Advanced Watercolor Wash Techniques

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various advanced watercolor wash techniques, from wet-on-wet to glazing, and provide you with tips, tricks, and examples to help you master these techniques. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, this guide will provide you with valuable insights and inspiration to create stunning watercolor washes.

As an artist, mastering advanced watercolor wash techniques can greatly enhance your artwork and take it to the next level. These techniques allow you to create beautiful and vibrant washes that add depth, texture, and interest to your paintings.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of the Advanced Watercolor Wash Series! There are also other wash tutorials starting from the very beginning which you can find in the Watercolor Techniques section of this website.

Understanding Different Types of Washes

Before diving into the specific techniques, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the different types of washes in watercolor painting. A wash is a broad application of color that covers a large area of the paper and creates a smooth, even layer of pigment. Each type of wash has its own unique characteristics and effects, allowing you to achieve different results in your artwork.

Various Watercolor Wash Techniques
Various Watercolor Wash Techniques; Source

Wet-on-Wet Wash Technique

The wet-on-wet wash technique involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface, allowing the colors to blend and flow together. This technique is particularly useful for creating soft and diffused backgrounds or for capturing the fluidity of water in your paintings. To achieve a wet-on-wet wash, start by wetting the entire paper with clean water using a large brush. Then, load your brush with diluted paint and apply it onto the wet surface, allowing the colors to mix and mingle naturally.

Wet-on-Dry Wash Technique

In contrast to the wet-on-wet technique, the wet-on-dry wash technique involves applying wet paint onto a dry surface. This technique allows for more control and precision, making it ideal for creating detailed and defined areas in your artwork. To achieve a wet-on-dry wash, make sure the paper is completely dry before applying the paint. Load your brush with paint and apply it onto the dry surface, using even strokes to create a smooth and consistent layer of color.

Graded Wash Technique

The graded wash technique allows you to create a smooth transition of color from light to dark or vice versa. This technique is commonly used to create realistic lighting and shading effects in your artwork. To achieve a graded wash, start by wetting the paper with clean water. Then, load your brush with a light color and apply it at the top of the paper. Gradually add more pigment to your brush as you work your way down, creating a gradual transition of color. Keep in mind that the paper should still be wet while you’re working to achieve a smooth blend.

Dry Brush Wash Technique
Dry Brush Wash Technique

Dry Brush Wash Technique

The dry brush wash technique involves using a dry brush with minimal water and paint to create a textured and grainy effect. This technique is great for adding texture to surfaces such as tree barks, rocks, or rough textures in your artwork. To achieve a dry brush wash, load your brush with a small amount of paint and remove excess moisture by dabbing it on a paper towel. With a light touch and short strokes, apply the paint onto the dry surface, allowing the texture of the paper to show through.

Glazing Watercolor Wash Technique
Glazing Wash Technique

Glazing Wash Technique

The glazing wash technique involves layering transparent washes of color to create depth and luminosity in your paintings. This technique is particularly effective when you want to add richness and complexity to your artwork. To achieve a glazing wash, start by applying a thin and transparent wash of color onto a dry surface. Allow the layer to dry completely before applying another layer of a different color. Repeat this process, building up multiple layers to achieve the desired effect.

Lifting Wash Technique
Lifting Watercolor Wash Technique

Lifting Wash Technique

The lifting wash technique allows you to remove or lighten areas of paint from your artwork. This technique is useful for correcting mistakes, adding highlights, or creating subtle textures. To lift a wash, make sure the paint is still wet or damp. Use a clean, damp brush or a sponge to gently lift the paint off the paper. Alternatively, you can use a dry brush or a paper towel to blot or lift the paint, depending on the desired effect.

Mastering Advanced Watercolor Wash Techniques Part 2
Mastering Advanced Watercolor Wash Techniques Part 2

Combining Wash Techniques for Unique Effects

While each wash technique has its own merits and applications, you can achieve even more dynamic and unique effects by combining multiple techniques in your artwork. Experiment with different combinations of wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, dry brush, graded, glazing, and lifting wash techniques to create textures, contrasts, and visual interest.

