How to Do the Wash Painting Technique

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Things You'll Need

  • Acrylic, watercolor or oil paint

  • Brushes

  • Water

  • Paint mediums (acrylic, watercolor or oil)

  • Appropriate painting surface

Paint washes add depth and interest

Painting washes does more than create a large area of color in a timely manner. With a few simple techniques, you can use washes to create depth, interest and rich colors in your paintings. Oil paints, acrylics and watercolors create washes when mixed with appropriate thinner, mediums or solvent. Use these techniques to create one-tone background washes, gradient depth-creating washes or one-tone layered washes that create new colors.


Step 1

Create washes with watercolors, acrylics or oils mixed with thinner, medium or solvent. Watercolor and acrylic paints thin with water or with a medium made to increase transparency. Oils thin with a solvent such as turpentine, if they are oil based, or with an oil paint medium made to increase transparency.


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Step 2

Create a wash by mixing proportionately more solvent or thinner than paint. The ratio of thinner to paint varies according to your needs. Start with mostly thinner and just a small amount of paint on your brush. Add more as needed.

Step 3

Use a wash in areas such as a background where large areas of very light or transparent color lay down the groundwork for your painting. Alternatively, layer washes on top of other colors to tint and change the color effect of an entire painting. Paint a wash in areas where you want little brushstroke or texture detail, as a wash creates a smooth area of pale color.


Step 4

Paint a one-toned wash by using thinner or solvent mixed with one color. This creates an even wash of pale tint. If using acrylics or watercolors, paint quickly or wet the canvas with water first to avoid brushstrokes since watercolors and acrylics dry quickly. If using oil paints, mix the paint with turpentine or oil paint medium. The paint, which dries slowly, stays wet as you apply the wash, creating no brushstrokes.


Step 5

Use a gradient, a wash that fades from darker, containing more paint, to lighter, containing less paint, to create a wash of one color that fades from a dark tone to a light tint. Start with the lighter area and less paint to create a lighter wash; then slowly increase the paint added to the thinner to create a darker tone. Use a gradient to create depth, to make areas appear three-dimensional and to create areas of shadow and light.


Step 6

Paint a mixed color wash by layering a one-color, very pale wash over another pale wash of a different color. This creates a third color. An example of this is a pale yellow wash over a pale blue wash to create an area of green tint. Layering washes to create colors adds more depth and richer colors to your palette than using some premixed pigments.


Some oil paints are now water based and thin with water. Read labels carefully.



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