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color and tone, but its edge quality 
will always be soft. It’s critical that 
the i rst wash areas that are to remain 
untouched be applied in the right 
strength and tone. Meanwhile, areas 
that are to receive a second wash—
usually because they’re darker in 
tone—should be painted as strong
as possible at this stage.
SECOND WASHES
After the i rst wash is completely dry,
I paint the darker areas with second 
washes. I place them next to the lighter 
areas that I wish to leave in the tone of 
the i rst wash, and their job is to pro-
vide edges and make the i rst wash 
stand out. I sometimes pre-dampen 
the paper in areas for a soft edge. 
I don’t always paint actual objects with 
these second washes, but instead try
to join areas into bigger shapes; this 
makes the painting less busy. 
I use an acronym—BTEC—before
I place a second wash, because it helps 
me clarify my intent:
B—Brushwork: Where should
I start the wash? How will I travel 
through its shape?
T—Tone: What depth of tone will 
the wash be? Will it vary?
E—Edge: Will the wash be hard-
edged, or will I need to soften certain 
edges?
C—Color: What color is the wash? 
Will the color vary?
Whether I’m working en plein air 
or in the studio, this approach makes 
things easier to evaluate. 
DETAIL WASHES
To call these “washes” is really a mis-
nomer, as this third stage usually 
consists of details and accents such as 
a window or i gure. Even in this stage, 
though, I try not to paint the whole 
shape as a hard-edged “cutout.”
Sometimes, however, I’ll glaze over 
an area that’s too light or that doesn’t 
contain strong enough color. I ensure 
that the paper is absolutely dry before 
ArtistsNetwork.com 63
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Seeing the 
World in 
Washes
Working from life can be seen as 
turning the real world into washes. 
In the real world, a scene consists of 
many hundreds of thousands of 
individual objects, and we must 
combine them into shapes, which
we then paint with as few washes
as possible.
I usually try to combine distant 
shapes with shapes that I want to 
appear more quiet in the painting,
so these areas will be connected. 
Meanwhile, the focal point—which 
should be eye-catching—will have 
more. This is in tune with how we 
actually view things instead of the 
hyper-analyzed study we make when 
we paint an area. When painting, we 
become more aware of details than 
we would be if we were viewing them 
in the context of the whole vista.
I often squint at a scene and won’t 
start painting until I’ve worked out a 
basic plan for how the washes may fi t 
together. I seek out the lightest areas 
and make a mental note that these 
must be placed at their full strength
in the fi rst overall wash, while hinting 
at the darks. I take some time to 
appraise the mid-ground, because 
this is often the busiest area, wash-
wise, and I need to get as much fi rst 
wash applied as possible. 
If I’m on form, this planning will be 
complete by the time I’ve set up my 
painting gear, and then I’m eagerly 
away, starting to paint. At other 
times, I’ll stand or sit patiently, 
waiting for a solution to arrive. 
Sometimes the rain or an angry 
farmer will arrive sooner, and the 
hunt is over before it has begun.
Generally, the whole process takes 
about 90 minutes. Any longer, and 
the sun will have traveled too far in 
the sky, or the weather will have 
changed, and the “feel” of the scene 
will be gone. On very flat days, more 
time could be spent, but personally,
I think that this leads to overworking, 
and the energy that’s so important in 
outdoor painting is lost.
I do this, because the risk of lifting and 
muddying the second wash is a fright-
ening prospect this late in the process.
We should always follow the “big 
shapes i rst” principle when painting. 
If these shapes work, then they’ll set 
the atmosphere, and adding the details 
will be like icing a well-made cake.
TOP
The painting after the fi rst wash. 
ABOVE
Cottage Corner (watercolor on 
paper, 9x6), with second and 
detail washes added.
64 Watercolor artist | OCTOBER 2018
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The Sketch
Creating this sketch of a Tuscan village allows 
me to plan the painting. It’s a composite sketch; 
the olive trees were actually located on the 
other side of the road, but I moved them in front 
of the village to replace the bare earth.
The Second Wash, 
Part 1
Once the paper is completely dry, I apply the second 
washes. Because they’re being placed on dry paper, 
a bead of color is necessary. My priorities at this time 
are to get the correct tone and color of each second 
wash right the first time, thus avoiding corrections 
involving a third wash. If it’s impossible to avoid 
placing a second wash next to another second wash, 
I make the tone of each as different as possible. 
Next, I add distant shapes behind the roofs. The 
purpose of this shape is to show the light on the 
roofs. After this wash is dry, I work a second wash 
over the tower and run it down through the building 
walls. Its purpose is to show the light on the roofs 
and the light tops of the trees.
The First Wash
I begin by dampening the paper and putting in a “ghost 
wash” from top to bottom. The shapes don’t run wild; 
they’re placed using paint that varies in viscosity from 
medium to rich. With the exception of the sky, I never 
use paint that’s so thin that it would form a bead if it 
were placed on dry paper. I require stronger, richer 
marks for the land shapes; thin, watery paint will never 
achieve this. I apply paint using thicker consistencies 
toward the bottom of the paper to bring this area 
forward and to establish an illusion of aerial recession. 
I complete this within the drying time of the paper.
ArtistsNetwork.com 65
The Detail Wash
With the atmosphere of the scene established
via the big washes, I make these shapes more
“readable” and interesting by adding detail
such as cypress trees, chimneys and posts.
They add to the richness of Tuscan Village
(watercolor on paper, 10x14). WA
This text is excerpted 
with permission from 
Pure Watercolour 
Painting (Search 
Press, 2018) by Peter 
Cronin. Available at 
searchpressusa.com 
or from your favorite 
bookseller.
The Second Wash, 
Part 2
Once the paper is dry, I dampen the 
treetops with clean water and then place
a second wash over the trees. This makes 
the area appear to drift back to the first 
wash before it reaches the treetops. This is 
how I get light rims around the treetops. 
Peter Cronin (petercronin.org) is a South Wales-based artist 
who works in watercolor and oil. He’s a member of h e Royal 
Society of Marine Artists, the Royal Watercolour Society
of Wales and the Pure Watercolour Society.
66 Watercolor artist | OCTOBER 2018
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Iain Stewart
I’d have to say the Library in the 
Glasgow School of Art designed 
by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 
This building is close to my heart 
as a Glaswegian and as a lover 
of the Art Nouveau movement. 
A visit to the school was always 
a part of any time I spent in 
Glasgow, and I’ve sketched the 
building many times. Sadly, the 
library and its contents—
collections, furniture, paintings 
and murals—were destroyed in 
a 2014 fire. It’s a great loss, and 
I wept when I heard the news. 
Though the firefighters were able 
to save 90 percent of the building 
and some of the contents—bits of 
light fixtures, some of the rare 
books, a few collections, parts of 
the main clock—the true treasure 
was lost. Although a renovation 
has begun, it, too, suffered a fire 
this past summer. This just 
reminds me: Never