Dark and wet, dry and light

This is no news for you if you have painted watercolor before. But watercolor dry lighter. It is frustrating when you think you got the right color and value on the palette, and when you first put that paint down on the paper, but to find out later that it is too light when the paint dry. There’s no way to avoid it, that’s the nature of watercolor, or shall we say physics.

Same intensity of Neutral Tint. Wet vs Dry.

Same intensity of Neutral Tint. Wet vs Dry.

 I am not a physicist, but I know things look darker when it’s wet. When there’s water on top, the light transmits through and got absorb instead of bounce back. When the paint is dry, it becomes a matte surface just like the paper. The light bounces off the paint and paper so it looks much lighter. In this image, you will see the difference between the wet paint and the dry paint. They are both the same intensity, but the dry paint looks much lighter. The pigment itself didn’t change, but light reacts differently.

 So with all that scientific theory in mind, I have a few tips for you:

  1. More water, dry lighter - Keep in mind the more water your mixture is, the lighter it will be when it’s dry. That’s why when you do that watery first wash, it fades into almost nothing when it’s dry. And when you do those final touches with almost straight out of tube paint, the value doesn’t change as much. If your mixture and wash is very wet, keep in mind that it will dry a lot lighter.
  2. Pigment property - Not all paints are the same. Some colors are “staining” and some paints are truly transparent. Color such as Cobalt Blue is transparent, and most cadmium colors are staining. It is good to know what paint on your palette is staining and what is not. However, I tend not to over think about it. If you work properly from light to dark. Usually it won’t matter as much.
  3. Glazing - Glazing is the only thing that’s available for you when you have a wash that’s too light. As long as you wait for it to dry completely before you do the glaze, you can keep your painting clean and able to intensify it.

 Get familiar with how the paint looks when it is wet and dry. Keep in mind it is ok to have a lighter painting to start off with! The beauty of the watercolor is its translucent quality. If you want it to be opaque everywhere, you might as well paint with gouache or oil. If the paint is really too light. You can always glaze it over.