Watercolor Techniques

Watercolor Technique Light To Dark

The watercolor technique light-to-dark is the process of applying colors that are light in value, such as transparent watercolors thinned with a sufficient amount of water, on the first layers of a painting.

Each layer is allowed to dry completely before the next layer is applied.

Middle value colors are applied next, followed by darker value colors.

Painting light-to-dark is the basic process for painting in watercolor. Each successive layer of darker color adds more detail to the objects in the composition defining its shape and depth.

Identifying Color Values

Hues on the color wheel are divided into light, middle and dark colors. The top section of the color wheel has light hues. The middle section of the color wheel has middle value hues. And, the bottom section of the color wheel has dark hues. As follows:

Light Value Hue

  • Yellow
  • Yellow-Green
  • Green
  • Yellow-Orange

Middle Value Hues

  • Orange
  • Red-Orange
  • Blue-Green
  • Blue

Dark Value Hues

  • Blue-Purple
  • Purple
  • Red-Purple
  • Red

See What Watercolors To Buy for a list of watercolor paint names for the hues listed above. Each hue also has colors within it that can range from light to dark. For instance, there are very light yellows and darker yellows in watercolor paints. But, yellow in general is the lightest color on the color wheel.


To learn my process and see painting demos, I invite you to signup for my Watercolor Mini-Course. And, join my email list to help improve your painting skills. You can view my artwork on Instagram @vanissajames or by visiting my gallery website: Vanissa James Fine Art.