How to Paint With Watercolor Washes

Painting with watercolor washes is an incredibly rewarding experience – the immediate transformation of raw pigments to vivid visuals on paper will astound you and fill you with a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Also, mastering the skill of using washes to paint beautiful pictures requires far less time than other mediums, such as oil painting or acrylic painting.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss all aspects of watercolor wash painting – from what supplies are needed and how to correctly apply color, create value shifts, achieve clean edges, and more! Read on for everything you need to know about bringing your imagination alive through guided experimentation with this easy but thrilling process.

Best ways to paint with watercolor washes

1 Stretch Your Watercolor Paper

Paper stretching is an important aspect of watercolor painting. This process will help you to prevent the paper from buckling when adding washes of color. To stretch your paper, wet it with a sponge or brush and then tape it down using masking tape around the edges and corners. Make sure the surface is perfectly flat before starting to paint.

2 Start With a Light Wash

Start by filling in the background with light layers of wash. You can build up layers gradually until you reach the desired intensity of color. Experiment with different colors and blend them for interesting effects. Remember that if you want a dark wash later on, it’s best to start lighter first to not overwhelm the painting or cause unwanted puddles.

3 Add Depth With Darker Washes

Adding darker washes can help to create depth in a painting. Start by adding slight variations of color to your background layers, building up gradually until you reach the desired effect. Also, add highlights and shadows with light and dark washes for more realistic results.

4 Adding Color Gradients

Another way to achieve a beautiful watercolor wash is to use color gradients. This technique involves smooth transitions from one color to another, horizontally or vertically across the paper. To do this, start with two colors at opposite ends of the gradient and then blend them using lighter and darker shades of both colors as you work your way across the paper.

5 Create Clean Edges

When creating a watercolor wash, it is important to be mindful of your edges and how they will look when finished. To achieve clean, sharp edges in your painting, try masking fluid or tape around the areas that should remain untouched by color. You can also use a damp brush or sponge to lightly blend out any harsh lines.

6 Adding Depth With Splatters and Drips

Adding splatters and drips to your watercolor washes can help create depth and texture in your artwork. You can do this by dropping paint directly onto the paper or using a wet brush to flick drops from above. Experiment with different sizes and colors for interesting effects.

7 Varying Your Technique

The beauty of watercolor washes is that you can achieve various results simply by varying your technique. Try using different brushstrokes to create unique textures, such as loose and tight lines or pressing down lightly for soft edges and hard lines for bolder shapes. You can also experiment with mixing colors on paper rather than on a palette for unexpected results.

8 Clean Up Any Unwanted Color

Sometimes it’s inevitable that you might make mistakes while painting with watercolor washes. If you find yourself in this situation, there are ways to clean up any unwanted color without ruining the entire piece. Use a damp rag to remove color from the paper, and then add lighter layers to bring back any lost details.

9 Blending Colors Together

Blending colors is a great way to create interesting watercolor washes. Mix two or three different hues of similar intensity on your palette or directly onto the paper. You can also use a wet brush to lightly blend out any harsh lines for a more natural-looking effect.

10 Create Dynamic Shapes With Washes

Watercolor washes are an excellent tool for creating dynamic shapes and patterns in your artwork. Use sweeping strokes with varying amounts of pressure to build up layers of color that will give your painting texture and movement. Experiment with different brush sizes and techniques for exciting results.

11 Use a Spray Bottle for Special Effects

Using a spray bottle filled with water can help you create interesting textures and effects in your artwork. Try spraying the paper with different amounts of water and adding color to achieve unique splatters and drips. You can also use this technique to soften hard edges or blend colors for smoother transitions.

12 Paint Wet-On-Wet For Soft Edges

When painting wet-on-wet, you lay down washes of color on top of an already dampened paper area. This method will give you softer, more natural edges than when working with dry paper, as the pigment is spread out more evenly. Applying too much water may make the colors more manageable and easy to control.

13 Paint Wet-On-Dry For Crisp Edges

Paint wet-on-dry is the opposite of the wet-on-wet technique mentioned above. This method involves applying color to dry paper. The pigment will stay in place and create more defined edges than when using a dampened surface. To achieve this look, use a light touch with your brush and only add enough water to activate the paint.

14 Use Salt for Added Texture

Adding salt to your painting can give it an interesting texture that adds depth and visual interest. Sprinkle some table or rock salt onto damp paint and leave it until it dries. When it’s dry, gently brush off the salt to reveal a unique texture pattern in your wash.

15 Experiment With Different Colors and Techniques

When painting with watercolor washes, there is no right or wrong way to do things. Be creative and experiment with different colors and techniques to find what works best for you! You never know where your journey through watercolor wash painting will take you – so go ahead and explore!


What supplies do I need to paint with watercolor washes?

You’ll need a few basic supplies to begin painting with watercolor washes. You will need watercolor paper, a selection of artist-grade pigments in pans or tubes, several brushes (including round, flat, and fan brushes), an art palette for mixing colors on, and a container of clean water for rinsing your brush between colors. Invest in some masking fluid to create sharp edges or protect areas of the painting while you work.

How do I use watercolor wash techniques?

Watercolor wash techniques involve adding paint to wet surfaces – the paper itself. Ensuring your paper is properly prepared before you begin is important. To do this, use a damp brush to lightly moisten the area of the paper where you plan to paint and let it sit for at least five minutes. Once your paper is ready, mix some pigment with water in your palette until you achieve the desired color intensity, and then apply it directly to the surface with your brush.

How can I create clean edges when using washes?

Creating crisp, clean edges with watercolor washes requires some patience and practice. To begin, you should apply masking fluid to the area of the paper that needs to remain paint-free (this can be done with a small brush or a store-bought applicator). Once dry, carefully paint around the edge of the masking fluid using your brush and some diluted pigment. Allow this layer to dry thoroughly before removing the masking fluid, and then fill in any gaps by adding more paint.

How do I create value shifts when painting with washes?

Value shifts are an important part of creating depth in a watercolor painting and can be achieved by manipulating the amount of pigment and water used in each layer. To create a value shift, you must begin with a light-valued wash by adding more water than pigment to your mixture. Then, gradually build up additional layers of paint with increasing amounts of pigment until the desired value is achieved.

What other tips can you provide for painting with watercolor washes?

To paint successfully with watercolor washes, it’s important to keep your brush wet while working and to avoid overworking a single area (as this can cause colors to become muddy). Additionally, try adding details with a darker valued wash after the base layer of paint has dried. Finally, remember that practice makes perfect – so don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes as you learn!


Painting with watercolor washes is a fun and rewarding way to express yourself creatively. With the right supplies, practice, and patience, you can quickly master this medium and create beautiful art that will last a lifetime. So get out there and start experimenting!

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