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Did you know?
       "Painting a light wash
        over a dried wash is
        known as glazing."



    Establishing the watercolor bead

How to Paint a Controlled Wash

  • Establishing the watercolor bead
  • Step-by-step tutorial on how to paint a wash
  • Example of a finished wash

The watercolor wash is the most widely known of the watercolor techniques and often referred to as a flat field wash. Depending on your style of painting it can be painted using loose and more expressive brush strokes, or painted in a more even and controlled manner.

On this page I will teach you how to paint a controlled watercolor wash with the watercolor bead and the guidance of your brush. Once you learn how to establish, and experience painting with, the watercolor bead, you will gain a better understanding of your painting progress. You will know whether you need to speed up or slow down your brush strokes, use less watercolor and water, or add more. But, most of all, you will gain a great amount of control.

How to Paint a Controlled Wash   -   Tutorial
Establishing and painting with the watercolor bead.
  With your pencil, draw several boxes 4" h x 2" w (10.2cm h x 5.1cm w). Elevate the top of your board. For this exercise you will be using Permanent Rose which is a transparent, non staining watercolor. Mix a large puddle, approximately two tablespoons' worth. You do not want to run out of watercolor in the middle of painting your wash. Add water until the Permanent Rose, has about a medium value. Rinse out a no. 10 or no. 12 brush in clean water and blot well.

Step 1
Start the bead by first painting downwards.
To start the bead, fully load your brush with watercolor. Position the brush in your hand as shown in the photo. Start at the top left-hand corner of your box. With the tip of your brush and a light touch, paint down the left side approximately 1/2" (1.3cm). When you lift up your brush from the paper, a narrow bead of watercolor will be released from your brush. If you did not get a bead, you may have placed too much pressure on your brush. Try again, lightening your brush stroke.

  Touch your brush to the narrow bead of color you have just painted. Lift your brush. You have now released more color from your brush. Repeat until you get a good-sized watercolor bead.

The sizing in the Arches watercolor paper, and the correct tilt of your board, will prevent the bead from running down your paper.
Step 2
Continue starting the bead by now painting a short distance to the right.
Again, with a very light touch, paint 1/2" (1.3cm) line across the top of the box. Lift your brush and let the watercolor release.
Step 3
Continue until you reach the other side of your box.
Touch your brush back down into the bead from where you lifted your brush, and paint across another 1/2" (1.3cm). Lift your brush and let the watercolor release.

Continue this pattern to the right side of the box. Paint down the right side about 1/2" (1.3cm). Lift your brush and let the watercolor release.
Step 4
Begin to increase the size of your bead.
Now fully load your brush with watercolor again, and tilt the handle of your brush so it rests on the area of your hand shown here. Instead of painting with just the tip of your brush, you will now be painting with about one-third of your brush hairs.

Now touch your brush back into the area where you left off and paint 1/2" (1.3cm) to the left, touching the tip of the brush against the bottom edge of the narrow watercolor bead that you have already painted across the top of the box. Lift your brush and let the watercolor release.
Step 5
Continue to increase the size of your bead.
Continue painting to the left, repeating the 1/2" (1.3cm) pattern until you are about halfway across. Lift your brush and let the watercolor release. Then immediately fully load your brush again.
Step 6
Your watercolor bead has now been established.
Continue repeating the 1/2" (1.3cm) pattern until you reach the left side. You have now established what is called the watercolor bead.

Next, tilt your brush handle upwards again, and paint down the left side approximately 1/2" (1.3cm). Lift your brush and let the watercolor release.
Step 7
Once you reach the bottom of your box, mop up any excess color with your brush.
Now that you have established a fairly good-sized bead, you will be able to paint to the other side of your box by fully loading your brush only once each time across. The watercolor bead basically paints the wash for you. The light touch of your brush directs it.

As you near the end of your box, do not load your brush anymore. Use the color that's left in the bead. Angle your brush handle upwards. Paint across a 1/2" (1.3cm) on the bottom line, touching your brush to the bead. Repeat all the way across. Your box is now completely painted.
  Blot your brush firmly on your paper towels. Do not rinse your brush. Place a tissue in your left hand. With your blotted brush, lightly touch the lower left corner of the box. Your brush will reabsorb some of the watercolor bead. This is called mopping up. Blot your brush on your tissue. then continue to lightly mop up more of the watercolor bead. When a good portion of the bead is mopped up, you may then lightly go across the bottom edge with the tip of your brush for a short distance to mop up more. Blot and repeat until you get to the other side. Let your watercolor wash dry completely.

Here is what the finished wash looks like.
     Controlled wash sample finished.

Because of the amount of control you have with the watercolor bead, the color and value are even and consistent, not streaky or blotchy.
personal note   The most important thing you will gain from this exercise is knowing that all your washes should start with a fair amount of watercolor, especially when painting large shaped areas. In smaller areas, you may need to blot your brush once lightly to remove some of the excess color before painting.

NEXT:   Common Wash Problems   

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