How to Use Three Watercolor Washes in One Illustration - Video

Posted by Erika Barriga on Jul 24th 2017

When I started watercolor painting, I learned about different washes. However, it took me awhile to understand how to apply these traditional washes to my illustration style. I’ll walk you through a bit of my process today and show you how I use three different watercolor washes in one illustration.

With this mermaid girl I loved her wavy textured afro puff pigtails. I wanted a soft look with different values. I used wet into wet by laying down some clear water in the hair areas.Then I mixed my hair color (blue and brown) to get a dark value. I put the dark value mix down on the edges of the hair and since the paper is already wet, the result is very soft and diffused. Leaving areas of light and dark has beautiful results with wet into wet.

On the tail, I mixed different colors on the dry paper.Color mixing on paper really lets the colors come through and the possibilities are endless.So many blues, greens, blue-greens, dashes of yellow, etc were in my mix. In areas where I wanted a lighter value, I pulled the colors out with clear water on my brush. Leaving areas of white is a bonus for highlights and extra small details. Working quickly is key so you don’t get any dry “ridges” or lines in your subject.This technique is a combination of wet into wet on dry paper as well as a gradient wash.To top it off I added some salt for a sparkle effect.

Lastly, for the fin I painted a flat wash.My focus of the painting wasn’t on the tail especially so I just wanted to add color but not have too much going on. Flat washes are great for just laying down basic colors. When it was dry, I add a bit more paint to give it a little bit more dimension.

The ZEM brushes that I recommend for these washes are the 9745 Golden Synthetic Long Filbert brushes. I work small that the moment so a size 6 is great.

The way you use the different washes in your work contributes to your style and the discovery is one of my favorite things about painting with watercolor.

ZEM Brush Ambassador Erika Barriga is a freelance watercolor illustrator. Her beautiful pieces are whimsical and playful, perfect for kids and kids at heart. She has given us a little peek behind the scenes at her process, from pencil drawing to the final illustration. Her favorite ZEM brush is the no. 4 2400 Golden Taklon Cat's Tongue brush. Find more of her work at and in her Etsy shop.