Project: Transparent and Opaque – Exercise: Tonally Graded Wash


Tonally Graded Wash

Load a medium-sized brush with fluid colour and work from the top to the bottom of the sheet with increasingly dilute mixes of the colour, until, at the bottom of your sheet, you have a very pale wash, almost faded out to white. Practice this several times until a satisfactory progression from deep tones through to the very palest. One or two of the best sheets to be put aside to dry for the next exercise.  

With another colour, close to the original in the spectrum, make another fluid mix and work the graded washes down wet in wet over the original sheet starting at its palest end. You should have several sheets of merged washes.

Tonally graded washes. Oil colour on oil paper.

Tonally graded washes.
Oil colour on oil paper.

This was much harder than I anticipated.  I have never used oil in such a fluid way, rather I use it more or less straight out of the tube.  The course text advised that there is a variety of ways of doing this, I discovered and tried a few. I have done this in water-colour before and the absorption of the paper helps significantly, there is no such aid here.

I tried loading the brush and working my way down adding more thinners to my mix about halfway through and only succeeded in added more colour. Then again by working down with strong colour at the top and dipping in the thinners as I progressed – this only made the paper wetter and the pigment even more tricky to handle, tried again, slightly less thinners – same result. I cheated and tried wiping out the additional pigment at the bottom with a rag and blending back up, sort of worked but not ideal.

Next, I loaded up the trusty brush, worked my way down the sheet until it was running out, dipped in the thinners and carried on till that ran out and repeated.  Best result so far. When I turned the sheet around and added the second colour in the same way, it worked so much better wet in wet. I had a sneaky look at the next exercise and we’re to do the same but on the dried wash – should be interesting – if it ever does dry that it is!

Lessons Learnt

  •  Keep the work surface clean – dilute paint splashes about – avoid cross contamination.
  • Mix washes with a different utensil to that you intend to paint with – avoids a lump of neat colour spoiling the gradation of the wash.
  • Once washes are on – don’t be tempted to go back over and fill in any gaps – this only takes off the paint that’s already there.
  • Appears easier to gain a smoother gradation working wet in wet.


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