For example, you can start with a wet-on-wet wash as the background, then add details and textures using a dry brush technique. The possibilities are endless, so don’t be afraid to explore and push the boundaries of these techniques.

Tips and Tricks for Mastering Advanced Watercolor Wash Techniques

To help you master advanced watercolor wash techniques, here are some valuable tips and tricks:

  1. Practice regularly: Like any skill, mastering watercolor wash techniques requires practice. Set aside dedicated time to experiment and refine your skills.
  2. Use high-quality materials: Invest in good quality watercolor paints, brushes, and paper. The quality of your materials can greatly impact the outcome of your washes.
  3. Start with a limited color palette: Using a limited color palette will help you understand color mixing and achieve harmonious washes.
  4. Control your water-to-paint ratio: Experiment with different water-to-paint ratios to achieve different effects. More water will result in a lighter wash, while less water will create a more intense color.
  5. Embrace happy accidents: Watercolor is known for its spontaneity and unpredictability. Embrace the unexpected and learn from any mistakes or unplanned effects that occur.
  6. Study and learn from other artists: Look for inspiration from other watercolor artists who have mastered advanced wash techniques. Analyze their work and try to understand their process and techniques.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Advanced Wash Techniques

While exploring advanced watercolor wash techniques, it’s important to be aware of some common mistakes and pitfalls that artists often encounter. By avoiding these mistakes, you can achieve better results and save time and frustration in the process. Here are a few common mistakes to watch out for:

  1. Overworking the paper: Applying too many layers or excessive scrubbing can damage the surface of the paper, resulting in a muddy or uneven wash.
  2. Using too much water: Applying excessive water can cause the paint to spread uncontrollably and create unwanted blooms or backruns.
  3. Ignoring the drying time: Each layer of wash should be allowed to dry completely before applying the next layer. Rushing this process can lead to colors bleeding or mixing unintentionally.
  4. Lack of planning and sketching: It’s important to have a clear plan and sketch before diving into your artwork. This will help you avoid composition and proportion issues.
  5. Fear of experimentation: Don’t be afraid to experiment and take risks with your wash techniques. Some of the most interesting and unique effects can arise from stepping outside your comfort zone.
Recommended Materials
Recommended Materials

To achieve the best results with advanced watercolor wash techniques, it’s important to have the right materials. Here are some recommended materials to consider:

  1. Watercolor paints: Invest in artist-grade watercolor paints that offer a wide range of colors and good lightfastness.
  2. Brushes: Have a variety of brushes in different shapes and sizes, including flat, round, and mop brushes. Natural hair brushes are recommended for watercolor painting.
  3. Paper: Choose watercolor paper that is specifically designed for wet washes. Look for paper that is acid-free, heavyweight, and has a rough or cold-pressed texture.
  4. Palette: Use a large, spacious palette with wells to hold and mix your paints. A palette with a lid or cover will help keep your paints moist between painting sessions.
  5. Water container: Have a container to hold clean water for wetting your brushes and diluting your paints. Make sure to change the water frequently to avoid contaminating your colors.

Learn more about my favorite watercolor supplies.

Inspiration and Examples of Artwork Using Advanced Wash Techniques

To inspire your own artwork and further understand the possibilities of advanced watercolor wash techniques, here are some examples of renowned artists who have mastered these techniques:

  1. John Singer Sargent: Known for his loose and expressive watercolor washes, Sargent’s artwork showcases the power and versatility of these techniques.
  2. Winslow Homer: Homer’s watercolor paintings often feature bold and vibrant washes, capturing the energy and movement of his subjects.
  3. Joseph Zbukvic: Zbukvic’s artwork demonstrates the beauty of layering washes and creating atmospheric effects through glazing and lifting techniques.

Check out the watercolor landscape article, great tips for all levels!


Mastering advanced watercolor wash techniques can unlock endless possibilities in your artwork. By understanding the different types of washes, experimenting with various techniques, and learning from other artists, you can develop your own unique style and create stunning watercolor washes.

Remember to practice regularly, be patient with yourself, and embrace the spontaneity of watercolor. With time and dedication, you will become a master of advanced watercolor wash techniques. So grab your brushes, paints, and paper, and let your creativity flow!