Creating a Wash

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Previewing values is key to a good experience using wash. Washes dry out, therefore when you mix them, have a fairly clear objective about where you're putting them. Anticipate your move, then be ready to pop the wash in where you want it. Always preview first, make your wash, then go!

Wet flows into wet; let it dry and it will set. (My poemforyou!)

Before we make a wash sampler, let's concentrate on making a wash. First, place all your supplies on the table on your drawing-hand side, with your water jar filled. Squeeze a one-inch line of the black paint on your palette. If you're using freezer paper as your palette, tape it down so it won't curl up. About a 12" square piece is a good size.

If your brush is brand-new, it will be stiff with a gel-like coating, which can be removed by pushing the brush firmly against the bottom of the jar, then shaking it around in the water. Notice how the brush hairs hold water when you lift it out, dripping a bit here and there. If it's too drippy, draw the hairs gently across the jar's edge to remove excess.

With your brush, pull off a small amount of pigment from the edge of your paint, not from the middle.

Mix water and paint together, making a puddle on your disposable palette. Since plastic won't absorb liquid, the puddle will contract on the freezer paper or plastic plate, saving the paint for your work. However, you can't see the value you've created clearly until you test the wash on scrap paper. Do that now.

To dilute the paint and lighten its value further, add more water to the paint that's still on your brush. Just dip the brush in water again. Continue dipping to add more water to the original paint on your brush, and test each time by dabbing on your paper. Since you're adding more water, never more paint, the proportion of water to paint is increased with each dip, diluting the mixture gradually and lightening its value from black to palest gray. Test after each dip, and you'll have a record of many different values on your paper.

exercise: wash sampler

With this, and with samplers in all chapters, refer to illustrations, but use as much paper as you need. Keep your drawings to about a half-sheet or smaller from your 14"-x-17" pad, or use your 6"-x-8" pad. Feel free to experiment with the techniques presented, but note that drawing paper is not always meant for entire paintings created with wet media. If you use too much wash, the paper will buckle. Remember: Your washes are meant to be used only as complements to drawing. As for your #6 brush, it is suited to smaller images, like those in this exercise (and throughout the chapter); large areas call for larger brushes. If you use a smaller brush with many small strokes to cover a large area, streaks will result.

1 Make a wash with enough water to get a transparent puddle.

2 Test the wash value on scrap paper. Add more water to the wash on your brush to change value. Repeat this process, testing your results each time until you create a light wash.

3 Make a stroke of pale wash on your drawing paper. Let it dry; we'll come back to it later.

4 Make a little group of dots with your point.

5 Create a range of pencil values clustered together on the page. Then put a light wash over them. The wash adds a unifying smooth gray, while the pencil adds complex values through the transparent gray.

6 With the point of your wash-filled brush, make a dark stroke of wash. Blot immediately with a tissue; it makes a fine eraser.

7 To make a crisp edge along a wash line, draw a vertical pencil line (about two inches long). Position your wash-filled brush point up and parallel to the line. Press the point gently down and onto the paper until the hairs fan out, touching the vertical line on one side. You'll be creating the crisp edge with the side of your brush, not the point. Pull the brush toward you along the line. If the wash runs out, turn the brush over to replenish, and keep going. This is a more efficient technique than using the brush point to paint along a straight edge. Try the same thing along a curved line.

8 Put two wash strokes next to each other, overlapping edges slightly, to see how one flows into the other.

9 Make a stroke of wash, then immediately add clear water to its edge. Clear water draws the wash toward it, softening the setting edge.

10 Make a stroke of wash. Use the brush point in small, feathering flicks to break up the a setting edge.

11 Create some small white shapes-such as a triangle, a heart—by painting around them. Make the darkest wash you can without losing transparency.

12 Make several small rectangles in pencil. Create a wash. Prop your pad up at a slight tilt. (Either hold it with a free hand, or better, prop it up on something.) Add a stroke of wash at the top of the rectangle. Add another stroke immediately beneath it, overlapping its edge. Continue down the page, feeding wash to each stroke edge before it sets. Gravity helps the wash travel, so tilt your pad more, if necessary, to help it along. You may accumulate unwanted wash at the bottom of a rectangle. Keep the pad tilted to avoid backwash. Dip a Q;Tip into excess wash to absorb it. Twist the corner of a tissue into a wick to do the same.

