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Arnold Lowrey, controlling the water

Watercolors Painting

Arnold Lowrey is a well known international artist and great watercolourist both painting and teaching.

Angle - Arnold Lowrey

Angle - Arnold Lowrey

Reflections in a wood - Arnold Lowrey

Reflections in a wood - Arnold Lowrey

Today we have the pleasure to present Arnold, and the in depth watercolour article he sent us Controlling the Water! Enjoy it and learn with Arnold explanations

First of all some facts about Arnold Lowrey

Approaching storm - Arnold Lowrey

Approaching storm - Arnold Lowrey

The first part of his life he was an electrical engineer but became interested in art about forty years ago. He moved through acrylic, soft pastels and oils but always comes back to his love of watercolours.

On retiring from his first profession, 20 years ago, he became a professional painter. Since that time he has written four books and made over 20 DVDs on watercolour, acrylics and pastels.

Painting in all media and he has run workshops and painting holidays in Portugal, Switzerland  and Texas, USA as well as many parts of the UK and the cruise liners.

He has exhibited in the Royal Institute of Painters in watercolour in London UK

The love of the luminosity of watercolour attracts him but he is not afraid to add gouache where it is needed. He also likes to paint in high intensity colours using little water

Many of his paintings are created by adding colour into wet paper to retain the luminosity as long as possible and often uses razor blades to scrape out the light edges

Many of his paintings can be seen in the photo albums of his Facebook page

He has a website and a web shop where he sells his demonstration paintings

Boats of brilliance - Arnold Lowrey

Boats of brilliance - Arnold Lowrey

And now his article

Arnold Lowrey


I see so many watercolours fail because artists have not come to grips with the control of water in their paintings.

Many books on watercolour concentrate more on pretty pictures and the materials used, rather than tackle this subject, wich is vita for success.

Most watercolours fail because too much water is used and the results are a “wishy-washy” mess.

So, let’s come to grips with this important subject.

The question you mus always ask is “Where is the water? – Is it in the brush, the palette or on the paper?”

If you have lots of water in y0ur brush and water on the paper, the result is two lots of water combining and flooding everywhere out of control.

To have full control of water, you must have a palette with a flat mixing area that does not collect unwanted water. It is also advantageous to have one with open-ended colour wells.

So here are the five most important ways of water control, they are

Dry on dry

Wet on dry

Wet on wet

Dry on wet

The half loaded brush

Dry on dry

This is where the paper is dry and all the water is squeezed out of your brush, so that when you pick up paint and paint it on the paper, virtually no water is involved and the result is a scumbling mark
(No water on the paper and virtually no water in the brush)
dry on dry Arnold Lowrey

dry on dry

Wet on dry

If you load you brush with wet paint and paint on dry paper, an area is produced which is soft and flowing in the middle but with hard edges
(No water on the paper and water in the brush)
wet on dry Arnold Lowrey

wet on dry

Wet on wet

When the paper is wet and the brush is fully loaded with wet paint, the result is two lots of water on the paper. Consequently, the paper can’t handle this amount and the paint pigment flows on the surface. Tipping the paper will allow the pigment to flow around creating a lot of interesting shapes but accurate control is missing. Useful for backgrounds but you are relying on “happy accidents” to produce any meaningful shapes.
wet on wet Arnold Lowrey

wet on wet

Dry into Wet

To paint an area of paper using “wet on dry” above, squeeze all the water out of your brush, then you are able to lift the paint off the paper with it. This is because you are using a “thirsty brush” i.e. there is less water in your brush than is on the paper. The water travels from the paper back into the brush leaving an area of paper dryer than that surrounding it. (This is the same effect as wringing out a sponge and soaking water out of a puddle.)
If you now repeat this, but having squeezed all the water out of your brush, you pick up some neat pigment (no water!) and paint it into the wet, you will find that you can place it accurately without it flowing all over the place. Water has, again, travelled back into your brush so that the new painted area is dryer than its surroundings.
Watch how the wet area tries to attack the dryer area and softens the edges. This is ideal for those soft-edged misty trees in the background of your landscapes or soft reflections.
To lighten the tonal value of the added colour, drag out some of the pigment from your brush onto a dry piece of paper before applying. This will ensure the brush stays “thirsty”.
(Paper wet but virtually no water in the brush)
dry into wet Arnold Lowrey

