Watercolor Tutorial Lesson Two: Flat Washes

It's turned cold and windy and mean outside. There's an 80% chance I'll be staying inside all day drinking coffee, painting, and playing with Josie. Those three things really make any dreary day brighter!

If you'd like to stay inside and paint today too, I have a simple watercolor tutorial that will familiarize you with one of the most basic watercolor techniques: flat washes.

(Click here to review previous tutorials and learn how to set up your workspace.)

A flat wash is the first layer of paint on paper where pigment is added to an already wet surface. Washes are prefect for backgrounds, skies, landscapes, any place you want a broad layer of color. You can create a lot of different looks with simple washes, but before I teach you how to do fancier things, I first want to share the basics.

Here are the steps to help you get started! Feel free to play around with this one. :)

1. With a clean brush and a blank sheet of fresh watercolor paper, apply a thin layer of water to the paper using the side of your bristles. The space covered in water should be about 4 inches square.

2. Load your brush with a color of your choosing and apply the pigment to the wet area on the paper. Move your brush from left to right and try not to go over the same spot again and again. Add color as you move down the page.

3. Do the same technique again, right next to the first wash. Water first, then add color. By the end of this exercise, you'll have two columns of color side by side. Wash your brush out completely before switching to the next color. 

4. Move down the page, one square of water at a time. Add one color at a time, brushing back and forth now and pulling the paint down the page as you go.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 until you reach the bottom of the paper. Leave a little bit of room at the bottom so the paint doesn't run over the side.

Play around with the water, adding puddles of water in some places and barely any water in other places. Brush over the spots where the colors meet once or twice to blend them more, and at other points, let the colors touch without your help. See what happens as the colors mix on their own and as the water dries.

Pretty simple right? Once your painting is dry, you're done!

A fun variation of this exercise would be to fill the entire page with one or two colors in a wash. You could make the color gradient by adding more water and less pigment as you move down the paper. It'd be a cool way to add some color to your home decor if you wanted to frame and hang these little watercolor studies, don't you think?

Leave your questions in the comments!