side or the other.

On the third dip. in the two step approach. apply the second stroke. again using a straight stroke back and forth. Overlap the strokes more than you normally would on a straight stroke — up to half with width of the brush. To do this. this drains the water down before puddles can form. You can leave the wash in position. then paint. Always use alternating or back and forth strokes. You are pulling the bead of pure wash mixture down with each stroke. Dip the brush again.html 9/4/2010 . mixed to a darker color than you need. Now. or tilt it upwards from flat position. lift it out and let drain. The challenge is getting the successive mixtures of paint and rinse water in the right concentrations to make an even gradient from the darkness you want to the lightness you want. shaking the brush more aggressively each time you dip. either flat or tilted. marring the effect. then increasing the tilt as I go (and as the wash mixture becomes more diluted). so that the paint and water are well mixed as you move down the page. shake the brush slightly in the rinse water. until you're bringing clear water at the end of the wash. I can only get this to work by starting flat. and lift it out without stirring or shaking it. so you have to http://www. apply the mixture of wash solution and water to the paper. pulling the bead of pure wash mixture downwards.handprint : laying a wash Page 43 of 50 so that the dark area of the wash is at the top and the light (clear) area is at the bottom: the line of flow of the water down the page must be parallel with the line of the gradient. Bring more rinse water in successive strokes. but this time farther up the tuft. dip the end of the brush tuft lightly in the rinse water. This will enhance the blurring of the gradient by increased downward flow of the water. When it has stopped dripping. Start at the top with a single straight stroke of pure wash solution on dry paper. you need to manage very cleverly the amount of liquid on the surface: too much liquid at the top or sides will flow down the page in uneven rivulets or curtains.com/HP/WCL/tech24.handprint.

except that the wash area has been prewetted with clear water. as this will create a sharp change in the gradient. You also have to pace the mixture change differently. This proceeds exactly as for the dry gradient wash. leaving a light mark). feathery strokes that resemble the marks of chalk or pencil. This eliminates the wash bead. If you try this when the wash is at a shiny wetness. or to smooth out visible brushstrokes.html 9/4/2010 . you need to reduce the amount of liquid you bring to the http://www. but as a drawback it also makes it easy to run the dark values too far down the wash area. You must get the moisture of your brush just right. yet you can't shift gears quickly to pure water. In the wash. yet will diffuse just enough to disappear.handprint : laying a wash Page 44 of 50 balance the strength of this mixture by the amount of water you add with the brush. and does not give you a wash bead to work with. neither too wet (it will leave a blossom or backrun in the wash area) nor too dry (it will soak up paint. Prewetted Gradient Wash. drybrush like marks that dry immediately on dry test paper. and blends the brush strokes more quickly. Because the paper is already wet. When the wash is at a satin or moist wetness. This is not hard to adjust: at the right moistness the brush will leave light. you can go back up into the wash and brush on more wash mixture if the gradient is not changing fast enough.handprint. The downward flow of paint makes the gradient more even down the page. the flat or two step wash methods work best for a prewetted gradient wash: the change from one color to another is adjusted before water is allowed to move. As a result. These marks will not backrun. Practice will teach you how to manage the added water. you'll create a backrun. depending on the size of the wash area.com/HP/WCL/tech24. apply the brush very lightly to leave soft. so that paint diffuses freely down the paper as you work.

html 9/4/2010 . A different kind of balancing act: and one that judicious brushing with a moist brush will help to get just right. and a slow drying time from satin to moist. or wipe away pigment at the bottom if it needs to be lighter.handprint. A wash area at satin to moist wetness is most responsive to a soft dry brush. Then use a large. and finish by wicking up excess liquid. Brushed Gradient Wash. Starting flat. and can produce very subtle color changes across a large value range. This approach throws pride to the wind and works the wash downward with explicit brushstrokes.handprint : laying a wash Page 45 of 50 page on each stroke. all painted with scalloped brushstrokes The figure shows three washes done with http://www. working flat or tilted. prewetted (center) and brushed (right) technique. since these less juicy strokes are less likely to blend evenly. This method works best with heavy pigments. first use the prewetted method to get the wash basically in shape top to bottom. Scalloped or crossed brushstrokes are best. on prewetted paper. tilting the surface slightly upwards in the two step method as you work. This somewhat defeats the purpose of prewetting the page in the first place.com/HP/WCL/tech24. and finishing with a tilt at around 15%. completely dry wash or hake brush to stroke very gently the surface of the wash to smooth out any irregularities or blemishes. just as if you were painting in oil or acrylic. Add extra pure pigment at the top of the wash if it should be darker. The surface must have a satin wetness. single color graded washes ultramarine blue painted with dry (left).

with whatever technique seems appropriate. and the tendency of the prewet method to transition too late. paper and Daniel Smith ultramarine blue (PB29) wash mixture. If both washes are graded exactly the same. Paint the righthand two thirds of a watercolor paper with a graded wash. but the moisture under the surface can erupt in backruns. These two washes overlap in the middle third of the paper.com/HP/WCL/tech24. but their gradients go in opposite directions. The final variation is to lay multiple wash solutions over the same area. and I'll get them right. This is unavoidable if you are painting multicolor gradients: a blue sky shading down to a yellow haze along the horizon (which fades gradually back up into the blue sky). Especially bad things happen when you lay a wash over a previous wash that is still at a moist or damp wetness. this central section will be a perfectly flat color. top to bottom. Some day when you're feeling especially sure of your wash technique. broken wash beads. A few more years of practice.handprint. Then turn the paper 180°. The paper will look dry. Note the tendency of the dry wash to transition too soon into a light value. rich darks. laying down successively darker layers of the same color to get luminous.handprint : laying a wash Page 46 of 50 these three gradient techniques. Rex Brandt's test of graded wash technique http://www. muddy pigment mixtures.html 9/4/2010 . The main caution is to let the previous wash dry completely before starting the next wash. but flat). and let dry. and other ghastly surprises. John Sell Cotman used multiple washes to great effect (though his were usually not graded. uneven diffusion. and paint the same wash again on the (new) righthand two thirds. This approach produces especially luminous clear skies. and also luminous dark areas such as hills and shaded undergrowth. Each wash is painted separately. using the same brush. Rex Brandt proposed a fiendishly rigorous test for the single color graded wash. try it! Multiple Wash Layers.

