Learn how to Paint a Watercolor Gradient and Graded Washes in 3 straightforward Steps

How to paint a watercolor gradient

If you want to learn how to paint a watercolor gradient, two approaches have proven to be effective. Which one you choose is a matter of your personal preference. The terms watercolor gradient and graded wash refer to the same painting technique.

Get familiar with different types of gradients

  • Single-layer color gradient
  • Multi-layer color transition

For this tutorial, we have decided to use a multi-layered watercolor gradient.

The advantage of this is that we have the highest control over the result, as we gradually increase the color intensity. The disadvantage is that this procedure takes longer because we let the paint dry after each layer before we put another layer with higher pigment to water ratio on top.

The dried layers of watercolors are “activated” again with each additional layer, as the dry pigment is water-soluble. In this way, we can create a color gradient without visible edges.

Two to three layers are perfect for achieving a strong transition.

The alternative is a transition that begins with a powerful color mixture with a high pigment to water ratio. After the first brushstroke, the mixture is then gradually diluted with water. After each dilution, another brush stroke is applied directly adjacent until the entire surface is covered.

You can find detailed instructions for this procedure here.

How to draw a watercolor gradient: Step by step instructions

Step 1

First of all, we covered two areas on the painting paper with masking tape. After the gradient is complete, we can remove the masking tape, and a beautiful surface with clean edges remains. This way, we can best concentrate on the gradient and not worry so much about painting over the edges.

Masking Tape

Step 2

We paint a monochrome gradient from the most intense to the very faint part. In our instructions, we use a mix of approximately 1/3 paint and 2/3 water as the first layer. For an even transition, we start applying the paint to the upper third of the surface.

How to paint a watercolor gradient 1

Then we wash the brush thoroughly until there are no more paint residues in the bristles. Now dip the clean brush in plenty of water to spread the paint from the painted third over the entire surface.

How to paint a watercolor gradient 2

We repeat the same procedure on another area of painting paper in a different color.

Here we paint the gradient in the opposite direction. The most intense part of the paint is at the bottom; towards the top, the gradient becomes weaker.

How to paint a watercolor gradient 3
How to paint a watercolor gradient 4

Step 3 in how to paint a watercolor gradient

We now let the wet paint dry completely while we prepare the paints for the second layer. The paint to water ratio is increased. Apart from that, we repeat the exact procedure from step 2.

That means: The strongest color mixture is placed at the beginning of the watercolor gradient and then blended with a brush moistened with water.

How to paint a watercolor gradient 5

Afterward, the watercolor gradient is allowed to dry to be able to assess whether further layers are needed. In our case, the gradient is bold enough – an additional layer of paint is not necessary.

How to paint a watercolor gradient 6

Now only the masking tape needs to be removed to reveal the full beauty of the gradients. Then you can keep the strips to create a library of different shades or use them in other projects. It is particularly easy to create a bookmark from one of the gradients.

How to paint a watercolor gradient
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