For the context, I am a self-taught painter. Consequently I often find myself mixing the same shade more than one time, painting different regions in no logical order etc.

I would like to know what the golden progress rules ares, for instance, here is my guess at it, please help me improve it:

  1. Wash- diluted version of the the main color.
  2. Fill- the actual color
  3. Shadows and Highlights
  4. Details

Coloring aside, what is a good progression for painting, say a frog?

Here's an example of the frog I painted, if I were to do it again, would I start from the limbs, then paint the body?

Painting of frog

  • 3
    Welcome! I worry that this question may be a bit subjective. There may be several different "good" workflows. I think maybe focusing on your example of the frog might be a good way to limit the question a bit. We'll see what the community thinks and see if we can help you out.
    – Catija
    May 25, 2016 at 23:12
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    I've added the image of your painting to your question to help out. Very nice, by the way! Nothing to be ashamed of! This should really help your question get some direct answers.
    – Catija
    May 25, 2016 at 23:27
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    Welcome @user2440943 I'm not that experienced with watercolour yet so I'm posting this as a comment. But working from light to dark is generally a good tip. The beauty of watercolour is that it's translucent; therefore, it's nice to embrace this by building up layers and layers of light washes to build tone, letting each layer dry before painting over it again. Hope this helps until a detailed answer comes along!
    – johnp
    May 26, 2016 at 3:42
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    @johnp Even with little experience, I would consider posting that as an answer. It's really good advice, not something I know (as a complete beginner), and even if a better, more detailed answer comes along, you've at least got a starting point!
    – Erica
    May 26, 2016 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


I'm far from an expert, but here's what I've picked up:

The most important technique for watercolor is to work light to dark. Unlike other types of paint, you can't just paint a lighter color over a dark patch. (You can lift pigment after, but it typically leaves slight discoloration, and you risk damaging the paper.) Instead, with watercolor you are building up layers of translucent tints to create your image.

With that in mind, let's consider the types of areas that you listed for a generic watercolor painting: wash, fill, shadows, highlights, and details.

  1. Mark out your highlights, because you want to work light-to-dark. You don't want to put pigment on top of an area that is meant to be light.

  2. Washes - typically lighter and less saturated than the subject - come next, so that you can paint the details over top of it. You can do a background wash later on, if you're careful not to disturb the other parts. However, it's certainly easier to do first.

  3. Fill in the main subject, taking care with your highlights from earlier.

  4. Add details and any dark shadows. I'm listing these together, because the exact order will probably depend on the piece. I've done both ways: sometimes details first so they were also shaded, sometimes details last so they'd be sharper. (Or details, shade, touch up details..)

If you have a dark wash but light fill/details in your painting, you could instead try:

  1. Paint the light areas, wait to dry, then carefully outline and do the wash.

  2. Mark the light areas, paint the wash around them. Clean up edges by lifting the pigment, then paint the light areas.

Your frog painting is a great example for discussing this, since it has a dark background and dark spots on the lighter subject. My approach would be something like:

  1. Paint the frog limbs and body color (minus black spots). This would include the color variations e.g. at its nose, after laying down the base color.
  2. Leaf base color
  3. Lines on leaf
  4. Dark spots on frog: outline with a fine brush around the edge and the highlight spots, then fill in
  5. Dark background section at top edge (this could be any time after 2 though, really)
  6. Shadows: probably on frog body first, then on the leaf

Of course, this is art - everyone has a different preference, experiment with what works best for you!

  • 1
    This answer is quite comprehensive but I would like to add a quick note about masking fluid. I also struggled with the 'workflow' of painting with watercolours, and masking fluid made it a lot easier for me. If there is an area you want to protect and have it stay light, plan your sketch and then paint on the masking fluid. Once it dries you can start doing washes of colour without worrying about carefully painting around the lighter elements of your work. Once the paint is dry, the masking fluid peels off kind of like a scratch ticket!
    – EmRoBeau
    Oct 11, 2016 at 15:54

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