One of the most satisfying aspects of painting is colour, but why use layering in your paintings if you can use flat colour? Even neutral and subtle colours can be exciting. Most artists have a particular way of using colour that is their preference. For some, it is bright and bold, and for others more subtle. I am a fan of bold colour. But even more than that; I am excited by the depth and subtlety you can get when you give them a little additional complexity.

There are two basic ways to get those wonderful deep, complex colours in a painting. Colour can be mixed (on the palette or the paper), or it can be created through layering. Both painting techniques have benefits and can be used to great effect in different ways. We’ll dive into the subject of colour mixing in the future.

Why use layering in your paintings:

Adding a layer of transparent paint on a piece of art is also known as glazing. The viewer is looking through a transparent layer, as if through a pane of glass. This gives your painting a wonderful new dimension

Layering watercolour creates the impression of depth. Looking through one or more colours to see the layers below can trick the eye into seeing physically different distances between each layer. The artist can play with the viewer’s perception. Layering can create the impression that one shape is in front of, or behind another. 

Beautiful, complex colours appear when you use layering skillfully in your paintings. 

Areas of strong flat colour can be made even more powerful by contrasting them with sections of the painting that have subtle blends of colour. 

The photograph above this post shows areas of wet in wet watercolour where colours have gently merged with each other. I added a layer of Daniel Smith Transparent Pyrrol Orange over Daniel Smith Hematite Burnt Scarlet in only one small area. The shape of the underlying brushstroke shines through the transparent layer, delivering an exciting visual pop.

I am inspired to do more layering in my painting when the first overlay of colour gives this vibration of energy to a watercolour.

Next week I’ll post some thoughts on how to create successful layers in watercolour.

Have a look at the work of David Poxon if you want to admire some masterful layering of watercolour.