Tag Archives: art techniques

Learning Watercolor :: Washes & Underpainting

First, I should say that I have no business giving advice on using watercolors. I have only been learning watercolor techniques for the last ten months; I am still a beginner. However, I thought it might be interesting to show off what I’ve learned (and how I learned it).

A picture of a graded blue sky with orange water

Learning Watercolors :: Introductory Classes

When I decided I wanted to move from color pencil illustrations to watercolor painting, I skimmed my options on Craftsy. I absolutely love that web site (and no, they don’t pay me to say that). However, it can be pretty overwhelming – especially if you aren’t sure what kind of painter you want to be.

Initially, I chose two classes: one by Kateri Ewing and one by Angela Fehr. Angela’s class was not my favorite. It was too tedious for me. (It took me a long time to finish her class). But others loved her class. She has rave reviews and her own YouTube channel. Her style just wasn’t (and isn’t) for me.

Kateri Ewing’s class…was the perfect introductory watercolor class for me. It was similar in feel to my first color pencil class, and the first half of the class had us mixing colors and trying to get a feel for the paint. We completed two “proper” projects, but we were painting the entire time. I completed Kateri’s class last May.

A picture of a watercolor yellow pear

Kateri Ewing showed us how to paint this pear, step-by-step.

Fast Forward — 2 months

We took a fabulous summer trip and when we got back, I found myself in the middle of an incredibly busy time. I drew and painted some, but my learning was set aside – until a few months ago. I had this overwhelming desire to beef up my watercolor skills. I had a beautiful watercolor journal just sitting on my desk, taunting me. I had used a few pages during our trip, but I needed more instruction.

However, I didn’t want to jump back into a video class, nor did I want to scour YouTube for free watercolor painting videos. I like videos, but only to a point. I really am a book gal. (It’s the librarian in me, I think).

Flat and Graded Washes

Lots of practice and testing. I tried out different brushes and different paper. I was shocked at how the quality of the paper makes a HUGE difference.

According to Claudia Nice in her book, Watercolor Made Simple, “graded washes are useful in portraying clear summer skies, pools of still water and the contours of human skin.”

A wash is basic watercolor technique. It seems overly simplistic, but is worth a little practice to get it just right. (I messed it up a bunch of times). It produces fascinating effects. Since my two online classes didn’t discuss washes, I stumbled across them as I tried to recreate various paintings. Thankfully, there are some amazing teaching artists who share their techniques via books.

I’ve been pulling a number of books from various libraries and choosing projects I want to try. My first success came from the book, Watercolor Painting: Practical Techniques and Projects for Beginners.

Variegated Wash

I used cheaper watercolor paper to practice the gradated wash, so it doesn’t look as smooth as I think it could. But I understood the concept. I was ready to jump into something a little more challenging: a variegated wash.

A variegated wash occurs when you have two (or more) colors. You wet the entire paper with a sponge – making sure it’s slightly damp, not sopping. Then add one color at the top and instead of returning for water, you grab a different pigment on your brush. Voila!

A picture of a piece of paper with graded colors - pink on top with yellow on the bottom.

True painters will notice that I pulled the yellow up into my pink. I was ‘playing in the paint’ – a big watercolor no no.

Sunset Over Water

Now that I had “mastered” the concept, I was ready to try the accompanying project. Thankfully, the book is pretty good about having step-by-step pictures. If you are trying to learn a new skill, it’s not helpful to only see the finished project.

Most of their projects require you to sketch out the project just by looking at the picture, but they go into detail for particular techniques.

I was very careful and methodical with my first attempt. The second one, not so much. I was less then attentive and went a little loosey-goosey. Plus, I used student grade paper and the pigment didn’t spread nearly as well. Lesson learned.

A picture of a graded blue sky with orange water

First attempt. A good use of a variegated wash. The blue for the sky melts into the orange for the sunset-lit sea.

A picture of a blue sky, and orange sea and some shadowed buildings/trees in the distance

I was trying for a brighter pigment…and I got it. Though, I think the paper caused me problems. (Don’t mind the white spot at the bottom…I’m testing the idea of painting while my paper is taped down).

But it’s the third painting that shows my growth as a watercolorist (I hope). I wanted to try the same technique, but with a slightly different color scheme. I had to figure out how to change up the colors. I looked at a few reference photos for guidance.

A watercolor picture of a cove at sunset

I love how this one looks more like a cove. I totally, ahem, meant to do that.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I thought it was better than the original, but the three members of my immediate family all prefer the last painting. My very own composition! Well…you can bet I’m hooked on project books now.