Layering Your Watercolor Painting

I’ve been using a new process for my watercolor painting. That is layering. I first realized the importance of layering using a photoshop program called fresco that is designed to mimic watercolor painting and quite magnificently. But when I used a similar process on actual watercolor paints and paper, I have been very impressed with the results. Just think of layering the way you use iayers in photoshop, one on top the other.

First sketch out your image. DO NOT USE A PENCIL OR A BALLPOINT PEN!!! IT WILL SMEAR. I recommend using a black Micron pen. I usually use a size 2. Sometimes when your done people will still be able to see the initial sketch, maybe paint over all your marks, but I like the sketch somewhat visible. I also recommend using high quality paper, preferably Arches cold pressed watercolor paper 140 pound. Paper quality is crucial for durability and preserving whiteness.

The second step is to create a large grand wash with your one inch flat brush. Remember accuracy isn’t as important in this layer wash because you will be painting over parts of it. Your goal here is to create the composition. Use a lot of water with your colors and in parts maybe more paint to create a dramatic effect. Let the paint dry for 25 or 30 minutes, maybe more depending on how much water you use. You will be doing a lot of this in the process. So grab a sandwich, make a cup of coffee, have a cigarette and relax.

When the first layer is dry, come I with your round brush sized #7 to #12 sable brush depending on the size of your painting. In this layer you will be making more and darker hues, but be cautious not to make the application too bold all over. Sometimes this can be the finishing process, depending on what you’re drawing and what you like. Pay close attention to shape, shadow and color. You are really defining your subjects at this point in the game. I would say medium shades and hues, but in some parts bold applications of color and shadow. Avoid using the color black. Be more colorful! Again, take a 20 or 30 minute break while the painting dries. I like to have it a little wet when I return to let the colors run in some places.

Finally, the last layer is for your detail with your finest sable brush. This would definitely be your #2 or #3. By the way, I recommend camel hair brushes. Winsor & Newton have some terrific series brushes for this depending on how much you want to spend. I also recommend their watercolor paints. Cotman, the student grade, is quite affordable. So come in with your darkest boldest colors with the fine brush, but be sparing. Some colors appear more dark to the eye like pthalo blue others like Lemon yellow will look lighter. However, try not to highlight with the light colors too much, that is what the white of the paper is for. Again, avoid using black. I like to outline a lot when painting this layer, it’s not photographic, but creates a nice illustrative effect. Let the painting dry while you take your final break for maybe an hour or so on the final layer. Then if your paper is small enough you can scan it in and adjust it on photoshop. I like to use  the  Photoshop Levels feature to richen my colors. Then post it to your favorite social media and show your friends! That’s it and it’s a lot of fun!

For more fun in art, please visit my website DAN JOYCE artworks at


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