Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ghost Wash

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:
Big brushes.
Large to small.
Accents last.
Soften edges.
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


Tom Hart said...

This is another fantastic tip from the Gurney Vault!!

I've stumbled upon a similar technique by pushing a general toning wash to various depths of tone, consistent with the image. But this is a great idea - to use several base colors, not just one.

Thanks, as always, James for generously sharing your knowledge!

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Tom. Yes, David Curtis usually sets up on his watercolor palette pools of blue, yellow ochre, and a red, and lets all three blend around very loosely. The big soft color gradations really whet the appetite to dive into the painting further.

Vicki Holdwick said...

Wonderful! Thanks for the reminder about BLAST. I'd read it before and thought I'd put in my memory bank, but have forgotten about it.

Love your work,


John Fleck said...

Good tip! I need to pick up a David Curtis book from our local library. I have just dipped my toe into watercolors as of late (coming to them via water-soluble colored pencils).

Also love the term "mysterious haze."

Jason Peck said...

Great idea, I'm gonna give this a try.

MCGuilmet said...

Very cool. Will try a ghost wash, thanks.

Tom Hart said...

Hi again, James -

Between the middle and last sequence WIP shots, you pulled out some of the tone(e.g. just under her seat and above her thighs), or did you deepen the adjacent tones (like the pants)? Just wondrin'...

James Gurney said...

Tom, that may just be an exposure thing. The ghost wash may look darker than it really was. I didn't do any lifting.

Tom Hart said...

Thanks James. As I look again, I think it's a combination of the exposure thing you mention, plus the trick that adjacent tones can play on the eyes.

Unknown said...

That's really a great tip. I should work more wet to wet, too. But it is also nice to read, that I am on a good way. Because I try to work after the B.L.A.S.T. rule in my own works. It is always a pleasure to read through your blog. :)

Thank you very much, Sara

Unknown said...

An inspiring blog