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Watercolor: Doing a graduated wash

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To liven up a sky or a background, or add style to major color areas: the graduated wash is THE technique! It lets you modulate a color's intensity by diluting it with more or less water.

What you need to know

  •  - A graduated wash can be applied in just a few seconds.

     - The slightest touch up will change the color variations.

1. From dark to light

  • Apply plain water onto the top of your sheet of paper with a wide paintbrush. Load your paintbrush with an ultramarine wash and paint a wide strip on the top of the sheet of paper: apply it from left to right, without stopping.
  • Dip your paintbrush in the water to dilute the wash some more: apply a new strip, overlapping with the lower edge of the first one, this time from right to left. 
  • Continue down the sheet of paper, diluting the paint some more each time. The final layers of the wash should be very light.

2. From light to dark

  • Prepare two alizarin crimson washes, one very diluted, the other one stronger.  
  • Load a wash brush with the diluted preparation: apply wide strips from top to bottom, to one third of the way down the paper. 
  • At a third of the way down: Add a stronger strip of wash, overlapping slightly with the previous one. Apply it from left to right, without stopping. 
  • Continue on down to the bottom of the sheet of paper, reloading the paintbrush with the strong wash every three stripe.