Painting a Flat watercolor wash

Painting the Frostville Barnhouse – Part 1  (Part 2 Here)
OBJECT: Watch how things unfold as Greg paints a barnhouse at the Cleveland Metroparks Frostville Museum.


Materials used:

1 1/2″ (381mm) Flat Winsor & Newton Series 965
1″ Grumbacher Aquarelle Flat Red Sable
#12 Winsor & Newton Series 7 Red Sable
#10 Winsor & Newton Series 820 Red Sable
#6 Grumbacher Watercolor Classic Red Sable

Sap Green, Hooker’s Green Dark, Pthalocyanine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Dioxazine Purple, Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber

Watercolor Block (12″ x 16″) Arches #140 cold pressed

#2 Pencil
Kneaded Eraser
Palette – Your choice. Mine is an old Robert E. Wood model.
Water container (2) and water
Hair dryer (optional)

Photo or Sketch big enough for you to see reasonably well.

Step One

Step One: Preliminary Drawing

Take time and sketch your prelimiary drawing, architectural subjects demand a certain amount of understanding how the geometric shapes interconnect to make the whole pattern.
Pictured here is the original photo, a rather gray-day shot, and the intial sketch. More time was spent on the shape of the building and the loose arrangement of all the foliage.
My plan of attack was to simulate a late-evening light raking across the whole tableau coming in from the upper right.

Step Two

Step Two: First Washes

The original building is stark white but I wanted to warm up the tone for the new lighting.
To set the stage, I used a wash of raw sienna and pulled a wash gradation with a mix of cobalt blue and burnt umber for the area closer to the ground.

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Step Three

Step Three: Shadow attack!

I moistened the top of the roof and while the raw sienna wash was still damp I added some shadows from the trees to right. When the house wash was dry enough I added the shadow wash on the left of the house using cobalt blue grayed slightly with a bit of burnt umber.
Trying to keep in mind the shapes of the woods and trees around the house, and the lighting direction, I laid down the basic shape and direction of the shadows in the foreground and midground using a mix of cobalt blue and a bit of dioxazine purple on the left shadow areas across the path.
Then I noticed the chimney, so I blocked that in with the same blue I used on the side of the house.

Step Four

Step Four: Whoa! Whats all this?

I moistened the entire sky area with a 1 1/2″ wash brush and flicked in a few clouds in the sky using pure cerulean blue and a #12 round, a great color for classic KODACHROME skies.
While the sky was still wet I mixed up some sap green and some cadmium yellow light (lemon) and started blocking in all the green areas and shapes, allowing it to fuzz off in the distance a bit.
I used a raw sienna wash in the exposed earth areas of the pathways.
Over top of this, when dry, I dragged a 1/2″ flat brush on it’s side to get the texture in the path.


Step Five

Step Five: Next?

I dried the painting with my blow dryer and, using more of a dry-brush approach, I started drawing in the forms of the bushes and trees with a 1″ flat sable. I used sap green and hooker’s green dark for the most part. I took care in the way the shapes of the tree foliage lay over the sky areas.
Using various green values and shades from the puddles laying around, I used a #6 round sable and indicated some grass here and there.
Nighttime Lighthouse – Part 1  (Part 2 Here)
OBJECT: Watch and see how things unfold as Greg paints his way through a dusky nautical theme.

Materials used:

#8 Kolonok Kolinsky Red Sable
#5 Kolonok Kolinsky Red Sable
#0 Winsor & Newton Series 7 Red Sable

Sap Green, Hooker’s Green Dark, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, Indian Yellow, Ivory Black.

Cut sheet (5.5″ x 7.5″) Whatman #200 cold pressed, deteriorated.

#2 Pencil
Kneaded Eraser
Palettes – Robert E. Wood & Eldajon.
Water container (2) and clean water
Hair dryer (optional)

Digital photographs, thumbnail sketches, and imagination.

Step One

Step One: Why, it’s another lighthouse

I had several digital reference photos of the West Break Water Lighthouse in Cleveland, OH for reference. None were quite right except to show what the structures looked like.
I was wanting to try painting the lighthouse at dusk but I had no reference for the lighting or coloration. I decide to wing it.
I placed the lighthouse where I wanted it in the composition and lightly sketched the setting around it.
I apply liquid frisket to the lighthouse buildings and rocks and allow it to dry.

