Watercolor Techniques

Watercolor Technique Glazing & Layering

The watercolor technique Glazing and layering are very similar processes for painting transparent and semi-transparent watercolor paint in layers, one color over another. What is the difference? The glazing technique is used to create luminous atmospheric effects and for underpainting a foundation for other glazes to be applied over it. Whereas the layering technique uses glazes specifically to build depth and three-dimensional form in stages.

In both the glazing technique and the layering technique, a layer of watercolor is allowed to dry completely before another layer is painted over it.

Watercolor Glazing Technique

Use the watercolor technique wet-on-wet when applying glazes.

The first step is to brush, spray, or sponge a layer of clean water on the paper surface.

Next, mix a sufficient amount of watercolor paint with water to cover the paper surface area intended for glazing. This could be the whole sheet of watercolor paper or just a portion of it.

For a luminous effect, apply a warm color—usually a transparent yellow such as Aureolin – as the first layer. As mentioned above, it is very important to let the layer dry completely before applying the next.

Before applying the next layer of transparent watercolor, rewet the paper surface lightly with water. If working with the same brush, rinse it thoroughly with clean water. Then dip the clean brush in clean water and lightly brush the water over the previous glaze.

What color to use for the next glaze is determined by the underlying glaze color and what the combination of the two (or more) color layers will result in. For instance, adding a transparent layer of blue over a yellow layer results in the color green. A transparent red over a yellow layer results in the color orange. A transparent blue over a red layer results in the color purple. And so forth.

Watercolor Layering Technique

Use the watercolor technique wet-on-dry for applying layers to build depth and form over an underpainting of glaze that can be applied wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry.

First, do a watercolor flat wash of the large, two-dimensional shape of a subject in the painting composition. Then let it dry completely.

Next, in stages, paint the smaller shapes over the large, two-dimensional shape.

Then paint the smaller, descriptive details as the final stage.

As each layer is applied, a three-dimensional shape is revealed.


Use 140 lb cold press archival 100% cotton rag watercolor paper. It is advisable to stretch the watercolor paper first to prevent it from buckling if you plan to cover the paper with a wet-on-wet wash. To avoid stretching the paper, I recommend using a watercolor paper block.

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