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by FAS grad Christina Cooper


by FAS grad Pam Rice


by FAS grad Robert Heindel


by FAS grad Charles Reid


by FAS instructor Dolph LeMoult

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Handling Transparent Wash

The secret of mastering painting in wash lies in three words:  practice, planning, and patience. There is no shortcut or substitute for any of these. You must make a sound pencil drawing that furnishes all of the information you need about the form and structure of the objects you’re painting. You must also plan your tones so carefully that you know just what they should be before you start to paint.

Here are some typical problems and how to solve them:

Materials: Use good-quality illustration board or water color paper. Use Gamma black, ivory black, or lampblack, but do not use opaque paints such as white or Gamma grays in your mixture. Water alone added to the black pigment makes all shades of gray; the more water, the lighter the gray.

illustration by Robert Fawcett

Illustration by Robert Fawcett (1903–1967) (click to enlarge)

Edges: Where the paper is wet, the wash will spread and blend. Where the paper is dry, you’ll get sharp edges. Therefore, in an area where you want blending, be sure the surface is wet. A hard edge is sometimes caused by the overlap of edges of two wash tones painted side by side. To avoid this, paint the lighter tone over both areas and, after this is dry, paint another tone over the area you wish to be darker. Many top illustrators like Robert Fawcett prefer to keep a strong, almost hard division along the edge of most tones rather than to “soften” each edge. If your values are right, this effect can be good.

Graded tones: You will find doing a graded wash easier if you mix one or two in-between tones in separate saucers. You can then gradually lighten or darken your wash puddle. Be sure to stir the wash well before adding it to the puddle. Keep your board tilted or you’ll lose the graded effect.

Streaks: The way to keep a wash from streaking is to keep a large puddle of it moving constantly over the area. Mix enough wash in your saucer so that you will not run out and have to mix more. A large brush is also a help. For dark areas, it is often better to run several washes, allowing each to dry, rather than try to get the dark tone with one wash.

Adding modeled tones: One way to do this is to moisten a larger area than the tone to cover and then add tone where you want it. The tone will creep out a bit, forming a soft blend. Some artists prefer not to pre-wet. You can soften an edge with a moist squeezed-out brush or even with your fingertip.

Borders: You can keep the edges of your drawing neat by covering them with masking tape. Paint up to and over the tape to avoid a streak at the edge. Don’t remove the tape until the paper is dry. Another method is to paint over the border lines and then cut a mat or mask to cover them.

Warped board: Illustration board will warp when wet unless you leave it fastened to your drawing board until completely dry. If you have a piece that warps, moisten the back and put it under a pile of books until dry.

Lines and details: Control of these depends on keeping the tip of your brush shaped properly. Your brush will stay pointed better if you rotate it slowly in your fingers as you draw a line or as you shape it on scrap paper before painting small details. By leaning your brush slightly to one side, you can make an accurate line with the brush point. Turn your board so that the sharper edge of the stroke comes where you want it.

Dark lines: If the pencil lines that have been drawn or traced on the illustration board are too dark, you can lighten them with a kneaded eraser before applying your wash tones. Also, don’t press too hard when you draw your lines or you’ll cause a groove in the illustration board and the wash may settle into it.

Masking tape: Although tape is useful to keep the edges neat, sometimes wash will collect along the edge or be sucked under it. This can usually be overcome by carefully controlling the amount of wash you apply. If you prefer, you can leave off the tape and paint beyond the edges into the border area. You can later cut a mask or mat that will “frame” your picture nicely. This is the usual way professional work is prepared for presentation.

Corrections:  Here are some suggestions about making corrections on a wash drawing:

It is often possible to moisten and blot your wash tones, thereby getting them a great deal lighter. Large areas can sometimes be sponged out. On tougher illustration board you can erase an area with a sand eraser or scrape it off with the edge of a razor blade. Then, after you have smoothed the area with an eraser, you can put new wash tones down.

Many times it is possible to overcome a smear in your wash by taking advantage of it. In painting something like wood texture, you could assume that a smear is an irregularity in the wood and create similar areas elsewhere.

In a commercial job done for reproduction it is sometimes necessary to paint over an entire area with opaque—mixing just a small amount of ochre or brown with the paint to keep it from looking too blue in relation to the wash tones. It’s difficult to match subtle wash tones with opaque, however. Naturally, it’s best to plan your picture so you use as little opaque as possible over a wash drawing because it is difficult to get a pleasing color match. Although corrections may not show up in reproduction, the effect won’t be pleasing to a client or art director.