How to Paint the Perfect Flat Wash (Tip#07)


When I was first learning watercolor, the most difficult wash to achieve for me was a super sleek flat wash (or a layer of color that was solid from start to finish.)  Now, after some years of experience under my belt, I’ve learned the ways of painting the perfect flat wash every time – and I’m sharing them with you today.   So, here we go…

When painting a flat wash – there are really 3 things you need to consider…


Ratio stands for the paint to water consistency you have as well as the amount of paint you create.  If you are doing a larger flat wash – you will want to create a larger paint mixture in your palette.   

When painting a flat wash, a big NO NO is stopping mid-way to mix more paint.  Time is crucial when laying down the perfect flat wash as you will see in a moment. 


Tilt refers to the tilt of your board.  If you have ever wondered why watercolor artist stretch or tape down their watercolor paper – this is the reason especially when working with a super watery mixture. 

By tilting your board just slightly, it allows gravity to work with you and pull the paint downward in a more controlled motion. 

One thing we DO NOT WANT is our paint puddling in random areas on the page.  Those puddles create those random textures that while pretty are undesirable when painting a flat wash. 


And this brings us to our final category, the bead.  When talking about the bead of a wash, this refers to the little droplet you are pushing around on the paper.  This droplet, or bead, is the key to moving your paint around easily and seamlessness.  Your goal, while painting a flat wash is to move the bead downward in a left to right or right to left motion without allowing it to become to large or to small in the process. 

If your bead is too large – it may potential drip down your paper causing an unwanted line of color.   

But what if the bead is too small?  Well, this is where our crucial watercolor secret come in… Well, not entirely – but I wish someone had told me this when I was starting watercolor. 

While you are painting, you are going to run out of paint in your brush and need to place more paint on the page.   Where you should place this new paint in order to create a smooth transition is in the bead.  However, if you bead is to small, you may get a watery texture or a transition from lighter to deeper colors – which is exactly what we don’t want in a flat wash. 

Thus learning how to keep that bead at precisely the right size is crucial when learning to control your watercolor.

Once you’ve practice this technique try playing around with different shapes other than the ordinary rectangle form.  This is great for practicing but in all honestly you rarely paint a rectangle block in an illustration.  Learning how to manipulate shapes with this technique is gonna be your next priority. 


That’s all for this lesson, as always ya’ll it’s been a pleasure and I will see you next time.

About Author

Hi there! My name is Carrie and I'm a Watercolor Misfit! What's a Watercolor Misfit? Well, anyone who is willing to try new things and not afraid to get their hands covered in paint! So what do you say, are you a Misfit-ian?


  • Carina
    June 29, 2017 at 4:43 am

    Thank you for creating this series. It’s been really helpful! One question I have after trying this out: How much does paint/paper quality affect your ability to get a really flat wash? I am using the Cotman series and noticed that my wash done in Cadmium Yellow Hue had a much nicer finish than the one I did in Prussian Blue. I’m really new at this, so it could be that I just had a better paint-water ratio in the yellow one. But I wondered if paint quality might have an effect as well…

    Thanks again for putting together such an informative series! I can’t wait to see the next 20 videos. :)

    • Misfit
      July 3, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      Hi Carina! Great question! :D As you play around with your watercolors – you will notice your darker colors will take a bit more effort when applying a flat wash. This is because they are darker (more pigmenting) and easier to see flaws in the paper, paint, and/or your paint ratio. If you are using student grade paint – you may see specs in the wash – this is the filler that is used to hold the paint together (basically the glue). If the wash appears streaky – it could be your ratio is off. However, if you paper is starting to warp or tear with little bits of white- it could be a paper problem and/or a ratio problem. I’ve heard Cotman series is a good brand of paper – but never tried it. I hope that helps and thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoy the series :D

  • Sarah R.
    March 2, 2019 at 10:12 pm

    Aha, the bead! I couldn’t figure out why my washes weren’t coming out like the ones in the painting book I was referencing…so I googled…and your comments about the bead told me just what I needed to know. What a difference! Thanks!


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