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Watercolor Over Glazes

Watercolor over glazes are a useful technique to “tighten up” and simplify a painting. Watercolor over glazes can be applied at any time during the painting process or as a final adjustment to increase color harmony and unity.

Generally the process requires mixing a large puddle of clean, transparent pigment and applying it quickly and thoroughly (leaving no gaps) to a selected portion of the, thoroughly dry, painting.
As soon as the glaze has been applied, a clean damp brush is used to soften and grade out any visible edges of the glaze.

Watercolor over glazes can be a simple, single application or an overlapping series of layered glazes.

The over glazing process is simply a matter of applying an even, transparent glaze to a selected region of the painting and softening any visible edges. Starting with a large puddle of pure, clean pigment is half the battle.

Applying a watercolor overglaze



Here a simple, pale Phthalo Green, over glaze was painted over the water, part of the hull and regions of the background. The over glaze tightened color harmony and reduced contrast in all but the focal area of the painting. (click the side arrows to see the area covered by the over glaze)


A mixture of Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green and a small amount of Permanent Rose was applied in a wide band down the left hand side of this painting. The glaze was carried across the foreground land mass and, in a thin band, up the right hand side.

This over glaze tightened the color harmony and concentrated attention on the focal area of the river.  (click the side arrows to see the area covered by the over glaze)


In this painting an over glaze of cool grey was applied to both sides of the painting. These bands of over glaze compress the contrast at either side of the painting, giving more impact to the focal area.  (click the side arrows to see the area covered by the over glaze)


Make sure your painting is thoroughly dry before applying the glaze. Watercolor sets as it dries out - if the over glaze goes on too early it will disturb the painting underneath.

Don't be too vigorous with your application of the over glaze. Mix plenty of paint then apply it with a minimum of soft gentle strokes. Once the required area is completely and evenly covered, quickly wash out your brush in clean water, dry it slightly then run it along the edge of the glaze to soften it.

A soft Hake brush can be used to soften and even out the glaze if necessary.
The best brush is the one you generally use for washes. Mops are good Large flat Taklons work well as do long haired soft bristle brushes.

This painting had a watercolor over glaze of Phthalo Green applied to the bottom and both sides, leaving contrast in the focal area. A final over glaze of Phthalo Blue was applied to the top right hand corner to add variety. (click the side arrows to see the area covered by the over glaze)

An over glaze of blue/violet (mixed from Phthalo Blue and Permanent Rose) was painted across the water and half way up either side of this painting. This not only helps tie the buildings to the water, but also allows the focal area of the buildings to dominate.

After everything was thoroughly dry, an over glaze of Permanent Rose was applied to the top region of sky and down either side.
Again, this over glaze was allowed to dry thoroughly before a Gesso over glaze was applied to the sky and left hand corner.

This layering of glazes builds up the soft, dreamy atmosphere of early morning Venice.

(click the side arrows to see the area covered by the over glaze)

In this example a Phthalo Green/Phthalo Blue mixture was used to over glaze the foreground water and part of the buildings at either side, tying the water to the rest of the painting.

An over glaze of Gesso was applied to the area at the top of the painting where the violet would eventually go. This over glaze served to reduce detail and put light into that area. After everything had dried out thoroughly, an over glaze of violet mixed from Permanent Rose and Cobalt Blue was placed over the Gesso.

The final over glaze was an opaque white gouache into the pale area of the sky.
The final job was to reinstate some of the detail lost to the Gesso. This was done simply with a charcoal pencil.

(click the side arrows to see the area covered by the over glaze)




Watercolor over glazing takes a certain amount of confidence, particularly towards the end of a painting where everything is starting to look finished. It is a technique that is well worth pursuing, it can make a huge difference to the unity of a painting.
Watercolor over glazes can be soft and subtle or very strong and dramatic depending on the effect you are trying to create.

Here are a few points to remember

° Be sure your painting is thoroughly dry.
° Work quickly and gently.
° Use a clean Damp brush to soften the edges.
° It is safer to be too pale rather than go in too heavy.

Author: John Lovett

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