Wet-on-Wet Painting Technique: 5 Steps to Beautiful and Unique Watercolors

Mixing watercolor paints using the wet-on-wet technique creates beautiful and unique paintings.

Why Mix Watercolor Paints on Paper?

Wet-on-wet is a wonderful painting technique that gives watercolor paintings a look that can't be achieved with oils or acrylics. 

With this practice, you wet your paper and watercolor paints separately before beginning. While wet paint on dry paper can give you really controlled, defined lines, wet-on-wet lends itself more to blending colors. It creates lively, fluid blends that can sometimes be unpredictable. 

Mixing colors on the paper, wet-on-wet, teaches you to work with your paint, rather than expecting to have complete control. By allowing the paint to move naturally, your painting will come alive. This technique also provides a nice gradient to your mixed colors, whereas blending watercolors on your palette provides a more even, flat tone. 

How to Mix Watercolors Wet-on-Wet

  1. Start with wet paper: Lay an even layer of water across the surface of your paper, either by brushing it on or using a spray bottle. When properly done, the paper should look matte as the water sinks in, with no standing pools of water.  
  2. Add color: Lay down your first color, with an idea in mind of what other colors you’ll add and where. Next, try laying the other colors down side by side. As the colors sink into the paper, the water already loaded into the paper will carry them along. You’ll begin to see the colors running and exploding into each other in organic patterns. 
  3. Avoid scrubbing: Scrubbing, or going over the same color or patch of paper more than once, will dull your pigment. Instead, add paint side by side - not on top of each other. You can always go back in and paint over the top once you allow the first coat to dry.
  4. Add water as needed: As you paint, you may notice the paper drying at the edges. You want to keep the paper wet, so the paint is encouraged to blend together. Use a wet brush or spray bottle to wet the drying area, then proceed with painting. 
  5. Don’t dab or overwork: Although it can be tempting, avoid dabbing at any areas that aren’t mixing the way you’d like. The same can be said for any accidental drips - overworking the paper will just make colors look dull. Think of it all as "Happy Accidents"!

Final Thoughts

Learning to mix watercolor paints is an essential skill that will take your paintings to the next level. Not only does it double and triple your color choices, but it also allows you to add depth and intrigue to your painting. By blending watercolors, especially using the wet-on-wet technique, you’ll create more lively and unique paintings.

Interested in learning more? 

Read "16 simple things to know to begin with watercolors and create successful paintings" by clicking here.

Check out our YouTube video on Wet-on-Wet Painting with Arts of Course instructor Jess Rice.

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Categories: Watercolor tips