Posted in art, watercolour painting

Getting to grips with wet on wet: Watercolour basics

Last week, I wrote a blog post all about wet on dry watercolour including basic washes and fun techniques you can try to get interesting effects. This week, I’m exploring wet on wet washes and cool effects. Again, I’m sharing what I have learnt and some photographs of my actual work which I hope you will agree, isn’t too bad for a beginner!

What is ‘wet on wet’ (or wet into wet)?

As the name suggests, wet on wet refers to using wet paint and applying it to wet paper. It is also used to describe the addition of another wet colour to wet paint which is already on the page (commonly known as charging).

The wet on wet method is great for creating smooth transitions between colours, gradient effects and soft lines and edges. Artists typically use it for painting landscapes, simple skies and soft, flowing washes. Wet on wet can be a little unpredictable but that is what makes it so exciting as you are never absolutely sure of what you are going to get.

What are the issues with using the wet on wet method?

There are a few things that can go wrong when using wet on wet so it’s a good idea to explore the technique using small pieces of cheaper watercolour paper like I did before embarking on a larger piece. You will definitely find that you run into a range of issues along the way when you are experimenting but that’s part of the learning process and the fun of working with watercolour paints.

As you are working with very wet paper, one of the issues that can arise is paper buckling or cockling. This is more common (or pronounced) with thinner paper but can happen regardless of how thick your paper is. So why does it happen and what are the problems with it?

When the paper fibers absorb water they expand lengthwise, and they take on a more random alignment. When the paper dries, the fibers contract again. But to some extent the fibers retain their irregular alignment. This change in the structure of the fibers is what causes raised ridges and low valleys to form on the surface of the paper which we see as buckling… ridges and depressions… make paint flow difficult to control. It’s a nuisance which all watercolor artists have to deal with. This is pretty annoying because as you continue to paint, pigment tends to run into the low valleys and settle in pools. Stretching your paper is the common solution.’

Anthony @ Watercoloraffair.com

The method I used for stretching my paper was to soak it by immersing it in a tub of water for 5 minutes until it turns limp. As my cheaper watercolour paper is only 200 gsm this is all of the time that was needed because the thicker the paper, the longer it needs. I then fastened the wet paper to a plywood board and taped the edges with masking tape before leaving it to dry overnight. Unfortunately, the masking tape I have is pretty cheap stuff and so it doesn’t particularly stick very well.  

Another issue can occur if you use too much water. If you soak your paper and use heavily watered down paint, you can end up with ugly marks on your paper. I’ve seen a range of names for these including ‘blooms’, ‘blossoms’, ‘backruns’, ‘cabbages’ and ‘cauliflowers’ but they’re caused when the paint runs to the edges of a pool of liquid. You can avoid these by controlling the amount of water you have on your page by wetting your paper evenly all over until it has a nice sheen to it and then only slightly dampening your paint with a small amount of clean water. If you do find that water collects on your paper, you can use a dry brush to soak it up or a small amount of kitchen towel to absorb the excess. You especially need to check the edges of your work where you have affixed the tape as liquid has a habit of collecting there! I found the best way to learn is by experimenting to see what works best. I bought a few blocks of 10 A4 sheets of cold press paper, then cut each sheet into smaller pieces.

The final issue I want to mention today is the opposite to the previous problem – not using enough water. With the wet on wet technique, it’s very important to ensure that your paper is nice and damp. To ensure your work surface doesn’t dry out you should mix all of your colours first before wetting your paper. You also need to make sure you work quickly which can be hard when you first start out as you are concentrating on ‘getting it right’. This is why it helps to do some exploratory pieces with cheaper watercolour paper so you can get used to how the paint behaves.

Wet on wet washes

Using the wet on wet method has the advantage over wet on dry because it prevents lines of paint being seen. This ensures your wash is smooth and even whether you are creating a flat wash, graduated wash or variegated wash.

For the flat wash, first prepare your puddle of paint by adding a small amount of water to your pigment (you don’t need a lot as the water on the paper will dilute it further). Next, wet your paper all over with clean water. I used a large flat wash brush for this as it enabled me to work quickly. When you are applying the paint, you don’t need to be as careful as with the wet on dry method because the mixture will spread easily. You do, however, need to ensure that you are not left with any excess watery paint so remember to use a dry brush or small amount of paper towel to mop up any excess moisture so you don’t get those backruns I mentioned earlier.