Step Two

Step Two: Look! Up in the sky…

I envisioned a colorful last glow of sunset dramatic sky including stars coming out. This was to backlight the lighthouse as the beams of light became visible in the darkening sky. Hokey, but I’ve never tried it.
I started by moistening some areas of the sky randomly with clean water and my #8 round red sable. Mixing a medium Cerulean blue wash I painted the top of the sky, gradually adding water towards the middle.
A light valued mixture of Permanent rose was next. I quickly laid this wash at the edge of the blue and allowed them to flow together a bit as I shaped some more clouds. I added a light Indian yellow wash to carry the sky to water and land level.
While the sky was still moist I mixed some Ultramarine blue with Cerulean and added darker bands and accents to the sky.

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Step Three

Step Three: Goin’ for the gold

I finally finished noodling with the cloud shapes using a #5 round sable and various violet shades from the blues and Permanent rose on my palette.
I moistened my paper at the bottom and started adding the reflected sky coloring into the waves on the fore and middle ground using some of the violets and blues left on my palette. I let it dry.
At this point I commit to an over-the-top approach and paint the distant lake reflecting a bright yellow glow from the sunset.

Step Four

Step Four: Well grounded

Mixing a medium cool gray from Ultramarine blue and Burnt umber I paint in the silhouette of the boat. After a quick rinse I add some Sap green to the gray and paint in the distant hills of the coast.
Using a glaze of Cerulean blue I painted the rocks and road to the lighthouse and pulled this directly into the water catching reflections in the waves.
While this was still moist I worked into the rocks and road with a dark blue/umber gray, Burnt sienna, and Sap green.
I then mixed an even more intense Ultramarine blue for the sky and painted a darker layer, adding more depth. Before I cleaned my brush and palette, I picked up more sky colors and defined more areas of waves in the water.

OBJECT: Learn to lay an even-toned flat watercolor wash.


In the beginning…

Draw a square or rectangle on your paper, or visualize the boundaries of such as you go. (wing it)

Select a darker hue for your wash (it’s easier to see) and mix a liberal amount of medium intensity (30-50% value) paint on your palette. I’m using a 1 ½” (381mm) Winsor & Newton Series 965 flat wash brush and Holbein Sap Green watercolor paint for this lesson. The paper is Arches #140 CP.

Charge your brush with paint, and starting in the upper left corner touch your brush to the paper and gently pull a straight line of paint to the upper right corner.

NOTE: If left handed work right to left!

Make your second stroke

Return to your palette and refill your brush.

Start the next stroke at the bottom of the first stroke, being sure to overlap the bead of paint now formed at the bottom of the first stroke.

TIP 1: If the flood of the first stroke doesn’t fully flow into the new stroke, increase the angle of your board to aid the flow of the wash.

TIP 2: Increasing the angle of your work also increases the chances of drips running wild down your paper. If they annoy you, work faster or keep a tissue or damp sponge in your free hand to quickly blot them away.

Repeat as necessary…

Refill brush and continue overlapping strokes, riding the flow of the paint and keeping an even tone as you go.

TIP 3: You can use the flat edge of a wash brush to “cut” the starting edge.

TIP 4: If you want to square up the final edge of the stroke—slow down, pull the brush up, and use the sharp flat edge again. Pull it up to your line and “cut” the final edge with a downward pull.

TIP 5: If your stroke breaks up, load your brush and repeat the stroke IMMEDIATELY. See (Tip 7) below!

Almost there, keep going!

Repeat steps making stroke after stroke to the bottom. Try to keep an even tone as you go.

TIP 6: You would not believe how much variety there is in the behavior of different brands and grades of paints and papers. The more expensive well-known brands usually make your work easier by offering consistent high quality.

TIP 7: If your strokes break up and your brush is fully charged, you are either using a rough textured paper or the paper could be heavily sized. If you find heavily sized paper like this, spray the paper, sponge it off with a clean damp sponge and let it dry before use. The surface will now be more receptive to your paint.

I’ve painted something!

Rinse your brush out in clean water and blot or squeeze out the excess the water.

Carefully pick up the bead of paint that runs across the bottom of the wash using the wick action of your brush. If you draw up too much paint you will lift the color off the paper.

Let the wash dry. If you’ve ended up with an even-toned square of color, congratulations! If not, try it again. I did. And do.

TIP 8: Try practicing your flat washes with different colors and intensities. Each color has it’s own physical properties that affect how they feel and flow in washes.

