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       "The splatter technique is a
        great way to give depth and texture
        to a sandy beach."


Home  Watercolor Techniques  Sponge, Graded Wash, Splatter

    Example of the sponge effect

Sponge,  Graded Wash,  and  Splatter

  • Short tutorials
  • Painted examples
  • How they can be used in a painting

Continuing with our exploration of more techniques and effects, I will now introduce you to the effects of using a sponge, how to paint a graded wash, and ways you can apply splatter to your paintings. Each of these techniques have brief step-by-step instructions, painted examples, and images showing you the effects they can produce.

Sponge Technique

The sponge technique is a really fun and easy way to create a light and airy look to your foliage and trees.

Example of Spongea sample of the sponge technique used on cold-pressed watercolor paper

How to do the sponge technique:
painting of the Thatched Cottage project

close-up showing the sponge effect on the trees
In the close-up view on the right, you can see how great the sponge effect was in creating the illusion of leaves on the trees.
Prepare your sea sponge by submerging it into clean water and squeeze out all the excess water. Roll it several times in a couple of paper towels until the sponge feels only damp. Now, rotate the sponge in your hand until you find a section that you would like to use, and dip that section into your puddle of color. Lightly dab the sponge on the areas where you would like to see texture. When you are done using that color, press the sponge firmly into your dampened paper towels. Do this several times to remove the color. Now dip your sponge into your next color and repeat. For best results, start with your lightest color and work your way to your darkest.
personal note   The most popular sponge to use for this technique is a "sea sponge", which can be found at most art and craft stores. This is my personal favorite, too.

If you are unable to locate a sea sponge, you could try using a brand new household sponge instead.

Household sponge      randomly tear off pieces of the sponge at the corners

How to prepare your household sponge:

With a pair of scissors, cut a new, dry, never been used, sponge into a 2" x 2" block shape. Rinse it several times to remove all traces of what the manufacturer might have used to keep it moist, then squeeze, and roll in paper towels. With your thumb and forefinger, randomly pick and remove small pieces of sponge from one of the corners. When done, dip that corner into your color and lightly dab it on a scrap piece of watercolor paper to test the pattern. Continue removing pieces until you are pleased with the results.

Graded Wash Technique

The graded wash is an excellent technique to use for rendering the sky. With the sky being infinite, you would start with a deep blue. As it nears the earth's horizon it becomes lighter in value. You can create this illusion with the graded wash technique.

Example of a Graded Washa sample of a graded wash painted on cold-pressed watercolor paper

How to do the graded wash technique:
painting of the Sailboats project

close-up showing the reverse graded wash technique used in the sky
In the close-up view on the right, the reverse method was used to paint the sky. You can see how the sky moves from a dark blue to a much lighter blue as it nears the horizon.
Begin in the same manner as if you were painting a controlled wash by establishing the watercolor bead. Next, fully load your brush with clean water and quickly mix it with your puddle of color. Paint with the bead until you reach the other side. Fully load your brush again with clean water, and quickly mix it with your puddle of color. Continue painting with the bead until you reach the other side. Repeat, until the entire area is painted. Mop up the excess water with your brush.

How to do the reverse graded wash technique:

Mix two puddles of your sky color, making one a lighter value than the other. Begin the graded wash with a bead of clean water. Next, fully load your brush with the lighter value color and paint with the bead until you reach the other side. Blot your brush well. Fully load your brush again with the lighter value, and paint with the bead until you reach the other side. Blot your brush well. Repeat until you have painted enough of the sky with the lighter value color. Next, switch to the darker value color and continue painting in the same manner as you did with the lighter value. When you are finished, wipe away the excess color from the masking tape. Leave your painting at the tilted angle, and continue to wipe away the excess color until the sheen is gone.
Example of a Reverse Graded Wash

a sample of the reverse graded wash technique painted on cold-pressed watercolor paper
personal note  Both of these methods are done on a tilted surface. When using the reverse graded wash method, rotate your painting so that the top of the sky is closest to you.

Splatter Technique

Splatter is a great technique to use when wanting to create the illusion of depth and texture. You can use either a watercolor brush, or a toothbrush. They will give you the same effect but offer different looks.

Example of Splattera sample of the splatter effect used on cold-pressed watercolor paper

How to do the splatter technique:
painting of the Poinsettia project

close-up showing the splatter effect on a poinsettia petal
In the close-up view on the right, you can see how the splatter technique created both a sense of depth, as well as texture along the edges of this poinsettia petal.
Mix a puddle of color that has a medium to dark value. With your toothbrush, touch all of the bristles to the bottom of the puddle of color. Lift the toothbrush and hold it upside down over the area you wish to splatter. Now, place your thumb at the beginning of the bristles and slowly slide your thumb to the end. You can repeat this several times before having to re-load your toothbrush. You can also control the direction of the splatter by how you angle the toothbrush.

For best results, use a medium to dark value of color. Lighter values will not create much of an effect. You can create a softer appearance by splattering on a damp surface.
personal note   The splatter pattern can go far and be quite messy. Protect the surrounding areas of your painting by laying paper towels over the areas you don't want to splatter.

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