dry into wet

The half loaded brush – mingling

Dry into wet techniques tend to replace the existing paint with the new, so if you wish to create an area (say skies) by accurately painting into another whilst the paper is still wet, this method is the only way it can be done under control.
Mix you first colour with water (on a flat palette) to a suitable tonal value. Paint this first colour on the surface wet on dry.
Clean you palette and repeat this with the next colour. If necessary thin the colour with water so that tonal value is near the first colour), However, before you pick up the paint, squeeze out your brush, then pick up the wet paint with one sweep only. The brush loads from one side of you brush and is half loaded.
This allows you to paint the new colour into the wet area without it flowing all over the place. You have total control. This action can be repeated as many times as you like as long as you keep the paper wet. All the different pigments mingle down to one layer and you keep the resulting luminosity.
mingling Arnold Lowrey


What about “Cauliflowers” (back runs)?

These are caused by painting wet paint into half dry areas. The water in the new paint leaches into the old causing strange light shapes.
This often happens accidentally when water drips off your brush into a newly painted area which is “damp dry”. Do not, ever, try to paint this out while it is still wet – you only feed the cauliflower with more water and it gets worse.
Here you can see where a drop of water accidentally was dropped into an area of half dry paint.
cauliflowers Arnold Lowrey


Glazing or Mingling?


The traditional watercolour techniques, which are so often taught, create a series on glazes, (wet on dry), allowing each one to dry before the next is applied. Each new glaze stacks on top of the next, making the thickness of the overall paint greater.
This method can produce some effective results.
However, the down side is that every time you paint on a new glaze of colour you reduced the luminosity of the painting, as light, which creates the luminosity, has to travel though these layers and reflect back off the paper.
glazing Arnold Lowrey


Notice that the shadow glaze has been painted over the windows. This unifies it. If the windows had been painted in afterwards they would have a “stuck on” effect.


Mingling is achieved by using the dry into wet or half loaded brush techniques, above. Painting into wet areas allows the pigments to settle on one level instead of stacking one above the other. Luminosity is retained.
mingling Arnold Lowrey


The finished painting

This painting uses most (although not all) of the above techniques.
Remember, if you have control of water, you have control of watercolour.
door steps Arnold Lowrey

door steps

Dry into wet allows the door steps and handrail to be placed in the wet and the images to be retained with soft edges
mingling 2 Arnold Lowrey


Mingling –keeping the paper wet and pumping in new colours with half loaded brush
wet on dry 2 Arnold Lowrey

wet on dry

Wet on dry – the windows have sharp or rough edges
finished painting Arnold Lowrey

finished painting by Arnold Lowrey

The finished painting – “Orange Wood Cottage”

Unless you spend the time to come to grips with these techniques, you will never move ahead in watercolour. The above are your watercolour crafts. They are the key to it all.
You can then, safely, concentrate on the importance of the art in your paintings. Composition, design, unity, value, colour, intensity etc which, when applied properly, will put you a step ahead of the crowd and help you to sing with your own voice!
Keep painting and good luck!

Arnold Lowrey

Watercolors Painting


  1. I have had my brushes into oil colors, but I didn’t like the smell, and felt it was bad for the artist’s health, needing an air purifier, and windows open for ventilation. I know oil paint has had some changes, but since then, I have had my hand into acrylics and watercolors, and I love the watercolors the best.

    I am retirement age after taking care of my Dad for 12 years, and helping to care of both of my husband’s parents, for a total of 23 years of elderly caregiving. I am now doing what I have always had a passion to do. Paint, paint, paint!

    This is the first time I have seen the use of water with watercolors explained so clearly. Thank you for sharing this with us aspiring watercolorists.

  2. Thank you for these ‘control’ tips. I love watercolor and yet, have not understood what you have just laid out as ‘rules’ to learn, so you can control this medium. I’ve also read Edgar Whitney, and his ‘rules’ to keep in mind – elements of design, Line, Value, Color, Texture, Shape, Size and Direction. Then the principles of design, Unity, Conflict, Dominance, Repetition, Alternation, Balance, Harmony, and Gradation…Tony Couch also writes about how to paint dry, wet, etc.
    I need to practice to learn to control these things. Too many times, I’m not thinking before I apply a ‘wash’ and really don’t know where I’m going with it. A value sketch helps here. But, I thank you very much for reiterating these points again. Practice, practice, practice…Tx.!

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