TIP 9: For a pronounced texture in your wash let it dry at an angle. The pigment will settle out in the texture of the paper.

Painting a Graded watercolor wash
OBJECT: Learn to lay an graded-toned watercolor wash.

Preparing to wash

Draw a square or rectangle on your paper.

Select a darker hue for your wash (it’s easier to see) and mix a liberal amount of medium intensity (30-50% value) paint your brush. In a clean part of your palette mix another puddle at about half the intensity of the original mixture.

MATERIALS USED: I’m using a 1 ½” (381mm) Winsor & Newton Series 965 flat wash brush and Winsor & Newton Cobalt Blue watercolor paint for this lesson. The paper is Arches #140 CP.

Charge your brush with paint from the darker mix, and starting in the upper left corner touch your brush to the paper and gently pull a straight line of paint to the upper right corner.


Dab your brush on a sponge or paper towel and refill your brush with the lighter mixture.

Start your second stroke overlapping the bottom of the previous stroke.

Notice that the left side of the stroke has already flowed together with the top stroke. Let gravity do it’s work.


Rinse your brush and blot it on a towel or damp sponge, refill from the lighter mixture.

Make your next overlapping stroke.


Rinse clean and dip your wet brush into the lighter mixture, further lightening the wash.

Lay your next overlapping stroke.

TIP 1: If your stroke doesn’t flow evenly or breaks up, charge your brush and repeat the stroke IMMEDIATELY.

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A clear finish

Rinse your brush well and using clear water start your last overlapping stroke.

Squeeze the water out of your brush and pick up the bead of paint at the bottom of the wash.

Ask the paint settles and flows, minor imperfections in tone will usually smooth themselves out before they dry.

This example shows some graining in the final wash. Cobalt Blue is a coarser and heavier pigment that settles into the texture of the paper.

TIP 2: Try practicing your graded washes with different colors and intensities. Each color has it’s own physical properties that affect how they feel and flow in washes.

TIP 3: Practice transitioning one color into another for interesting multi-color effects.

Perfecting a graded wash may take a little more practice than a flat wash, but any time painting is time well spent.

Glazed Wash watercolor tutorial
OBJECT: Learn transparent watercolor glazing effects.

A little information

I will improvised a landscape on the fly to show the principles of glazing watercolor washes.

MATERIALS: Arches #140 CP watercolor paper, Grumbacher 1″ flat red sable, Kalish Kolinsky Red Sable #8 round, Kolonok #4 flat Kolinsky red sable, Winsor & Newton Series 820 #8 Round, and a Kolonok #4 round Kolinsky red sable brush. A blow-dryer.

COLORS (various manufacture): Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red Medium, Permanent Rose, Dioxazine Purple, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue and Sap Green. Colors chosen are transparent and semi-transparent.

Using my 1″ flat red sable brush I used a Cobalt Blue wash to block in the sky, mountains, and river area. I broke up the wash and added some clear water to soften the area that would be a waterfall.

A mountain and red clouds

This lesson is designed to be as obvious as possible. Using bright transparent colors allows you to see how each subsequent wash is affected by those washes lying under it. Plus it allowed me to play with a new style of painting.

Using the same 1″ brush I mixed a transparent wash of Permanent Rose and painted a band of red clouds across the sky area.

Rinsing my brush I mixed up a light wash of Cadmium Yellow Light and started painted the mountain area. I continued to the foreground and layed in a large yellow underwash.

I got the blues

Staying with the 1″ flat red sable I then used a light Ultramarine Blue and Cobalt Blue mix to block in a mountain horizon and negatively define the background smaller yellow hill.

For some reason, after I undercut the background yellow hill with blue, I then pulled a blue stroke straight down and cut the left corner in and lifted off with a flip.

TIP 1: Allow each wash time to dry before overlaying the next color. You can use a blow dryer to effectively and safely dry your painting: Low setting, at least 10″ away from surface, keep it moving, NO STEAM!

More color!

Same brush, different color. Needing to detract and balance the blue I had just finished, and making some interesting colors along the way, I mixed a straight wash of cadmium orange. I made orange banks in the foreground and then laid the orange over the rose and blue in the sky.

You’ll notice the jewel-like qualities of working with pure colors in a transparent manner. The glazed wash could just as easily be a faint muted gray on a solitary rock in a large, photorealistic landscape painting.

Hey! A different brush

Switching to my #8 round red sable I mixed up a very strong Cobalt Blue wash and strengthened the line of mountains at the horizon, varying the width by twisting and changing pressure on the brush as I went.

