How to Avoid Cauliflower (the watercolour variety, not the vegetable)

Blooms, washbacks, backflow, cauliflowers … whatever you call it when you’re painting wet-into-wet watercolour and the colour you just applied pushes out the one already down, rather than making friends and sitting with it. There’s one rule to avoiding it (or to use if you deliberately want to get this result, much as watercolour purists might shudder at the thought). In the words of that skilled Australian watercolourist John Lovett:

If you are painting a soft edge into a wet wash, make sure there is more pigment in the color you are applying than is in the underlying wash or obvious blooms will be created.”
Source: John Lovett, Watercolour Edges


So how do you know whether you’ve got more pigment or not? Like everything, practice. It starts by deliberately considering it, and eventually it becomes ingrained knowledge, instinctive. If in doubt, add more pigment (“thick paint”). Or pull some of the water from the brush hairs by holding a piece of paper towel to the ferrule end of the hairs, a tip the artist Katie Lee taught me.

2 Replies to “How to Avoid Cauliflower (the watercolour variety, not the vegetable)”

  1. A useful reminder as I switch from acrylic to watercolour to flesh out my sketch of Lake Moraine in the Rockies – maybe I try out the trick with the tissue so that my grey mixes stay subtle.

    1. And you’ve just reminded me why I tend to do it in watercolour Claire — because in acrylics it’s not something we need to consider! moment!

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