How much water?

I’m sure you’ll all agree that water is a pretty important ingredient in the act of watercolour painting, yet the way some people paint you might wonder if there is a permanent drought. How much water should you use? This, of course, varies considerably, depending on what you are actually trying to achieve. The traditional watercolour wash is a very fluid mixture: a liquid pool of colour which can be of varying colour intensity that is easily applied with a large brush.

In this scene, which depicts mainly sky, the whole sky area was first washed with clean water, then, without pause some weak Naples yellow was painted above the white central area, and gamboge slightly to the right and lower down. I immediately followed this with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red across the top of the sky, down the sides and over the bottom, sitting back to watch these colours blend into each other.
At the critical moment when the whole sky began to dry I then applied a stronger wash of the same mixture across the top of the sky to form the darker clouds. There was much less water mixed into this application as I didn’t want it to run, or cause unsightly runbacks. I then moved lower down to suggest the more shapely clouds, still using the stronger mixture, but by now the sky was drying rapidly, which suited me as I wanted these strands of clouds to hold their shape. At this point I also rendered the background forest with the same colour mix to retain a sense of unity and atmosphere, the last applications of this being a fairly dry mixture with little water. Experience will tell you how much water to use, as it also depends on the ambient drying conditions, so practice these wet-in-wet and fluid wash techniques on scrap paper to improve your skill with watercolour.
   The painting is one of many from my new book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, published by Search Press in June. It contains a wide variety of landscapes and how they are affected by these elements, including how to create interesting skies, the magic of shafts of sunlight, creative use of light and shadow, how to make the most of reflected light, losing mountain ridges in mist, and so much more. If you order the book from our website you can get a special offer with my new DVD on the same subject: this illustrates a few basic techniques for creating interesting skies, light and atmosphere, and has a wide selection of paintings and sketches with commentary on how the effects were achieved.

One thought on “How much water?

  1. It’s amazing the results you get when you play with water. Makes it look so easy. Your tips are very useful for beginners. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.

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