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Creating on the fly

Using the same #8 red sable and Cobalt Blue wash I started playing in the waterfall after stopping on a far bank. Sometimes visual clichés are your friends, a few blue circles at the bottom of an apparent blue hill can become the bottom of a waterfall.

Rinsing well, I made a puddle of Cadmium Yellow Medium and used that to paint some areas on the banks and some repetitive circles inside the blue on the bottom left.

A few more bubbles

After the previous washes dried I used varying values of Dioxazine Purple to add color variety to the foreground waterfall bubbles.

A consideration and a deep breath

I wanted some major elements to start pulling this thing together so of course I though: trees. I rummaged around my studio and found items I could trace circles off of—I found three different sizes.

Using the #8 round red sable I mixed up some bright, transparent Sap Green and painted three circles.

Flora and lumberjacks

Staying with the same brush, I mixed a light wash of Cadmium Red Medium and layed the lumber under the lovely green foliage.

Rinsing and picking up some Cobalt Blue, I added some minor accents on the water near the background and foreground banks as well as a shape in the sky. A small orange rectangluar area was added to the left foreground.

I then alternately used Cobalt Blue, Permanent Rose, and Sap Green washes to paint some icons of grass randomly around the foreground.

Details to Final painting

Permanent Rose and Cadmium Red Medium were used to add the final details. The trees were found to be fruit trees with red fruit, some on the ground. And each trees trunk was striped like a barber’s pole.

If you look closely at the enlarged version of the finished painting, you can see how each layer of paint you apply affects all that came before. Values change for the darker by default, but the colors created by glazing washes over one another can be truly beautiful and effective.

Wet-in-Wet watercolor technique
OBJECT: Learn wet-in-wet style watercolor technique.

Set-up and start…

MATERIALS USED: Spray bottle of water, a clean sponge, Arches #140 CP watercolor paper, Grumbacher 1″ flat red sable, and my trusty Kalish #8 Round Kolinsky Red Sable brush.

COLORS USED (various manufacture): Cadmium Yellow Medium, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Burnt Sienna, Pthalocyanine Green, Hooker’s Green Dark, Sap Green, Lamp Black.

I start by spraying my mounted paper with water to saturate the surface.

Even out the moisture

Using a CLEAN damp sponge lightly smooth your paper and sponge off any excess water.

Repeat until paper is evenly saturated, it with a dull satin finish.

If your paper is shiny after soaking in the water, the paper is too wet. Wring out your clean sponge and smooth off excess water.

Where to start?

Creating a landscape “on the fly” I decide to start with the sky.

I mixed up some Cerulean blue and used my 1″ flat red sable to form the clouds. In a full wet-in-wet painting it is easier to work from the background forward.

Using a twisting motion I start applying the sky washes in a calligraphic fashion trying for some interesting shapes.

S’cuse me, while I kiss the sky

I continue the sky area with the blue wash, making it look nice.

The initial strokes you lay down in a wet-in-wet painting diffuse and disperse widely in and on the moist paper. Watch your strokes spread as you paint.

Well grounded foreground

I wanted the foreground fairly diffuse so I quickly mixed up some Sap Green and a bit of Cadmium Yellow Medium and formed an interesting spread of wide strokes which I finally decided looked like brush and bushes with some gaps for rocks.

The foreground paint was a thicker wash than the first blue washes and spread a little less initially.

As the paper continues to dry the painted strokes spread less and less.

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Adding a little form

I went to the palette and mixed some Pthalocyanine Green and Alizarin Crimson to get a grayish cool green.

I started implying some pine trees across the horizon using my #8 round red sable.

Intensifying the structure

Having added the trees across the horizon, varying the intensity a bit as I went, I decided to use some darker accents to start pulling the design together.

Using a straight heavy mixture of Hooker’s Green Dark and my round brush I picked out details and shapes to finish the tree line.

A Rock and a hard place…

To imply some rocks and such, I used a mixture of Lamp Black and a bit Burnt Sienna to create a light warm gray.

I pulled the wash across the existing foreground wash with some white paper showing through. The warmer color helps to pull the foreground together and forward.

Making a major point

I liked the overall look but it needed some jarring accents to pull it off as an actual “painting.”

Using a thick mixture of Alizarin Crimson with a touch of Pthalocyanine Green to darken it. I started from the left adding some “florals” in the foreground area.

