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How to Paint Wet on Wet Watercolors

Updated on February 28, 2013

Wet on Wet

Watercolors can be easy and fun. Here are a few hints to help you get started. For wet on wet, Arches 300 lb. medium paper is the best. Others are less expensive, but will frustrate you and you'll probably give up, thinking you'll never make it as water-colorist. Wrong! To me, paper is the most important ingredient.

Brushes aren't critical. Even cheap, and I mean cheap ones will work. A small round and about 1/2 or 1 inch will do for starters.

Windsor Newton artist quality paint is my favorite. You can start with Antwerp Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna and New Gamboge. That's all you need for the basics. A small pallet like the one below is sufficient.

A pallet knife for shaping rocks, trees and grass is essential.

An industrial razor blade for scraping like the crest of waves. (optional)

A two inch painters sponge with handle for wetting paper.

Two containers for water: one clean for wetting paper, the other to wash your brushes.

Kleenex and a roll of TPaper wrapped with paper towel for cleaning and removing access water from your brushes.

A hair dryer.

A hard board to tape the paper onto such as Masonite, plexiglass, plywood or stiff plastic.

Masking tape and a squirt bottle.

Below is my setup... I'm left handed.

Important Things to Remember!

The first mistake beginners cultivate is what we call the windshield wiper affect. That's accomplished by keeping your elbow stationary and moving the brush sideways for skies, rooftops, fields and worst of all, horizon lines like the ocean. Move your arm across in a straight line for those areas. Give rooftops a little sag unless you're painting high realism. It adds character.

It's best to do a quick little sketch on scrap paper so you'll know what you're going to paint. I don't sketch on my watercolor paper. Just paint as you'll see in the demo.

Gentle strokes with the brush prevent scratching the paper surface. I always start from the outside and sweep toward the center with skies. Remember to lift the brush as you near the center. If you hesitate, the paper and water will suck the pigment out of your brush and leave a blob where you don't want it. The same goes for trees. Start at the trunk and work up, again lifting the brush to give the tree the cone shape. Hesitate and you'll have a huge eagle nest at the top of your tree.

Always start with the sky first, then add distant objects. Next is mid ground and then the foreground. Now remember, in watercolor you can't cover dark colors with lighter like you can with oil or acrylic.

I suggest you cut your paper into 5x7 pieces. Make sure your hands are clean and dry or use cotton gloves. Oily fingers will destroy the paper surface and cause blotches. That's gross!

Tape the paper with masking tape to the board. Cover about one quarter of an inch or five mm. Make sure tape is well stuck on the edges. If water seeps under, it may cause a run through your painting, washing away the paint. You don't want a washout!

With your painters sponge, gently wet the paper evenly from side to side. Then wet it evenly up and down. Let it sit for a few minutes and repeat two more times. Oh! Start with your sponge outside the masking tape. That way the paper will be wet evenly across the entire surface.

Now, let's get ready to paint.


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    • profile image

      Janice Fox 2 years ago

      I can't believe it , our craft stores don't sell the 300 lb . They only sell 140 lb. and its cold press in arches , or any other brand. They do sell that kind of paint :( .

    • Ivan Fraser profile image

      Ivan Fraser 4 years ago from Glen Margaret, Nova Scotia

      Hi bleu-rouge: Soak your paper in water in the bathtub or container for a few minutes. Remove paper and let it dry. Then when you wet your paper to start painting it will not ripple (at least not as much). I use 300 lb Arches Medium paper. It doesn't ripple like light weight papers.

    • bleu-rouge profile image

      Nat 4 years ago from Belgium

      I just post my wet-on-wet here:

      ... it is not completely on wet :(

      and I had a trouble: when I put wet paper on the desk it is smooth, but some times later it becomes ripply :( so colors does not stay where I want but goes in dimples ....

      could you please hint me how to avoid it?

    • Ivan Fraser profile image

      Ivan Fraser 4 years ago from Glen Margaret, Nova Scotia

      Great! Can't wait to see your first painting.

    • Athlyn Green profile image

      Athlyn Green 4 years ago from West Kootenays

      Ivan, you've inspired me to try watercolor painting. Your technique on how to paint wet and allowing the paper to work is a great trick.