How to Watercolor: Washes

Ready to actually start painting?!!!  

We won't jump right into a still life quite yet.  First you need to learn about washes- which is just a fancy term for putting watercolors on paper.  There are different types of washes and it's good practice to try them out so you can get a better feel for how watercolors work.

Watercolors are paints that you have to build up.  You start with the lightest shades and continue to add more and more layers to build in the darker parts.  There are many ways to layer the paint- hence the need to practice washes!

I've come up with a fun little project you can do to practice a few of the different washes.  Just follow my tutorial below!

Watercolor Washes Tutorial

Large sheet of watercolor paper: I used a 12x18 sheet, but if you don't have paper that large, just use   several sheets of smaller paper.
Masking Tape
Watercolor Paints
Paint Brush

Set Up:   Using masking tape, section the paper off into six equal parts and tape it to a table or drawing board. You will practice six different washes here.  Each wash gets its own separate section.

Wash #1: Wet on Wet
Apply wet paint to wet paper.

Load a clean brush with water and wet the entire area.  While the paper is still wet, apply wet paint.  Because the paper is wet, it doesn't absorb the paint right away and allows the pigment to spread evenly. This creates a very soft wash ideal for misty landscapes or skies.

Wash #2: Wet on Dry
Apply wet paint to dry paper.

Pretty easy.  Just load up your brush with wet paint and spread it over dry paper.  The dry paper will absorb the paint fairly quickly and creates harder edges.

Wash #3: Dry on Dry
Apply dry paint to dry paper.

By dry paint I mean mostly dry paint here.  You do have to have a little bit of water mixed with your paint or you won't be able to get it on your brush.  The point here is to create very dry-looking and defined lines.  So use as little water as possible. This technique is good for creating definition and texture..... like when painting trees or rocks.

Wash #4: Dry on Wet
Apply dry paint to wet paper.

Wet paper with a clean brush and then use a dry brush to apply some dry paint on top of it.  Since you are using dry paint it will spread on the wet paper, but not as much as using wet paint.  This is one of my favorite washes.  It's so fun to watch the paint spread in crazy patterns!

Wash #5: Glazing
Layering paint by letting each layer dry in between applications.

This one takes some patience.  Apply one even layer of paint, let dry, and repeat.  I used this technique in my Progressive Watercolor Project. You generally get harder edges with this.  If you get impatient, you can use a hair dryer to speed up the process.

Wash #6: Layering
Layering paint without letting layers dry between applications.

This layering method creates a much softer effect than glazing.  Just paint layer upon layer without leaving drying time.  This way the pigments all run together and you don't have hard edges.

Once you've finished all the washes, let them dry. Then you can pull off the masking tape and label each wash- if you want.  It does make a handy reference sheet to use later on.

Any questions about this post or others from my How to Watercolor Series?  I'd love to read your feedback!

Happy Watercoloring!


  1. Hi!
    Thank you! This is the best I ever learn about waterolors! I cant wait until tomorrow ;-)

  2. I'm behind on your blog! What a great idea to do a tutorial on this! It looks very easy to follow. Good job!

  3. I am loving this series!! Thanks so much!

  4. Thank u so much for this wonderful series :) You are making us to feel everything is simple. I am defnetly going to try this

  5. Gorgeous! Thanks for sharing your expertise! I'd love to be a painter...maybe now I can try this and feel like one. :)

  6. thanks for the awesome tutorial !

  7. Girl, I don't know how to do that. I'll try to figure it out!

  8. My biggest issue is unfinished paintings. Is that weird? I know the paint has to do it's thing, but sometimes I get exicited about a technique and I jump in without enough planning. Then I get disappointed and give up, or it doesn't even resemble my original idea.Currently, for the first time, I'm trying flowers. I've been painting "Elephants in Love" for a year. Have a bunch. I like them. The Elephants, and the paintings!

  9. This is such a wonderfully straightforward, detailed, and beautiful tutorial! A perfect tutorial! Very excited to try out your lessons. Thank you!

    1. That's great! I hope you do give them a try! Best of luck to you.

  10. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I paint mostly with oil so watercolor is still a bit foreign to me.


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