13 Continue tilting your paper for this exercise. Make an irregular shape. Moisten it with water. Add wash to the premoistened shape and watch it travel. You can add more wash and nudge it along, but don't stroke. 14 Using the pale wash that you set down to dry earlier (Step 3), cross over that stroke two times. You should see a darker value at the crossover.


Any wash edge will "set" in a fixed position with a sharply defined edge if you brush it on and leave it alone to dry. To soften a dry edge, rub gently with a wet brush or Q-Tip.

WASH SAMPLER. The wash applications shown here are described in the exercise that begins on the opposite page. Refer to these examples in building your own "Wash Sampler."

Drawings Banana Peppers

Flowers, fruit, and a humble scrub brush make equally appealing still-life subjects, student drawings, from top, by pamela shilling (uly), mary e. tancney (leaf, brush), and sherry artemenko (apple, pepper, banana)

exercise: pencil studies with wash

Use your 6"-x-8" pad, or put two or three studies on your larger paper. Choose some objects you'd like to draw. We've had nice results with mushrooms, shells, tulips, teacups-all small objects with close, light values. Pencil and wash studies have an intimate look; quiet and subdued because of their light values.

1 Select one object (your beloved!), and place it close to you if you'd like to see details more clearly. Building on what you've already learned, begin with a pencil study and complete all value areas, including cast shadows.

2 Make the lightest wash possible. Stay with this value throughout this exercise. Your value patterns are now set by the pencil and will be visible through the transparent wash, which will be an accent. Remember, the keys to success in adding wash in this exercise are: Be ready to soften edges if necessary; use only the same light wash.

3 Test your puddle of wash. If it's dried out or becomes more concentrated, you may need to mix more. Keep it very light. Don't use an overloaded brush. If it goes too dark or you get a flood, blot with a tissue immediately.

4 Apply a very light wash over your entire study, except for highlights. Since the wash is transparent, your underlying pencil work will provide a variety of visible values. Washes give a soft connecting gray value to everything. Where an application looks fine, don't keep going around that area.

5 Move your brush with the flow of your object's surface, as though you were a small bobsled traveling over its hills and valleys. Move with purpose and get out quickly once you've done the job. If you' re already getting streaks, add more water to your wash.

6 While your wash is wet, you can add more of the same light value; not more paint, just wash—over painted areas to deepen a value.

7 To keep a crisp edge, let it set before putting wash next to it, since wet flows into wet. Edges will set if you leave them alone to dry. Defining crisp edges is especially helpful in strengthening your art.

8 Let your picture dry for a few minutes. Surfaces will be cool to the touch while wet; slightly warm when dry. Once your drawing is dribble proof, put it up on the wall, then sit down with your subject between you and your picture. Use the same criteria for critiquing this as for any value drawing.

9 Try this exercise more than once. The first time familiarizes you with the materials and how they work; the second time, you can be more relaxed.

constructive evaluation

Is there any additional detail you notice that can be added to bring out dimension? You can't erase, since the wash seals in the surface pencil work. However, you can deepen dark values and define edges with some wash or pencil. Add pencil only when your picture is totally dry, to avoid tearing the paper. Wash can also be added immediately after a previous wash was applied. But adding more wash while it's drying can lift the previous wash. There's a limit to the amount of layering your paper will take.

what if it doesn't come out?

The drawings by beginners shown here are examples of what works. For every success, there are many drawings that aren't as strong. As one beginner describes it, "Sometimes I put a line up there and I knew it wasn't right (and I was right). Yet, other times, it all added up and the time just flew by." Be tolerant of your not-so-successful drawings. They're all part of the process that brings forth the special ones. Keep them all so you'll have a record of your progress.

But if you're really frustrated dealing with a drawing that doesn't please you, take a break. Frustration and disappointment are natural parts of the learning process.With drawing, it doesn't help to be a slave to the art. Back off when you must, have a coffee or tea or take a walk-then return refreshed, and begin again.

Even something as simple as a curve of ribbon can make interesting subject matter, drawing by student nancy opgaard

Subjects Draw
"I wanted to draw a peanut, a bell, and other basic shapes [apple, egg, block]. The pattern/texture of the peanut and the exotic nature of the antique bell are what attracted me to them. As to placement on the pages, they just fit. No pressure, just fun!" —student michelle g. cappelueri

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