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How to use multiple watercolour washes with David Webb

Posted on Thu 12 Apr 2018

There is more than one way of applying watercolour to the paper surface to create a painting. In this month’s article, I would like to talk about the multiple-wash method.

What is a multiple wash?

With this method, a series of layers or washes are built up gradually to achieve a variety of tonal values from the lightest lights to the darkest darks, using the whiteness of the paper to achieve luminosity.

Seen Better Days, watercolour on Bockingford NOT 200lb (425gsm) watercolour paper, (23x33cm)

Why would you use it?

Whatever the subject, a painting needs to show a full range of tonal values from the lightest lights to the darkest darks. The multiple-wash method provides a way of achieving this. I endeavour to complete a painting in three washes, although it may sometimes require an extra wash in really dark areas.

The painting Seen Better Days (see above) clearly illustrates how several washes have been overlaid to create a feeling of solidity in the boat wreck lying in the mud. The lightest, sunlit parts of the wreck are achieved in the initial, palest wash. The mid-tones along the sides are achieved by applying a second, darker wash over the first. Finally, the darkest darks of the interior ribs and cracks are painted over the previous two washes.

The darkest areas may be three washes deep. The lightest tones, however, receive only one. My first palest wash covers most or all of the paper. Any highlights will need to be either masked or painted around. Once dry, my second darker-toned wash is then applied, covering only the middle-toned area. Finally, I apply my darkest tones, carefully avoiding highlights and light areas.

Demonstration Fernworthy Clapper Bridge

I chose this Dartmoor scene for this month’s demonstration as, with its interesting variety of tonal values, it lends itself to the multiple-wash method.


Make five separate dilutions of cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, raw sienna, Indian yellow and raw sienna in your mixing wells. These should be fairly strong.

Step 1

Carefully draw the outline of the bridge, taking care to get the correct angle. The right-hand end starts roughly halfway up the paper. Draw a simple shape for the sheep, taking care not to make it too large or small in comparison with the bridge.

Step 2

1. Prop your board up at an angle of about 20 degrees.

2.. Wet the surface of the paper with your large brush. Give it a minute to let the water soak in slightly. Now, dip your brush into the raw sienna and, starting at the top, begin to add colour to the paper.

3. Rinse your brush and add a little cobalt blue, mixing it wet-into-wet with the raw sienna.

4. When you get to the top of the bridge, rinse your brush again. Dip into the cobalt blue and paint the bridge. It will bleed into the surrounding area a little, but don’t worry at this stage. This initial wash should be quite soft. You may find you need to add a touch of burnt sienna to the blue to grey it down a little.

5. When you reach the base of the bridge, paint the foreground grass area with wet-in-wet blends of raw sienna, cobalt blue and Indian yellow.

6. Paint the two rocks with cobalt blue and a little burnt sienna. Allow this wash to dry completely.

Step 3

This step is carried out on dry paper, but colours are mixed on the surface.

1. Pick up raw sienna on your brush. Start to paint a wash in the top-left corner, working down and right. Leave some gaps to allow the lighter underwash to show through. Add burnt sienna to the top right then add a little cobalt blue.

2. Begin painting the green area just above the bridge, working from the left to the right. Mix cobalt blue, raw sienna and Indian yellow on the paper.

3. Paint this wash carefully around the top of the bridge and also the sheep. Paint a little shadow on the right side of the sheep.

4. Paint the shadow areas under the bridge

using a wet-in-wet blend of cobalt blue, alizarin crimson and burnt sienna. Use it also for the shadows on the two rocks.

5. Paint the foreground grasses using wet-in-wet blends of raw sienna, cobalt blue and Indian yellow. Try to create some texture by painting negative and positive shapes to indicate grass. Allow the second wash to dry.

Step 4

1. Strengthen your colours by adding a little more pigment.

2. Paint the black face of the sheep using a mix of cobalt blue and burnt sienna.

3. Under the bridge, paint the stronger darks using blends of cobalt blue, alizarin crimson and burnt sienna. Use this also for the cracks, the little shadow to the right of the sheep and the stronger foreground rock shadows.

4. Use stronger green mixes for a few details in the grass.

The finished painting

Fernworthy Clapper Bridge, watercolour on Bockingford NOT 200lb (425gsm) watercolour paper, (19x28cm)

David Webb

Find out about David’s work and workshops by visiting

This demonstration is part six in a series of watercolour basics and beyond by David, and can be found in the June 2018 issue of Leisure Painter

Click here to browse back issues of Leisure Painter to purchase the complete series

How to use multiple watercolour washes with David Webb


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  • I have painted this myself as an exersize . what a way to paint in whatercolour . another method to paint in . how many ways are ther to paint in this wonderfull medium ?. leisure Painter will show you...

    Posted by henry graham on Sat 28 Apr 10:32:59