Wet-on-wet watercolor is a beautiful technique that involves soaking the paper in water before painting on it. Though not as known as traditional wet-on-dry watercolor technique (painting on dry paper), wet watercoloring is great for beginners and children because it allows for easy mixing of colors and is forgiving of a loose or unsteady hand. Wet watercoloring is also a great way to allow younger children to experiment with color mixing, and a great technique for teaching simple color theory to older children. And for adults, it can be an excellent way to make something beautiful with no painting skills necessary.
You will need:
- Ecoline watercolor inks (we used Lemon Yellow, Carmine, and Indigo) or traditional watercolors in the tube). Watercolor inks are super-concentrated fluids that can go directly onto paper with a brush, and have a vibrant and clear color. Traditional tube watercolors are thicker and can give you more variation in density and texture. They are also best with younger children since they can’t be spilled!
- watercolor paper or printmaking paper
- watercolor brushes or a sumi brush
- a large container for water (something big enough for your paper; a bathtub or sink will work if you don’t have a portable container)
- a jar or cup of water to rinse your brushes
- a clean sponge
- a old, clean towel
- white glue or glue stick for the collage
- Mod Podge to seal finished collages
All art supplies are currently available on our website.
- Set up your space. You’ll want to have a workspace cleared for painting. (This can be an indoor or outdoor table, or even the floor!) Lay down a towel or two to absorb excess water. Fill your container with enough water to submerge the paper, and set it next to your painting area. If you’re using a tub/sink, lay the towel down nearby to transport the paper.
- Soak your paper. You’ll want to saturate your paper before painting on it, so do this about 5-10 minutes before starting your painting. Fill your container with enough water to fully submerge the paper, and gently slide it in. If you’re soaking multiple papers, make sure you submerge them one by one so the water gets between the sheets. It’s ok if the paper floats on the top of water, as long as it is getting wet.
- Organize your paints. Decide what color palette you want to use. Wet-on-wet watercolor paintings are very soft and loose, so your colors are going to mix together in places. Decide on a few colors that you know will mix well, such as reds and yellows, blues and purples, greens and blues, etc. If you’re working with children, this is an excellent opportunity to let them experiment with color mixing. You can let them choose their own colors, teach them about basic mixing, or experiment with limited palettes (reds and oranges, for example, or cooler colors like blues and purples).
We used two different types of watercolors: Ecoline watercolor inks in Lemon Yellow, Carmine, and Indigo, and an assortment of Daniel Smith and Grumbacher tube watercolors. Watercolor inks are super-concentrated fluids that can go directly onto paper with a brush, and have a vibrant and clear color. Traditional watercolors are more opaque and can give you more variation in density and texture. Traditional watercolors are best with younger children since they can’t be spilled!
- Set up your paper. After it has had a chance to soak, slowly pull the paper out of the water by two corners and let it drip for a few seconds. Lay it on the towel and use a damp, clean sponge to soak up the extra water. Your paper should be damp, with no puddles on it.
- Paint! Soak your paintbrush in water, tap it off, and get a generous amount of paint on it. When the paint or ink meets the damp surface of the paper, it will spread and soften, so don’t attempt to be too controlled. The wetter your paper, the more flowy your painting will be. You can paint over the whole surface, or leave areas of your paper unpainted. Printmaking paper is very absorbent, and it gives the paintings a deep, soft quality. Watercolor paper is stiffer and more textured, and allows the paint to bleed and blend more.
(above) Traditional watercolors on watercolor paper
(above) Ecoline watercolor inks on printmaking paper
(above) Layering colors of watercolor ink
(above) A still-wet wet-on-wet watercolor ink painting!
- Collage! After you’ve allowed your painting to dry for a bit (sunshine helps!), you can take it a step further and create a collage or greeting card. To make a torn paper collage, tear your dry painting into various shapes and glue them on a clean sheet of paper or on another painting. (If you tear while the paper is still slightly damp, it is easier to make interesting shapes!) Younger children may have fun trying to create scenery or a self-portrait out of the torn or cut shapes. You can also make greeting cards by cutting smaller rectangles folding the paper in half. We coated some of our finished collages in a layer of Mod Podge to give them a polished look.
(above) Torn shapes from a watercolor ink painting
(above) A finished wet-on-wet watercolor collage
(above) Another finished watercolor collage!
(above) Completed collages can be finished with a layer of Mod Podge to give them a glossy look.