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Glazing and Drybrush make a powerful combination

watercolor 11" x 15" (27.94 x 38.10cm)


watercolor 11″ x 15″ (27.94 x 38.10cm)

I get a lot of comments about glazing techniques in watercolor.  From time to time I run across people who are confused or don’t really understand that glazing isn’t a straitjacket.  You don’t have to commit yourself to layers and layers of tedious drudge work. You can, if that is what you think your concept needs.  However, there is no law somewhere that says you have to do it a certain way.  There is ONE rule.  It is very simple, MAKE SURE the previous wash is dry before you apply another layer.  Even that rule has flexibility.  You can charge another color into a wet passage if you desire a particular effect.  As a general rule, however, make sure the paper is dry.  In that way you can be assured of a clean sparkling wash.

Let the white paper work for you

In this little watercolor I made use of the pure white paper to satisfy some highlight areas. My subject was in strong sunlight and with her fair skin the reserving of the white paper was a natural solution.   The execution was straight forward using a limited range of colors.

Paper : 140 lb. cold press …D’Arches

Paints: M. Graham Indian Yellow,  Winsor Blue and Winsor Red

This painting was done before I discovered the virtue of Perylene Maroon.  If I were painting it today I might find myself using it in conjunction with or instead of Winsor Red.  As it stands however,  I modified the red with blue in order to achieve the maroon effect.


The actual painting was executed fairly rapidly.  A pale under wash of Indian Yellow was applied to the shadow side of the nose and cheek with the strongest mixture in the hair. Since I wanted the effect of sunlight to dominate the painting I made sure that key areas of light were left in the form of shapes. As you look at the piece you should be able to see the shapes, not only in the face but in the hair.

In my opinion it is the linkage between those shapes that help form the structure of the image and contribute to the idea that sunlight is beaming down, burning out the color.  We see these effects every sunny day. Why not attempt to capture the effect?

The washes in the face are simple, just an under layer of Indian Yellow followed by a wash of Winsor Red and blue.


The skin is fair and smooth and soft washes help to convey that feeling. The hair is silky and dry brush  helps to create the sense of hair. The yellow under wash helps to provide warmth and light in key areas of highlight.  If you study the hair closely you should be able to see the areas on the crown of the head   where blue helps to convey a sense of reflected light. The dry brushing started at the top of the head and follows a natural path to the tips of the hair. If you are not familiar with dry brush think of it as more paint than moisture in your brush. Practice, at first, on scrap paper.  Squeeze out the excess water from your brush, then swirl the brush  onto your palette. With a little practice you will get the hang of it.


It is easy to get caught up in detail and often lose the sense of the subject. Hopefully, the hair is believable as you view it. However, it may not necessarily be a perfect rendition of the actual hair.  The color is very close, almost perfect in fact. However, the arrangement of the hair has been ordered or simplified into major shapes so that the effect is achieved. One could say that a symbol has been created. Very often this is what we do in the quest to convey a concept.

Closing Comment

I’ve been painting for a lot of years and I have used a lot of different brands of materials. Many are still old favorites.  Every once and a while something special comes along.  In the area of brushes I have spent a LOT of money and still have brushes I purchased over 30 years ago! I really never thought I would ever find a brush that would surpass my Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky sables.  Well,  I still love my Winsor  & Newton brushes but Mary Whyte has developed a brush that is really spectacular.  You have to use it to believe it. It has a longer handle and a different balance. It carries more water but will snap down to a needle point in an instant. You can buy it at ArtExpress.  I bought one and I am delighted that I did.

One very important point; I have no monetary interest in promoting Mary’s brushes, book or videos. However, if you have not seen her work, treat yourself to some magnificent watercolors.

You can find more tutorials of Don Rankin’s work  in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I, by Dr. Don Rankin  at

Quinacridone Colors and watercolor glazing techniques/painting for effect

Do pigment types make a difference?

If you look at the beginning of my page you will see two watercolors. The top piece is entitled Young Warrior.  It was painted on 300lb. Lana cold press watercolor paper. The image measures approximately 19″ x 23″,  This piece was painted largely with quinacridone colors. American Journey Indian Yellow, Copper Kettle, Pomegranate, Old Sienna, as well as Winsor Violet and Winsor blue to be precise.  Painting number 2 is entitled Dragging Canoe*. It was painted on 300 lb.cold press Lana watercolor paper as well and measures approximately 24″ x 18″. As you examine the two pieces you will see a difference in appearance of color. There are several reasons for that difference. As stated Young Warrior was painted using quinacridone colors almost exclusively.  Dragging Canoe was painted using pigments like new gamboge, winsor red and winsor blue. When you compare the two pieces there is a definite difference. Certainly the age of the subjects, the lighting and setting are different. The two pieces were painted several years apart. Considering all that, it is logical that there would be differences. Now look a little closer. The Young Warrior’s color is a bit lighter and perhaps a bit brighter.  The older man is portrayed with colors that seem to have more body. Perhaps the proper terminology is to suggest that the first painting has a higher key in its color range.  Considering that there was a physical age difference I think the switch in pigment types was helpful. The younger man appears to be almost innocent, somewhat fresher than the older warrior who had experienced a lot more.

Both paintings are transparent with no opaque colors. Both paintings were glazed in sequence over a fairly well defined under painting.  Dragging Canoe has a blue under painting, Young Warrior has a lot of violet,. One piece appears to have more substance to its color. At least, I get that feel as I look at them. In this comparison I am trying to point out that your choice of pigment types can make a difference in the mood and effect of your painting.

Some readers who scan pictures and read less have often assumed that I use a large number of colors in a painting. Not true.  While it is true that I have a large reserve of paints, I learned long ago that too many colors at one time can spoil the effect.  Personally I seek harmony in my work and I love working with a limited palette. Working with complements as well as analogous color schemes have their place and can produce incredible results . Strive to learn about color and its relationship to one another. Color is like a community. We all know individuals who behave in a different manner depending upon their neighbors or close associates. Well, color behaves in the same way. Explore. Try different combinations and see what happens.  Sure, you win a few and you may lose quite a few but the destination is well worth the journey.

* Dragging Canoe  is featured  Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I  Dragging Canoe by Dr, Don Rankin available at

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