Even as the red dots spread out I could tell they would over power the rest of the painting.

I let the red spread a bit and then, using a clean, rinsed and blotted #8 red sable brush I lifted some light centers out of the red dots.

The final product

I then dripped a few drops of clean water in the center of a couple of the “florals” to let them spread and mingle with the surrounding colors.

One of the hardest parts in working exclusively in this technique is knowing when to stop. You cannot get fine details initially and as you keep working the previous washes you’ve layed in continue to spread, mix, and mingle which may muddy some colors if you are not careful.

Wet-in-wet watercolor technique is at times frustrating, but always exciting. There is host of hypnotic possibilities as the paint spreads and mingles on your wet paper.

Dry Brush watercolor tutorial
OBJECT: Learn dry brush watercolor painting techniques.

The parched painter

MATERIALS USED: Arches #140 CP watercolor paper, Grumbacher 1″ flat red sable, and Kolonok’s #4 flat and #8 round Kolinsky red sable brushes.

COLORS USED (various manufacture): Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red Medium, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Hooker’s Green Dark, Burnt Sienna, and Burnt Umber.

First off, I lightly sketched a random landscape design on the watercolor paper using a #1 pencil.

With a light wash of Cerulean Blue I scumbled a rough sky in, dragging and pushing my 1″ flat read sable to create texture.

Laying some foundation washes

I wanted some underlying tones to dry brush the subsequent strokes over.

I made a light wash of Hooker’s Green Dark grayed with a touch of Alizarin Crimson and I painted the backround tree line around what is now determined to be a lake using the #8 round red sable .

Using a wash of Dioxazine purple I painted the shadow areas of the tree, keeping the edges rough with broken washes.

While this was still wet I added some blue accents with a mix of Cobalt blue.

Letting the underpainting dry

I tried to keep the underpainting as dry and broken looking as possible, except for the lake area which needed some suggestions of the reflections and flow of the water.

Using a gray made of Burnt Sienna, Cobalt blue and Hooker’s Green Dark I scruffed in a foreground bank area.

I let the underpainting dry.

A tree emerges

I mixed up a strong blue wash from Cobalt and Ultramarine Blue using a #4 flat red sable.

Holding my brush at a rather severe angle I let it lay on the paper with varying pressure as I dragged strokes to create the shadows and texture on the tree trunk.

It’s Fall!

After finishing the large tree trunk I decided it was fall (which it was at the time) and using all the Cadmium colors; yellow medium, orange, and red medium, I roughed in fall foliage with some rather garish colors.

I used the Kolonok #4 flat red sable for these washes.

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A change in plans

As I finished the riot of color on the far banks I added a light wash of orange as a reflection in the lake of the large background tree followed by a run of pure Cadmium yellow medium down the bank under the far tree. I mixed a dark bluish gray from some Cobalt blue and Burnt umber and quickly drew in some dark accents strokes on the large tree trunk.

At this point I considered the flaming trees and though of the dark maroon maple trees across the street. Using the underpainting as a base I scrubbed in the main tree shape with a mixture of Alizarin crimson and Pthalocyanine green which gave an adequate maroon color.

As I worked on the big maroon tree in I relied on the natural spread of the #8 round red sable brush to help create convincing foliage textures.

The classic water effect

I decided the water in lake would be a greenish brown. I used Hooker’s Green Dark and Burnt Umber to get a satisfactory color.

I start dragging texture parallel with the horizon line, across the lake using the not-too-wet #4 flat red sable.

A lake appears before me

As I pulled each stroke across the lake I varied pressure on the brush to create the “sparkly” water areas.

TIP: If your brush is too wet, you’ll lay a flat wash. Blot your brush on a flat damp sponge or paper towel to adjust the amount of paint in the brush.

A little detail and punch up

Using Hooker’s Green Dark I made a medium toned puddle of paint. I used my #4 flat red sable brush, charged, and blotted. I tweaked it between my thumb and finger to spread the hairs a bit.

Using an upward “flicking” motion I added some grasses under the tree. I used some of the same color on the far bank.

Just a minute, almost done…

I decided the lake had some swampy areas near the shore and I added some calligraphic indication of cattails.

By now, the blue in the sky was looking a little too light. I mixed up some more Cerulean Blue, a little darker this time, and scumbled the sky areas again.

Using the same blue and a #8 round red sable brush I added the sky color to the lake reflections.

Finished! Click image to enlarge.


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