For the graduated wash (also know as gradient wash), you should make a puddle of barely diluted paint then wet your paper evenly as with the flat wash. Then take some paint and sweep from one side of the paper to the other (if you read last week’s post, you’ll know that I suggested working from right to left if you are left handed like me). Then for each new sweep, you’ll need to add a little more water to the mix or to the brush each time. When you reach the bottom of your paper, the wash should be almost completely transparent. It helps to have your board on a slight incline for this to encourage the paint to seep down the wet paper.

Finally, for the variegated wash, create two fairly concentrated puddles of paint in your palette. Then, wet your paper as before. If you want a smooth transition between colours, you may want to tilt your board again. For this, sweep your first colour on in horizontal strokes either to the end of the paper or to somewhere near the centre. Then, rinse and dry off your brush a little on paper towel before adding the second colour to the still wet paint. Because the paper is wet, the two colours will blend together to create a variegated effect (Image 1). If you want a more random mixing of colours, you can simple tap colour onto wet paper in whatever pattern you like so it blooms and spreads (Image 2). Then do the same with your second colour. You can use as many different paint colours as you like but I recommend sticking to about 3 so that you don’t end up getting muddy brown colours when they bleed into each other. Like with the other washes, look out for pools of paint that you need to soak up with a dry brush or paper towel to avoid backruns.

That’s all of the wet on wet techniques I’m going to share today because I’ve run out of watercolour paper and have decided to order some more online to enable social distancing! I’ll post the results of my experimentation either next week or the week after depending how long it takes for my order to arrive. Hopefully, I won’t get as much cockling with my new paper as it is quite a bit thicker than what I have now.

Until next time, keep finding space in your life to be creative during this lockdown period and if you have any finished projects to share on your own blog, let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to check out your work.

Posted in art, creativity, watercolour painting

Wet on Dry washes and 5 Super Fun Wet on Dry Techniques to get you started with the Basics of Watercolour Painting

A few weeks ago, I shared my vision board for the lockdown period in which I set some things to work on whilst we are social distancing and spending more time at home. One of these was to do more watercolour painting. A while back I started an online 7 day challenge but unfortunately, circumstances dictated that I didn’t get it finished. I got myself all stressed out about doing it and it basically became a chore when it was meant to be enjoyable (sometimes I get too serious!). This time around, I’ve done a lot more research (to develop my confidence), binge watched lots of YouTube videos and read lots of information on various websites (some were much better at explaining than others. I’ve also made notes on what I have learned. In this post, I want to share with you some wet on dry techniques that I tried out and really enjoyed. Hopefully it will encourage you to have a go yourself. I’ll be doing wet on wet techniques soon so look out for that popping up on my blog.

So what is Wet on Dry?

Also known as wet into dry, this technique involves using dry paper and applying wet paint to your page (which is demonstrated here). It also refers to adding wet paint to a dried area of paint already on the paper using layering (something I will explore at a later time). Wet on dry is regularly used by artists as it allows plenty of control over the paint. There are lots of wet on dry techniques and I loved experimenting on small pieces of watercolour paper. I actually split up a few large sheets into sections using masking tape and then left them to dry and used my paper trimmer to make little labelled cards showing the different examples.

Washes

The first technique I tried was washes. These basically involve adding paint to your paper in a smooth uniform way. There are three main types of wash – flat, graded and variegated. With a flat wash you apply the same colour and tone across the whole of the area you are working on. With a graded wash you graduate the colour from a light to dark tone or from dark to light. And in a variegated wash the colour and tone changes in various places of the work area.

With the flat wash, I wet my brush in clean water and then half loaded it with paint. Starting in the top left hand corner, I swept horizontally to the top right hand corner. I then repeated that action adding more paint for each stroke all of the way down the marked out piece of paper (I used masking tape to get neat edges). As you are working wet on dry, you need to work quickly to ensure that the paint in the wash area you are working on stays wet. You also need to slightly overlap your brush strokes so you are working into the bead of paint that forms at the base of each line. If you find when you get to the bottom that too much paint solution has formed at the end, you can mop it up with a paper towel dried clean brush to avoid streaking or a back wash being created which is where the solution bleeds back up the paper and creates an unwanted blooming effect.

