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A transparent paint made from a pigment bound with gum arabic, and used with water.  A watercolour wash is composed of water in which particles of colour  brushed from blocks of pigment are suspended. It must remain in a liquid state long enough for the tiny fragments of colour to distribute themselves evenly across the paper.

The excellence of the medium occurs because its transluscent nature allows the white surface of the paper to be used as the lighting agent. The technique was in use on papyrus rolls in ancient Egypt and on vellum manuscripts in medieval Europe,  but the technique did not become fully developed until the 18th century in England.


  • Goldman, Paul, 1988. Looking at prints, drawings and watercolours: a guide to technical terms. London: British Museum Press ; Malibu, California: J. Paul Getty Museum.