Applying Even Washes

Q.Why am I getting streaks in my washes?

A. It could be many things. Here’s a checklist to help you troubleshoot your problem.

1. Make sure you have a first-rate wash brush. I use an HK Holbein hake brush made out of pure goat hair. There are many inexpensive imitations of this brush that won’t give you a clean, smooth wash, so be careful. If you try to cut corners in your brushes, you may pay for it in the long run.

Here’s another tip to keep in mind when selecting a brush for your washes: Choose a size that corresponds to the size of your paper. The larger the paper, the larger the brush should be. The larger brush will allow you to apply a wash in several clean sweeps.

2. Make sure you use a good paper with plenty of sizing. Otherwise, the water from the washes can remove the sizing and your paper will react like an ink blotter when you go in to paint details. Because I do so many washes, I use a heavy 300-lb. paper.

3. Make sure your paint is thoroughly mixed. Generally, I mix my paint on a white plastic plate using a brush I don’t intend to paint with. If you use your wash brush to mix the paint, little globs of undiluted color may get trapped in the hairs as you mix your wash, and transfer to your paper as specks of color. Unfortunately, you can’t see these globs until they’re already on your paper.

4. Make sure your wash mixes are diluted enough. Too much paint, not enough water, could be the reason your washes are streaky. My rule of thumb is: The thinner the washes, the better.

5. Make sure you apply your washes in a quick, even fashion. Blending in a rapid, crisscross fashion is best. To make sure you can move quickly, and not have to slow down or stop, be sure to have everything at your fingertips before you begin applying the wash. If you have to stop, even for a moment, your last stroke will almost certainly dry and leave a streak.

6. Make sure your paper is evenly wet with clean water before applying your wash. This is the best way I know to prevent streaks. I always wet the entire back of my watercolor paper first with a clean wash brush. The wet paper sticks easily to my Plexiglas work surface, keeping it from buckling or moving around when I apply washes. If a bubble appears, I just pick up the corner of the paper closest to the bubble and rewet the area underneath. Then I gently roll the paper back down, being careful not to touch the middle of the paper, as the oil from my fingers will stay on the paper and my fingerprints will begin to show after many washes.

Once this is done, I flip the paper over and wet the front. I don’t want a sopping wet surface, however. So if this happens, I simply keep washing the water off with my brush until I get a nice glaze of water.

After I’ve applied my washes, I’m careful to wipe underneath the edges of the paper frequently to prevent excess water and paint from seeping back into the paper. After I finish each wash, I pick up the painting by its corners and lay it down on another piece of Plexiglas. Then I keep an eye on it while it’s drying, continuing to wipe the edges of the paper as necessary.

Another easy way to prevent streaks is to make sure your painting is dry before applying additional washes. I put my papers on drying racks with a fan blowing directly on them. Depending on your climate, and the time of year, you may not have to go to such lengths to get your paper to dry.

Catherine Anderson is a Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society and the author of Basic Watercolor Answer Book. Her DVD, Creating Multiple Glazes in Your Watercolors, is available now on her web site

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