The tilt most appropriate for a painting depends on specific factors — the size of the wash area (the importance of flawless color). there is almost never a reason not to do so. the number of complex or precise cutouts around or inside the wash. even the humidity and temperature. Despite the common advice that you should work quickly. wash banding. the heat and humidity. practice on a smaller piece of used watercolor paper. given your materials and objectives. streaky or visible brushstrokes. If you can adjust any of these components to give yourself more time to complete the wash. the time it will take to complete.handprint : laying a wash Page 47 of 50 basic wash principles My approach to the watercolor wash has been to break it down into its separate components. Just the opposite is true: you want to paint as slowly and serenely as possible. the type of paints in the wash mixture. http://www. the surface texture and absorbency of the paper. the wash mixture. But how quickly you must move it depends on the tilt. its dilution with water. there is never any benefit in working as fast as you can.handprint. the absorbency of the paper. and other factors.html 9/4/2010 . tilt the paper only enough to get the benefits of gravity flow without any of the drawbacks. The only constant is to keep the wash bead moving downward in a way that prevents brushmarks. examine how each component affects the painting outcome. the size and type of brush you are using. blossoms or backruns — come down to the behavior of the paint solution.com/HP/WCL/tech24. • Tilt no more than necessary. Almost all the difficulties in wash technique — tiny pinholes. As a general rule. and then reassemble them into flexible wash strategies. the brush. Don't hesitate to change the tilt as you work. When in doubt. • Study pigment and paint mixtures. Here they are: • Work as slowly as possible. Along the way I've uncovered some basic wash principles that you won't find anywhere else. pigment deposits and backruns.

If the results are the same. and color change. This is a topic you will only understand with experience: keep painting. • Pick the safest method. dark. homogenous results. You will have to use multiple washes in order to glaze one pigment over another. Then.handprint : laying a wash Page 48 of 50 which means the pigment in the paint.com/HP/WCL/tech24. At the outset. and begin! http://www. different brush.html 9/4/2010 . choose the method that you can do most confidently or that creates the least risk of accident or failure in the execution. the edge painting. and you'll forget the qualities of color or light that you found so interesting in the landscape. There is always more than one technique — different tilt. The main constraints here are the complexity of the wash edges (which are harder to do cleanly if they must be done more than once). but you can also lay multiple layers of the same pigment to produce more even. you won't really have time to step back and consider your progress. exactly as if you were painting over a transparent sheet of paper. and the eagerness of the wash already applied to dissolve under a new coating of liquid. Visualize the brushstrokes. You can almost always mix the same wash "color" with many different combinations of paints. This can also help with wash technique — once you start. learn how your materials behave. Locate the areas of light.handprint. and each combination will have benefits or drawbacks in terms of how the wash is applied. Repeat several times. if necessary. think about which pigment mixture you want to use. • Consider multiple washes. the pigment intensity. Athletes know the benefit of visualization before performing in a competitive sport. different wash strategy — to paint a wash to get the same wash effect. • Visualize before you paint. Continue the visualization from the first stroke of the brush to the last bead of the paint. and discover what works best for you. Begin by looking at the motif and visualizing your wash against it. and why. look down at your paper. the wash flow.

and a very satisfying achievement. If the only time you paint a wash is when you are doing a painting that you care about. It's a genuine test of skill. to keep the exercises more practical. Rex Brandt painted washes around names or words written in fat white block letters in the middle of the page: painting around these complex curves and straights. Don't lose sight of the fact that you can change and modify washes in midstream. or an urban skyline.handprint : laying a wash Page 49 of 50 • Improvise!. the brushstroke.html 9/4/2010 . you can blot water with a towel or let it run. Once you have mastered the separate elements of the wash. You can change the tilt. Use scrap paper (the back of discarded paintings for example) to practice as often as possible. You can also use drawn silhouettes of clouds or trees. Because major paintings take longer to complete. the wetness of the paper. the dilution of the paint. while keeping the wash moving down the page. practice and more practice.com/HP/WCL/tech24. is a great challenge to your dexterity and sense of timing.handprint. It's rare that I do a wash that I feel could not have been done better. then the consequences of failure are higher. http://www. you also have fewer opportunities to paint a wash. The solution is to play with washes by practicing basic exercises to learn how to do them better. you can add water to create expressive blossoms or backruns. so you learn more slowly. Experiment with washes when you paint sketches: a mistake here is not so serious. The final guidance applies to everything in painting: practice. I've found that there is always more to learn about doing a good wash. you can go back in with a dry brush and touch up uneven areas. you'll discover an amazing freedom to improvise rather than slog mechanically through a routine procedure.

handprint : laying a wash Page 50 of 50 Last revised 11.2007 • © 2007 Bruce MacEvoy http://www.html 9/4/2010 .12.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech24.

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