Flat Wash vs Glaze: Can You Tell the Difference?

I had to paint really, really fast in this time-lapse demo to create animals in several different layers of watercolor paint. I used only one technique throughout the entire video. Can you guess what it is?

(I’ll give you a hint, it’s either a flat wash or a glaze.) 


Before I  give you the answer, and explain the difference between a flat wash and a glaze, I want to show you how I set up this project:

How I Made the Animals in the Video

There was a lot of planing before creating this video. Planning is very important before painting a watercolor. You need to know what colors you are going to use, and test them out before hand to make sure you will achieve the desired results.

I don’t usually create a list or a color chart this in depth, but do to the complexity of this project it was extremely helpful before painting the final pieces.

Usually when I paint I use my paint palette to mix colors, but for this project I needed large quantities of colors. So I abandoned my palette above, and mixed all my paint in cups.

I use fresh paint squeezed from the tube, and diluted the paint down with water.

I always make sure to mix the colors thouroughly with the water. You don’t want chunks of paint catching on the tip of your brush.

Lastly, before painting I test my colors. 

I painted the animals directly onto the paper without wetting the paper first. Once an animal was painted I didn’t stop, but continued to paint the entire surface until it was one solid color. 

I would then wait for that layer of paint to dry before creating the next animal.

I must paint fast! I have a very short time to paint these animals before turning them into a new solid layer of color. If I wait to long the face will become a permanent impression on the paper, and show through the next layer. 

So do you know the answer? Did I paint a flat wash or a glaze?

Let’s compare the two:


Flat wash and glaze techniques in watercolor can look an awful lot alike. You need to mix large quantity of paint for both, paint from light to dark when layering, and you also pulled a bead of paint evenly across the paper with a large brush, however, there is one very distinct difference when creating them. When you paint a wash you must pre-wet the paper prior to painting, and a glaze you paint directly onto a dry surface.

So the Answer is: GLAZE! (If you guessed glaze congrats!)

Read on to see how to paint each technique, and the pros and cons of using both in a painting:

How to paint a Flat Wash:

 STEP 1: To create a wash you must first wet the paper. 

STEP 2: Load a large brush with paint, and pull a bead of color across the paper. Continue, row by row dropping the bead of paint down until you get to the bottom. Because the paper is wet the bead of paint tends to run. This is normal!

STEP 3: To even out the wash I tilt the paper in all directions until the paint layer looks even and then set it down to dry.

PRO: The color sits on top of the water giving you a chance to get the paint nice and even to dry without any brush lines.

CON: After a few washes, wetting the paper can get tricky because the water can lift the previous layer up and mix with the current wash you intend to paint.

How to paint a Glaze:

STEP 1: Mix up your paint and then tilt your paper at an angle. 

STEP2: Use a large brush to pull a bead of paint across the paper. After every line re-dip your brush in the paint and then pull another line from the bead of paint left from the previous pull. Try to pull straight smooth lines so that the lines blend together.

STEP 3: Wait for each layer of glaze to dry before attempting to paint another. 

PRO: You can paint many many layers of glaze to achieve a stunning glow of color. 

CON: You only get one chance to get the layer of glaze right. If you try to go back into your glaze to fix a brush mark or a missed spot it will leave a lasting mark. This can be devistatingif you make a mistake on your 10th or 12th layer of glaze!

Normally I would try to paint nice smooth lines, but for this video I painted extremely fast so that the paint did not have time to set into the paper which gave me time to wipe out the animal face, and smooth out the glaze.

This was a fun project to create, but not one I would recommend for a beginner. I do recommend trying to layer glazes in the traditional manner shown above, and see how many layers you can do before they turn to mud or show lines. If you get really good, your can create 50 layers or more!


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