Paint a Wet-Into-Wet Watercolor

Artists often paint skies, bodies of water, and flowers using a watercolor method called wet-into-wet . With this technique, paint is applied to paper which has been previously wetted or soaked with water, or it's quickly painted into another color that has not yet dried. Artists like to paint this way, because it results in soft, fuzzy edges.

This method is most successful if done on heavy stock, but it's not necessary to buy any special art paper. You can paint a wet-into-wet watercolor on scraps of foam board, a paper-covered polystyrene material used in framing pictures. Recycling the foam board will help save natural resources and landfill space, and it will give you the chance to try this fun, spontaneous method of painting without spending a lot of money.

You will need:

  • A scrap of foam board
  • Liquid watercolors
  • Kosher salt (optional)
  • Water container
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint pans
  • Paint rag
  • Sponge

How to:

Rather than trying to make something which looks realistic, consider this an exercise or experiment in color mixing. You'll have little control over where the colors spread or how they mix, so just enjoy the surprise! After you've made several wet-into-wet paintings, and you're at ease with the technique, use it another time to paint parts of realistic pictures.

Before you start, it's important to review the basics of color mixing. The three primary colors from which all other colors are made are red, yellow, and blue. Mixing equal parts of certain colors together will result in the following:

Red+Yellow=Orange, Yellow+Blue=Green, Blue+Red=Violet or Purple Orange, green, and violet are called secondary colors.

Red+Orange=Red-orange, Yellow+Orange=Yellow-orange, Yellow+Green=Yellow-green, Blue+Green=Blue-green, Blue+Violet=Blue-violet, and Red+Violet=Red-violet. These six colors are called tertiary colors.

For your first attempt at wet-into-wet watercolor, you'll have greater success if you paint with three or more related colors. For example, painting with blue, blue-green, green, yellow-green, and yellow will ensure that the colors mix together in a pleasing way, and you'll be happier with your finished work.

Now let's get started! Using a large brush or sponge, dampen the foam board with clear water. The surface should be fairly wet, but water should not stand in puddles. Remove any excess water with the sponge, and then lay the board flat or at a slight incline.

Fill your brush with the first color, and touch it to the surface of the board. Watch it "explode" and spread in all directions! Rinse the brush, and add another color so that it mixes with the first one. Continue adding and mixing colors till the board is covered. It's possible to have some control over where the paint flows by tilting the board or blowing gently on the color.

As a final touch, drop some grains of kosher salt into the wet areas. The salt will absorb some of the color, resulting in exciting patterns and shapes. When the painting is completely dry, brush off the salt.

Tips and Tricks:

A set of ten liquid watercolors can be purchased reasonably from Dick Blick. While liquid watercolors are recommended for this activity, you can substitute traditional watercolors or diluted acrylic paints.

Watercolor tends to dry lighter than it appears as you're applying it. This is especially true when you're working with the wet-into-wet technique, so it's important to use lots of paint or color.

Use the salt technique to inspire you to create an underwater scene, or look for faces or animals in the work. Draw with pen and ink, or use colored pencils, acrylics, or additional watercolor to paint the details.

A mat is a piece of cardboard which has been cut to frame artwork. Visit a picture frame shop to see if the owner will share discarded mats with you. They come in beautiful colors and textures, and the framer might have one that will be perfect for your picture.

To learn more about watercolor and other painting media, visit the Winsor & Newton Web site.

© 1997 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)

Volume 8 No. 2

Return to Departments

Previous Activities
Select this to choose other activities.