Washing in the background, using one of my favorite tools - tissues! I'm establishing the overall shape(s) and foreground/background values. At this stage I'll grab lots of different things to work with: kleenex, old soft clean rags, big brushes, sponges, my fingers, etc. I'm just beginning to think about what edges should be soft and hard (where the greatest detail is).
Note: I most always wear disposable gloves from CVS. My hands can't take excess water and constant drying. I've long since gotten used to wearing them and have adapted well to their quirks.