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Floating Watercolors into Clear Water

Barbara Nechis demonstrates how she keeps her work fresh and unpredictable by floating watercolors into clear water

Final Watercolor

I developed this method as a result of observing the sometimes fluid interconnection of forms in nature. I apply it in combination with other methods -- as an initial layer, on top of an underpainting, or as part of a many-layered painting. The process is undetectable in the finished painting, so it won't camouflage an artist's personal style. Complete control is not possible, and the occasional spills force creative solutions! Colors merge in differing proportions, ensuring that no two paintings will be alike.

This technique is useful for quickly laying in subject matter on location, linking forms for better design and building up simple layers into complex paintings. It works well with all sorts of subjects such as trees, figures, cities, flowers and abstract shapes.

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1. Load the brush with water and draw a shape, making sure that it is continuous and touches at least one edge of the paper. Fill in the entire shape with water and use as much water as this "trough" will hold without spilling out. Next, drop transparent pigments onto the water surface. With this technique, I paint a continuous group of shapes with a brush loaded with clear water, then touch the water surface with a brush filled with transparent pigment. By carefully tipping the paper back and forth before pouring off the excess liquid, I can depict my subject with clean color mixes.

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2. Tip the paper to allow paints to merge. Refine shapes and pour off excess water. Be sure to extend the water and pigment into pleasing, useful rather than arbitrary forms before dumping the excess liquid.

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3. Dry the paper and watercolors thoroughly, and then begin to build subsequent layers on the painting or complete the painting using your own unique and artistic techniques.

About the Author
Barbara Nechis is a graduate of the University of Rochester with a B.A. in History and Fine Arts and an MS from Alfred University. She was a faculty member of Parsons School of Design for many years and has taught seminars at Pratt Institute, throughout North America and abroad. She has served as a juror and director of the American Watercolor Society. She is the author of Watercolor From the Heart (Watson-Guptill Publications, 1993) and Watercolor the Creative Experience (North Light Books, 1979).

Her work appears in many publications and collections, among them the Butler Institute of American Art, IBM and Citicorp. She maintained a studio in New Rochelle, NY for many years before relocating to the Napa Valley in northern California.


I constantly play with new combinations to keep my work fresh and unpredictable. Transparent pigments merge and float on the water surface better than opaques, so they're more suitable for painting with clear water. My paints are Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors:

These are some of the less traditional colors I keep on my supplemental palette.

Synthetic flat brushes with good edges are preferable for carrying paint to the edge of the water shape. The point of a round brush can break through the water surface and produce annoying dots of color on the paper.

Arches 140 lb. CP, unstretched with sizing intact, is particularly receptive for maximum retention of water in the "trough" you create with your water.