For the graduated wash (also known as a graded wash), I started with a little water and lots of pigment. I then did one sweep horizontally like in the flat wash. For the second sweep I added a little more water. You then continue adding more water to lighten the colour until you have very little pigment on your brush by the bottom of the page to create a very gradual change in tone. As you can see with my example, you can sometimes see the brush strokes which I guess is one of the drawbacks of using a wet on dry technique.

You can also do a graduated wash in reverse from light to dark by adding more pigment to your paintbrush each time but I found this much more difficult and so have not included the results here! I’m sure some of you would be quite happy to see my failed attempts but I’m afraid I filed them in a special place under my desk 😀 ha ha!

I found the variegated wash the most difficult and again, had a fair few failed attempts. In the end, I found the best method was to start with one colour at the top of the page and graduate to the middle and then repeat the process in reverse with another colour from the bottom of the page. I then blend the colours whilst they were still wet in the middle. This may not suit everyone and I may find I develop my technique differently as I become more proficient with the medium. I would recommend experimenting and finding what works for you personally.

You can vary the density of the colour in the flat wash by using a lot of pigment and a little water for an opaque wash or a small amount of pigment and lots of water for a lighter translucent shade as shown in the second photograph. Whatever kind of wash you are doing, it’s a really good idea to use small pieces of cheaper watercolour paper to play around with different washes so you can develop your technique. As I said before, I found I needed quite a few goes at the variegated wash before I was happy with the results.

Since doing my washes, I’ve found a watercolour tips website which suggests that if you are left handed, like me, you might be better off working from right to left (as I sometimes wish I could do when writing!). I will be sure to try this next time as I think it might make things a little easier.

Dry brushing

As the name suggests, this technique involves using a dry brush and wet paint. However, it is a good idea to wet the brush and then dry it off on paper towel so it is a little bit damp before you start. I experimented with a flat brush working with the very edge and then the whole brush in a downward motion to create different effects. I then used a pointed round paint brush and kind of smooshed it onto the paper and then used a vertical wiping motion at the bottom of the paper. I think these techniques would be great for adding texture to clothing or buildings in a painting.

Splatters

Next I had great fun trying different splattering techniques, The first method involved flicking the bristles gently with my finger. I used a flat brush for this and it produced a fine splattering which I could control pretty well. I’ve actually used this before in my Autumn tree painting which I shared as part of my bullet journal set up for October 2019. The second method involved tapping the handle of the brush. For this one, I used a round brush and had to load quite a lot of slightly watered down paint onto the full head. I tried tapping with my finger on the handle and then using another brush handle which I found was easier. Both got quite messy so I would recommend covering any areas of paper you don’t want to work on and using a plastic cover on your table!

Another way to create splatters is by blowing. This can be done using your mouth only or using a straw. With both methods, you need to apply a blob of paint to your page and then blow in the direction you want the colour to splatter. I found that I could get much more control when I used a straw and didn’t need anywhere near as much puff!

Pulling

This technique involves adding a fairly concentrated area of pigment to your page and then using a wet brush to pull the colour in different directions. I created kind of flower shapes by adding a blob of paint and then using a wet brush I lightly touched and pulled the colour outwards from this central point. In the second example I used a more controlled pulling method to create five petal star shaped flowers by placing blobs of paint to mark the very edges of the five petals and then pulling into the centre, again using a brush wetted in clean water. I much preferred creating the looser flowers and definitely need more practise with the detailed work. For the detailed pulling, I found it hard to create an image in my head of where I needed the five petal points to go.

Feathering

I really loved this technique which involved using dry paper but a kind of wet into wet technique to make the paint bloom. For the first one, I painted a line of highly pigmented paint vertically to my paper. Then I touched the paint gently with a wet brush on either side working downwards to create a feathery effect. For the second example, I repeated the process but this time using different colours of paint. It’s a really cool effect isn’t it!

Drips

This technique involves adding a splodge of paint at the top, lifting your paper at an angle and then dabbing into it with a water and paint solution to create a bead. Eventually the bead of paint will become so heavy that gravity will cause the paint to drip down. Depending on how much solution is added and how much the paper is lifted the drip may even run off the page. I used masking tape at the bottom so it created a straight edge but you could leave the paper un-masked and allow the paint to run as far as you want. I found a great little watercolour piece using the dripping technique here which I might try at some point soon.

