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Ghost Washes

I've often heard stories of people holding failed watercolours under running water to wash the colour off. They then paint over the faint image that's left. Some artists make this part of their usual practice by starting with an overall variegated wash. Trevor Chamberlain calls this a “ghost wash”.

I haven't tried washing a painting off before. If it's that bad I usually just start again on a fresh piece of paper. I had been reading about the ghost wash idea, so I thought I would try it with an old reject. It worked well and I liked the idea of covering the paper and quickly establishing the general colours. It's definitely something that I am going to try a bit more.

I took some photographs while I was working on the painting to show the progress. The colours are a bit off because of the light, but the finished view is fairly accurate.

Stage One
I held the painting under a running tap and gently wiped the paint off with a brush. This was Saunders Waterford Rough paper, which I find retains the pigments more than other papers, so a faint image remained.

Stage One

Stage Two
I re-wetted the sky area and painted the clouds with a mixture of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. As this dried I dropped in a stronger mix of the same colours, with a bit more blue, to give more form to the clouds.

Stage Two

Stage Three
Once the sky had dried I put in the distant hills with French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna and a little Permanent Rose. Some wet-in-wet touches of pure Ultramarine gave a bit more definition.
I continued with the foreground areas, using Raw Sienna alone or with Pthalo Green for the fields. The moorland at the bottom was Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine with a bit of Permanent Rose.
I also put in the roofs with Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.

Stage Three

Final Stage
I finished the painting off with some strong darks, using Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. Some dry-brushing gave a bit of texture to the foreground, The vertical telegraph poles helped to break up the horizontal lines a bit.

"A Hill Farm" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm 


  1. I've never tried this, but after seeing your finished work I'm anxious to do the same! Thanks for sharing!Love the sky

  2. Keith, I find this works particularly well on Arches 140lb CP paper...although of course staining colours such as Winsor Blue leave more ghosting than others. I don't use a brush, just let the water run over the painting and shake it around a bit. I find using a brush really starts to break down the sizing. It's fun with a garden hose when you are painting outside! your painting here turned out well.

    1. A garden hose, Maggie, now that's a way to take out your frustrations on a painting!

  3. HI there Keith... An interesting technique... that seems to have created yet another tool for your already well-stocked transparent water clolour tool box!

    Sure produced that "ghostly" ... atmospheric condition that you thrive on!

    Hose 'em down! A great tip for folks who watercolour!

    Good Painting... and hosing! HA HA!!
    Warmest regards,

    1. Hi Bruce,.......And like any shiny new tool, I'm quite excited about seeing what I can do with it!

      All the best,

  4. A very interesting technique Keith and an excellent end result. ;-)


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