A “ghost wash” is a wet-into-wet watercolor wash, laid lightly over the whole surface of the paper as a beginning step to softly establish tones and colors.
For example, I wanted to do a sketch of Jeanette, who was sitting on the sidewalk beside me a couple of weeks ago in Tannersville, New York (upper left).
I did a quick pencil sketch (upper right) on a Winsor & Newton heavy weight casebound sketchbook (6x8 inch).
Then I wet the whole surface with a 1-inch wide brush, moistening everything but the white sketchbook she held in her lap. While it was wet, I ran some watercolor tones into big areas for the shirt, the pants, and the background. All those areas melted together in a mysterious haze. Melting, merging, blurring, blending—are all good. It avoids the “coloring book look.” Sharpness and definition come later.
The ghost wash was light enough that I could easily see the pencil lines. I then proceeded to define the smaller areas with watercolor pencil and brush.
This ghost wash is consistent with the general BLAST rule, which applies to all sorts of painting:
Large to small.
Take your time.
I learned the term from the books of David Curtis, the British watercolor and oil painter.
Note: the sketch was not done from the photo! I just took the photo at the same time I did the sketch.
Light and Mood in Watercolour by David Curtis
A Personal View: Landscapes in Watercolour DVD with David Curtis
David Curtis : A Personal View : The Landscape in Watercolor (Atelier)
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Field Box
Previously: The Blast Rule