Watercolor Glazing Technique Demonstration

A hand holding a paint brush, painting a cat on a window sill in transparent glazes of watercolor to show the technique of glazing
Want to learn how to use watercolor glazing techniques in your paintings for more accuracy? Check out these tutorial videos and links to resources!

Why use the watercolor glazing technique?

Watercolor glazing is a technique in watercolor painting that gives painters – especially beginners – more control. The white of the paper in watercolors is equivalent to a light source, illuminating the pigments from underneath.

To avoid muddy watercolor paintings, the paper’s brightness has to be preserved under your paint to “shine through” in the lighter passages of your painting’s design.

You can do this by layering transparent washes, one at a time.

Layering allows you to gage when to stop adding more color. Watercolors are different from opaque paints like oils and acrylics, because you can’t fix a dark color by adding a lighter color. The pigments are sheer, so the dark color underneath dominates any lighter layers you try to cover them with.

Imagine transparent, colored cellophane: If you have a sheet of transparent black, and you tried to lighten it by laying a sheet of transparent pink on top, you’d still have a very dark color. Make sense? Can you picture it?

You can get more control in your watercolors by using watercolor glazing techniques
Watercolor Glazing can give you more control over your watercolors, without making your paintings look strained or over-cooked. 🙂
This full length, real time, narrated demonstration of a watercolor portrait of a house will help you learn how to use Watercolor Glazing Techniques.

Watercolor Glazing Technique Process

When you approach painting a watercolor with the glazing technique, colors are applied in thin, transparent layers, one at a time, letting each one dry before adding another layer.

Note: While an area is drying, you can paint other areas of your watercolor. So, the “pause” to let a passage of color dry doesn’t mean you stop painting altogether. (Staring at the color, humming a tune, waiting for it to look dry….) You simply move here and there on your painting, adding sheer color, and by the time you circle around to the passage you glazed a few minutes ago, it’s dry!

The thin washes of transparent pigment are ‘glazes’ of color, so it’s called Watercolor Glazing. Each additional layer of pigment darkens that passage, and the more layers you add – even in different colors – the darker that area will become. (You’ll see a demo of that in the 4 minute video below.)

These glazed layers will increase saturation, and they’ll help you get more accurate values. Waiting for each layer of added pigment to dry helps create accurate values, because watercolor dries much lighter than it looks when it’s wet. You’ll be able to avoid the challenge of knowing when to stop adding more color, because you’ll see your values as each layer dries.

Watercolor Glazing Technique Demonstration Videos

Here is a brief tutorial video (above) introducing the process to show you watercolor glazing techniques. I use this method frequently, and I find many folks new to watercolor aren’t familiar with it.

The loosey-juicy, spill-it-on-the-paper method of watercolor painting leaves many beginners frustrated with the lack of control. That can be discouraging, and may even push a beginner to move away from watercolor.

But if you try watercolor glazing techniques, you’re really in the driver’s seat. You’ll have less frustration, and more of a slow and deliberate accumulation towards your goals for color and saturation in your watercolor paintings.

watercolor glazing technique on an interior scene with a cat
Reading Chair Summons 9.5 x 12.5 Watercolor, painted in the Watercolor Glazing Technique

Round Up of Watercolor Glazing Technique posts

What have you tried so far in this technique? A portrait, or still life or landscape painting? What did you think?

The tools for watercolor glazing are good brushes, clean water, watercolor paints and watercolor paper
Another benefit to watercolor glazing is that it slows your process. Working with glazing encourages you to work on your painting in sections, while previous passages dry.

Get More Control of Your Watercolors

Controlling your application of watercolor on your paper will build a bridge between your reference photo, and the way your completed painting comes out. If frustration with your final painting sounds familiar, maybe glazing is worth exploring on your next painting project.

The introduction to watercolor glazing video (below) is more in-depth than the demo near the top of this post.

I hope the voiceover in each video demonstration that explains the basic premise of watercolor glazing technique is helpful. You can also watch the video and others like it on my youtube channel here.

Helpful Watercolor Resources for you

Subscribe to this blog to get each new post via email by signing up (it’s free) here.

  • If you’re uncertain about which watercolor paper to buy, I’ve written a three-page watercolor paper introduction. This is something I looked for and never found when I first started painting, so I made one for you. You can download it (free) right here. The primer explains weights of paper, surfaces (hot press, cold press and rough, etc.). How to avoid rippled paper, which manufacturers of watercolor paper are out there, and student vs professional grade papers, etc.
  • Are you having trouble making time to paint? Have a look at this free mini-course. It’s called Six Tips to Painting More Often. Share the link with friends and family who could use a little nudge to get back to their art supplies.
  • Titles for your art – beyond subject based painting titles (example, titling a painting of a red barn ‘The Red Barn’) can be challenging. The viewer already knows it’s a red barn. Imaginative art titles add depth to the art, and help patrons connect to your work. Check out this class: How to Title Your Art. It’s a step-by-step course relaying a solid, works-every-time system, in three flavors. After you’ve completed the course, you can roll out the method that works best for you. Pinky-Promise!
Your watercolor paintings will be closer to your reference material if you build the layers, colors and values slowly.
Starting with the bottom and moving up: you can see the progression of transparent glazing in watercolor. Notice how it slowly builds saturation of and values in the cafe interior.

