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Beautiful Watercolor Washes

Do you ever struggle with achieving clean watercolor washes? Maybe your watercolor washes don't have that watery beautiful feel but end up splotchy and overworked? It's common and there is a simple fix to it, though maybe not easy. If you can relate, you might like to watch the watercolor demo below and read the following.

In my watercolor class a student said as she was painting, “I’m just not using enough water.” She kept painting quietly concentrating and after a while we’d hear her declare again in a bewildered tone “I’m just not using enough water.” She repeated the phrase a few more times until I eventually responded, “why don’t you?”  We still laugh about that.

My student was right, she wasn’t using enough water which usually leaves behind splotchy brush marks and spotty places difficult to smooth out. It's tell-tale sign of working too long and the paper being too dry, becoming “overworked”. Attempting to save it only makes it worse. So learning to stop before it’s too dry is the key to avoid frustration with splotchy and overworked watercolor washes.  

The amount of water you use is key, it will determine the result of each watercolor wash and how your brush strokes soften and diffuse.. or not. Sometimes you’ll need less water for more distinctive strokes and details but most watercolor washes work well to have a generous amount of water to start with, with a nice glossy reflection. This is if you’re painting flat on a table and not on an easel at an angle, in that case this is hard to do. I also like wetting my paper first most of the time, where some other methods are more direct watercolor on dry paper, leaving many hard edges and texture.  

How much water you begin a wash with determines your length of working time, more water equals more time, the less water you start with,  the less time you have to work on that wash. So I like to start with as much water as possible while still having it dry enough to maintain some control. Finding a balance is the key. To know when to stop check the reflection. If it becomes satin looking it’s in danger of being overworked. It’s time to put the brush down, let it be, and come back with a new layer when it’s bone dry.

So if you find yourself saying “I’m just not using enough water”, I encourage you to jump in, it is definitely uncomfortable at first but you’ll get used to using more water. Immerse yourself in it! You’ll find your balance with time and practice to achieve those beautiful watercolor washes. Happy swimming!


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