3 Tips So You Don’t Wipe Out on Smooth Washes

I am rolling my eyes with embarrassment when I tell you that when I first saw watercolor paintings with wide expanses of color I assumed that these were applied and then wiped out and smoothed over after they were laid down. I had no idea that there were watercolor painting techniques that you could use to get that effect with the stroke of the brush (and a lot of practice). Mea culpa–I’m a novice!

Kind of Blue by Amy Arntson, watercolor painting, 32 x 32.
Kind of Blue by Amy Arntson, watercolor painting, 32 x 32.

But after I found that out, I did my watercolor art research and found several great tips for laying washes that are soft, diffuse, and flowing:

No stinginess. I’m always trying to hoard paint and that is a big mistake. To lay a wash, you’ve got to do it in one go, and to be on the safe side you should mix more pigment than you think you will need.

Spinner by Mary Whyte, watercolor painting, 2007.
Spinner by Mary Whyte, watercolor painting, 2007.

Go off-kilter. Angling your watercolor painting surface forces a wash to flow downward and there won’t be any drips. If you want to stop or reverse the direction that the paint flows, hold the surface so that you can quickly reverse the angle.

Don’t turn back. This is the hardest one for me! You can’t fix a wash by going back into it. In fact, usually it becomes more of a mess. Because of this, I keep scratch paper nearby to do a few practice strokes before I lay down the wash that I hope will be “the one.”

If you want to see more incredible washes–plus luscious color and light effects–from expert watercolor artist Soon Warren, check out her latest collection: Vibrant Watercolor Painting Techniques. In the collection you will find a master watercolorist’s toolkit with ways to paint reflections, vibrant colors, and even the brushes to get you started right! Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.