Watercolor Supplies on the Go

Watercolor is a beautiful medium. It’s also very accessible, in that you don’t need solvents, thinners or canvas mounted to wooden frames in order to paint.

A small travel palette, a block of watercolor paper, a few brushes, a pencil and a shallow cup will all fit in a zippered pouch. You can take it with you on walks, or out in the garden, or to a friend’s house for art-night.

You can travel to far off places with a simple set up like this to practice your newfound skills with watercolor glazing too!

Watercolor Painting Travel Kit
A watercolor sketchbook or watercolor block, a small palette, a few travel brushes, a pencil, a pen and an eraser and a ruler. This is my watercolor travel kit.
Painting watercolor in sheer layers to build values slowly gives you a lot more control
Another example of Watercolor Glazing – starting light and transparent, and building values in layers

Got a Question?

Do you have questions about Watercolor Glazing techniques? Have you ever tried painting with glazes in watercolor? You’re welcome to get in touch if you’re looking for more details that aren’t covered here.

Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post!

Belinda

Watercolor Glazing Technique Demonstration

Watercolor Glazing Technique Demonstration

Yield: Beautiful Watercolor Paintings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 2 hours
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours
Difficulty: Intermediate

Watercolor glazing is a technique in watercolor painting that gives painters – especially beginners – more control. The white of the paper in watercolors is equivalent to a light source, illuminating the pigments from underneath.

To avoid muddy watercolor paintings, the paper’s brightness has to be preserved under your paint to “shine through” in the lighter passages of your painting’s design.

You can do this by layering transparent washes, one at a time.

Layering allows you to gage when to stop adding more color. Watercolors are different from opaque paints like oils and acrylics, because you can’t fix a dark color by adding a lighter color. The pigments are sheer, so the dark color underneath dominates any lighter layers you try to cover them with.

Imagine transparent, colored cellophane: If you have a sheet of transparent black, and you tried to lighten it by laying a sheet of transparent pink on top, you’d still have a very dark color. Make sense? Can you picture it?

Instructions

  1. Prepare your watercolor paper with a light drawing in water-soluble pencil as you normally would. Tape down your paper, or staple, per your preferences.
  2. Review your design in comparison to your reference photo, looking for warm vs cool and dark vs light colors. Think about areas of your design that will benefit from warmer values, and make a "color plan" so you can map where you'll mix and paint warm vs cool hues.
  3. Mix color on your palette in very transparent hues, one at a time, based on the colors you've chosen for your design. Remember the warm vs cool reviews you made note of in your overall design, and lean your mixes in either warm or cool according to the passage you're painting.
  4. With a loaded brush, lay a single, very transparent wash of watercolor in each area of your drawing, using the colors you've chosen. The goal is to get a single, sheer color of pigment on each element of the painting till everything is "marked" for a sheer warm or cool hue.
  5. When the entire design has a single, very transparent veil of varied colors on it, the image will look like each shape in the painting's design has a layer of tinted cellophane over it in that object's respective color.
  6. Start squinting to identify which parts of your design have darker values. Choose two or three of those shapes, and mix appropriate colors for them. Again, load a brush with one of the colors, and paint single strokes, in another transparent layer, on your chosen area. You'll see as that once the pigments dry, they will lighten considerably. While one passage is drying, mix another color, and layer a single veil of watercolor on another area that needs a deeper value.
  7. In the watercolor above, depicting the interior room with windows and a chair - with a cat in the chair... look at the rectangle of sunlight on the floor from the window. In the receding area closest to the window, the sunshine color is very pale. That's a single layer of watercolor. As the rectangle shape moves closer to the viewer, the color gets more saturated. So, each successive passage of that blocked shape has more and more layers of watercolor pigment on it, to create richer and more dense saturation of color. You will do the same layering in your painting, one application of feathery transparent pigment at a time. watercolor glazing technique on an interior scene with a cat
  8. Continue to add sheer layers of color to each shape in your painting design. Take frequent breaks to stand back from your painting - at least 4-6 feet - so you can squint and view your watercolor in progress next to the reference photo, side by side. Compare darkest darks, and lightest lights. Look for mid range values and compare the photo to your painting. From a distance, look for opportunities for a little more saturated color, and ad a layer of pigments where needed. Step back and check again before you add another.

Notes

Note: While an area is drying, you should paint other areas of your watercolor. So, the “pause” to let a passage of color dry doesn’t mean you stop painting altogether. (Staring at the color, humming a tune, waiting for it to look dry….) You simply move here and there on your painting, adding sheer color, one shape at a time. By the time you circle around to add another glaze to the passage you glazed a few minutes ago, it’s dry!

These glazed layers will increase saturation, and they’ll help you get more accurate values. Waiting for each layer of added pigment to dry helps you gage accurate values, because watercolor dries much lighter than it looks when it’s wet. You’ll be able to avoid painting too dark, because you’ll see your values as each layer dries.

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