Watercolor Techniques Wet On Wet In Focus

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Watercolor painting is a very popular art form that involves many skills. In this tutorial we will dive deep into one of the most challenging of the watercolor techniques: wet on wet. This involves painting on a wet surface with a wet brush.

In this blog post, we will also discuss three common mistakes made when using this technique, and how to avoid them! Whether you are a beginner, or experienced watercolorists, I’m sure you will get some great tips from this tutorial.

Wet on wet techniques explained

As I mentioned earlier, wet on wet watercolor technique is adding wet paint to a still-wet area of the painting. This can be done by either dropping in paint onto wet paper that doesn’t have paint, or applying paint into an area that already has wet paint.

Let’s look at how a sponge works

But here’s the big reveal that you need to know! How wet your brush is will play a huge factor in the results. Basically, your paper, paint and brush work like a sponge.

Here’s what I mean;

  • If a sponge is completely dry it doesn’t work well, if at all. Have you ever tried to wipe up split liquid with a dry sponge? It just pushes the water around and absorbs very little.
  • If the sponge is damp but not dripping wet it works perfectly. This is optimal conditions for the sponge to extract liquid.
  • The third scenario is when the sponge is dripping wet. In this case the sponge doesn’t work well. That’s because there’s no absorption left.
Watercolor brushes and paper are like sponges
– Watercolor brushes and paper are like sponges

Your paper and brushes work like sponges

That’s right! When you begin to understand how a sponge works you can easily apply that to your paper and brushes. You see, water travels both downhill and uphill depending on which is wetter, the paper or brush.

Scenario: You are about to apply a wash to your paper and you pre-wet it first with a-lot of water. The paper is so saturated the water is puddling up. You then load a largest brush with lots of water and paint. At this stage the brush is equally wet as the paper. When you start to apply the wash the paint doesn’t exactly flow onto the paper. It’s almost like the paper is rejecting the paint.

Why is that? As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it’s because the paper and brush are equally saturated. In order for the paint to flow onto the paper, the paper needs to be drier than the brush. If the paper were drier it would be thirsty for the water, ready to absorb the wash.

Get it? Good, because that’s the secret to understanding wet on wet techniques.

When you master wet on wet watercolor techniques you will become much more skilled at apply, or extracting paint to paper. However, if you fail to understand the sponge theory you will struggle with watercolors.

Here are three common mistakes people make when using this technique:

Mistake #1: Applying paint into a very wet wash with a very wet watercolor brush. This is a stale mate scenario because they both are equally wet the paper doesn’t absorb the paint.

Mistake #2: The paper and brush are too dry. Watercolors work best when the brush is damp! Remember the dry sponge? It doesn’t work well and struggles to absorb. Watercolor brushes are the same.

Mistake #3: Applying a wash that’s too watery into wash that’s almost dry. This is all about timing and pigment-to-water ratio. Knowing when to apply paint into a wet wash and when to avoid it because it’s simply too late. It can be done but the paint needs to be much thicker and rich in pigment.

Painting with watercolors
– Painting with watercolors

Now that we know about the mistakes made when using wet on wet techniques, let’s look into how to avoid these issues!

Tip one: Timing when you apply paint into a wet surface is critical for watercolorists. If the paper is too wet, the colors will run together and be very difficult to control. Even with high quality watercolor paper the wash will still ballon, or cauliflower.

Tip two: Watercolors dry quickly, so you will need to work fast! Watercolorists need to plan ahead because it dries fast, and once it does there’s no going back!

Tip three: Avoid using a brush that’s too wet if you are working into a wash. Go thicker with the paint or don’t go at all.

The best way to avoid these mistakes is by practicing! Watercolor painting is a very versatile medium and with time and patience, you will be able master wet on wet washes, but you have to make the mistakes and put in the miles.

Here are some easy exercises you can do to master wet on wet technique.

These simple projects below are designed to help artists learn wet on wet techniques. They are really easy which makes the learning less intimidating. Whatever you do avoid practicing on complex subjects, this will only add to your confusion.

Abstract rings painted with wet on wet techniques
– Abstract rings painted with wet on wet techniques
Abstract eggs painted with wet on wet techniques
– Abstract eggs painted with wet on wet techniques
Leaves painted with wet on wet techniques
– Leaves painted with wet on wet techniques
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