© John Salmon.

Tutorial 2. The Gradated Shape

The object of this exercise is to demonstrate how you can paint complex gradated shapes without using any form of masking.


  • Charger

  • No. 4 ProArte Connoisseur Series 100 Watercolour brush

  • 140lb Bockingford Watercolour Paper

  • Paynes Grey Watercolour Paint pan

  • The Gradated Shape

  • 1. Rinse the brush and wipe on tissue with a twisting action.

  • 2. Root-charge the brush. (Just touch the root of the brush on the charging cradle momentarily with a twisting action).

  • 3. Charge the brush with a little paint direct from the pan.

  • 4. Root-charge the brush.

  • 5. Paint four strokes. I started at the top left of the paper and painted four horizontal strokes working downwards.

  • 6. Root-charge the brush.

  • 7. Paint a further four strokes next to the previous four.

  • 8. Root-charge the brush.

  • 9. Paint a further four strokes next to the previous four.

  • 10. Continue to charge and paint until you are painting with clean water.

  • If you prefer, work downwards rather than across the paper with your paper set at an angle to aid gravity. Adjust the working method to suit your way of working.

    Now, if you were to do the same again but with the brush strokes overlapping, this is what you will get.

    Once again, because the charging process is fast you will have time to take care with the edges, therefore you can be fairly slow and deliberate while painting this. One thing to remember is to re-charge the brush with water before the brush gets too dry otherwise the gradation will not be smooth. If you are still having a problem, work a little bit wetter than you think you need and maybe adjust the angle of your drawing board and paper. After some experimentation it will fall into place.

    At this stage, you may wish to mentally note how much paint you had on your brush and the size of the shape that you ended up with. This will become more important as you make progress because you will need to judge the quantity of paint on your brush when making different sized shapes.

    Also you will need to select an appropriate brush size for the size of shape that you intend to paint. You may need to experiment with the angle of your drawing board and paper to get the best results. I generally work with my drawing board either flat or at approximately 15 degrees. It depends what I am painting at the time but in the end, it's a case of your own personal preference.

    With experience you will be able to gradate virtually any shape using these methods and because you don't have to work lightning fast, you can paint around other shapes and even split a shape that can have two gradations going at the same time. For sky gradations that are larger than 1/8th of full sheet size, I would recommend using the traditional gradation method of diluting the wash between horizontal brush strokes.

    The following examples are all actual size. They were painted on bone dry paper with a No. 4 brush and no masking was used.

    Once you have mastered gradated shapes, you'll be amazed at how they will lift your paintings and give them an extra dimension.