That’s all the techniques I tried using wet on dry. If you want to find out more from real artists who have played with watercolour a lot more than me, here are some great websites and YouTube channels I came across whilst perusing the internet.

– Anthony shares tips and tricks here for complete beginners and has really good explanations and photos. He goes into depth about washes and how to improve your technique.

– Shelby goes over basic techniques and also provides lots of ideas for using watercolour paint in your bullet journal. Find her at https://littlecoffeefox.com/ I would love to do perfect my techniques and be ready to do some spreads in my BuJo but I’m certainly not at that stage yet!

– Hieu (AKA kelogsloops) who is an aspiring artist from Melbourne in Australia, provides funny but informative demos on this part of his YouTube channel He uses thicker paper than me but as I’m just a beginner, I figured cheaper stuff was good enough for now and better than nothing!

I hope you have enjoyed seeing my wet on dry watercolour work. I really encourage you to give them a go as you might find a new favourite and relaxing hobby during this lockdown period. I’ve got quite a collection of brushes and paints and a couple of blocks of relatively cheap watercolour paper now but you don’t need much equipment to get started. I began with a couple of brushes, a travel tin of Daler Rowney half pan paints and a gummed pad of coldpress watercolour paper.

Let me know if you fancy giving these techniques a go and which you think might be your favourites to play around with.

Happy watercolouring,

Posted in art, creativity, watercolour painting

Back to basics: Watercolour techniques Days 1, 2 and 3. More colour mixing and layering

As the colour mixing chart took so long to complete, I left the rest of the lessons for Day 1 and combined them with Days 2 and 3 for a mammoth painting session. Although I enjoyed the actual painting I was spending more time trying to clean up my set of colour pans and washing out the mixing palettes so in the the end, I popped to The Range and bought some squeezy tubes and two more mixing trays. This meant I had exactly the same colours as the painting tutor and I could leave my dollops of colour in the palettes to use at a later time. I learnt lots more about mixing colours and had great fun trying out the different techniques.

As I said in my first basic watercolour techniques post, the colour chart took me a long time to do, so although I watched all of the lessons for Day 1, I didn’t complete all of the practical tasks. When I got my new paints, I decided to make the chart again using the new colours so I could see how they would mix.

The second lesson was on colour value which basically means how light or dark a colour is. We learnt how to change the hue of a paint colour by gradually adding more water. Here are the results with different colours:

Finally, we learnt how to mix colours and dilute them to make almost black and white shades. The first two swatches were made by blending all of the different dark colours on my palette and tiny amounts of the warmer colours. It took a while to get the colour right but was worth persevering. Our teacher advised that these shades are softer than pure black and compliment the lighter shades that were going to be painting later on.

For almost white shades, we were taught to make a grey mixture and dilute it with lots of water to create super soft, pale tones. This then creates a very translucent colour which also shows the white of the paper. I made a couple of flower shapes to demonstrate and then added darker colour to the centre.

Day 2 was all about layering different colours. We started off by layering ‘wet into wet’ by tapping one colour into another. For this technique, we created a diluted colour swatch on our paper and then tapped another diluted colour into the corner of the swatch. This made the colour bleed into the first colour and created a lovely gradient effect. The trick was to ensure the paint was watery enough to create a glistening sheen on the paper when you tilted it in the light.

For the second lesson, we layered wet paint over dry. We started by making a colour swatch (permanent rose) on the paper and then left it to dry before adding a different colour (cobalt blue), slightly overlapping the first. We then let it dry again, before adding another colour (lemon yellow), overlapping the second. This allows you to create even more colour variations such as the purple and green which was created here:

On Day 3, we were introduced to colour bleeds. This involved adding a rectangular swatch of colour to your paper and then adding a second swatch right beside it whilst the paint is still wet and touching the tip of the brush to the first swatch. This makes the colours bleed into it each other and creates some wonderful effects. The amount of bleed is dependent upon how much water is used. As you can see, my yellow and red paints didn’t work as well as I didn’t use enough water.

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my water colour techniques work and maybe it has inspired you to have a go yourself. In the coming lessons were going to be using what we’ve learnt to create an abstract piece and then we’re going to learn how to create florals. I’m super excited to do some more.