Sep 12, 2019

Watercolour- Really?? Wet by Wet? - Painting by Drawing Tips

No, Not a Misprint - Wet by Wet, is a Watercolour Technique

POPPIES, FULL OF LIFE - watercolour mounted on wood cradle, 14 x 22 inches, $850

Painting watercolour wet into wet is the norm and certainly a technique most watercolourist employ at some point in their work.  I certainly struggled with this method many times as I learned to paint.  And yes, it is now something I do in my work.  But the more I painted the more I realized it doesn't tell the whole story.  Working with my latest picture, Poppies, Full of Life, I realized I really wasn't working wet into wet. . .

I was working wet by wet.

In the true sense of the wet into wet technique, you mix the colours on your paper.  Adding one colour to the other when they are wet.  The colours will mix, or not, depending on the pigments as they move about the space.  They will certainly give an array of  colour you can not get with a simple brush strokes.  Definitely, one of the reasons why watercolour is such a special medium.

So what is Wet by Wet?

Paper is wet, a colour is down but the new colour is added beside the other colour, not into it.  Sounds easy enough but as you know, when it comes to matching water and pigment, nothing is that simple in watercolour.  

Wet by Wet - notice the space between the colours and the bleeding of colour into the neighbouring one.
Close up from - Poppies, Full of Life

In my Close Up from Poppies, Full of Life, you can see how the new darker green pigment is being added to the area around and into the lighter green and but only close to the red poppy suggested in the background. Notice how the pigments bleed together making a soft edge but still keeping their own areas of colour.  This is the big difference between Wet into Wet and Wet by Wet.  With Wet by Wet, the two neighbouring colours are not changed only their edges are affected.  (See more on the painting of the background of Poppies, Full of Life on my last post, here)

This 'softness' is the key . . . . 

Poppies Full of Life - WIP - notice how the edges within the poppies are soft (middle flower) and the edges in the background are all soft

Why the soft edge?

A soft blended edge is needed in many places within a painting.  Looking at Poppies, Full of Life - WIP you can see it:
1.  In the background to suggest leaves, branches, other blossoms
2.  Within the blossoms to suggest petals, shadows, highlights
3. Within the leaves and buds to give a gradual colour change rather than a sharp one.

Special Note: In this particular painting, I particularly liked the loose, plush look of my flowers which is a different look to one that is created through layers of glazing.  I did some glazing later to add the deep shadows and define the markings.  

Close up of blossom BEFORE final glazing for shadows - Note the loose, plus look the blossom has.  Only needed to add the shadows with a bit of glazing. 

How to do Wet by Wet . . .

Okay, now you are not going to be very happy.  This technique is a balance of water, pigment and doing a single stroke.  This is a no 'fiddle around' technique.  (You know,  you touch the brush again and again to an area, rather then one stroke and leave it - Fiddle Around) You will need to practice this technique a lot,  to get the balance of water and pigment correct.  Also, when using new colours, I would suggest doing a little test first.  You never know when your pigments might have their own idea when they touch.  

Things to note:
1. Works best on good watercolour paper. I use Arches 140 taped down
2.  Paper is wet but not sopping and warped.  
3.  Brush is wet but not dripping
4.  When you touch the paper with the brush the pigment moves out slowly not spreading quickly
5.  Let things dry naturally, no blow dryer.
6.  The amount of pigment on your brush is determined by what you are painting.  You only get one swipe so make it a bit darker than you think as your paint dries lighter.
7. Work quickly as your paper/paint dry quickly
8.  To wet your paper if too dry, use a fine mist over a larger area than what you need. 
9.  Apply paint with as few strokes as possible (no Fiddling) 

Lots to think about I know, but worth the practice.  I find I use this technique in some form all the time in my work.  Keep at it.  You will be happy when you have it.  

Other things you might be interested in:

Using Glazes to Finish the Background

The Secrets of Watercolour Paper

Painting those Pesky Backgrounds

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