When I said we would do glazing today a look of terror passed across the collective class’ face. But glazing is just a layer of thin colour that goes over the top of whatever you have already painted, and because watercolour is transparent the other layers should still shine through.

Nothing tricky or scary!

Why might you want to glaze? Well it can be more controllable than mixing wet-on-wet and it can be more exciting than just mixing the colour on your palette and painting it on. It can be very good for adding warmth to an area or knocking back a colour that is dominant in an otherwise nicely balanced painting. Or if you haven’t got your tones punchy enough it can add some well-needed dark. Done well it should give luminous colour; done badly it can end up flat and muddy…

In other words, it’s another good tool to have in your watercolour box of tricks.

But to glaze well you have to know your paint. All watercolours are transparent, but some are more transparent than other. Test your pigments over a black line. If it shows on the black (cadmium yellow for example) it is opaque. If not, it is transparent. If it shows a little, it is semi opaque. And beware – brands vary. A maker’s colour chart will tell you whether your colour is transparent or not and often it is written on the tube. If you need to use an opaque colour, it makes sense to use it first, with transparent over the top.


Now consider whether it is easy to lift – test your dry paint by rubbing a clean wet brush through it. Do you get back to white paper or not? Browns usually lift easily, so trying to glaze over the top of a colour like that will lead to a muddy mess. If you need to use a lifting colour, use it last….

We tested our pigments and also looked at some lino prints, as the way screen and lino prints are built up is a great way to understand full on glazing.

Swans by Sybil Andrews – lino cut


Glazed watercolour in two colours


Other top tips for glazing:

  • Start with lightest colours (usually yellows)
  • Use transparent / staining colours if possible
  • Start with the most opaque
  • Each layer must be dry before the next (use the back of your hand to feel the paper. If it is cool, then it is still damp).
  • Beware that blasting with a hairdryer can flatten colours – patience!
  • Use a soft brush and a light hand for glazing
  • A light wash of an intense colour is most effective
  • A light wash of a complimentary colour will subdue it without making it muddy (eg red over a strident green)

And take a look at this website, for some great examples. He does up to 50 layers! Now there’s a patient man…


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