Reckless Abandon: Wet-In-Wet watercolor techniques


Did you paint that wet-in-wet?  I get asked this question probably more than anything else, and I never quite know how to answer. "Yes...and, no?"

Wet-in-wet does not mean out of control

Loose watercolour should have a fluid look, and I love softening edges and allowing colour to run, nice and wet across the paper. But I also like control, and so what might appear to be spontaneous, uninhibited colour is only a piece of the story.

Freedom has boundaries.

There are horses living in the field across the road, and there's nothing so beautiful as a horse in full gallop across a clover-tangled meadow, mane and tail blowing. Beauty and freedom...and yet the freedom is contained within a fenced pasture. The horses need that fence; it protects them from the trucks barreling down the highway just a few feet away, from loss and theft and injury.

Watercolour can have the same limited freedom, and if we do it right, it looks completely spontaneous, and feels like magic. I love that when I moisten a small section of my painting, I can touch colour into that small area and see it run free, spreading beautifully, mingling with other hues and creating small bursts of glorious beauty that feel accidental, but are guided and restrained in subtle ways.

You can control a fluid wash! Try:

  1. Adding moist colour to dry paper and then wetting the edges where you want it to flow.
  2. Wetting a small inner area of your painting (like in today's video below) and then touching different colours in to create a small-scale wet-in-wet effect.
  3. Using a wet brush to guide a wash in a new direction - the water movement will act as a "current" for the paint to follow.
  4. Dripping water or paint into a wet wash as the new water will push out from wherever it lands in your wash.
  5. Using gravity as you tilt your painting board or paper to move the paint in different directions.
  6. Doing nothing! The paint continues to move and act as long as the wash is wet. Give it time to act as too much "stirring" will muddy your wash. Watch and wait.

Watercolour painting really is about "painting with water" and the paint should feel like liquid on your paper. Thick consistencies of paint generally work best in small doses, toward the end of your painting, in the finishing details.

Remember as well that learning how to use washes and let colour move and flow is a skill. If you put enough practice hours in, you will master this technique. Don't give up!

It's World Watercolor Month! I'm giving away weekly watercolor prizes (this week's prize sponsors are Cheap Joe's Art Stuff and Angela Fehr), a grand prize at the end of July, and two new lesson videos every week. You can enter all current giveaways and view the index of lessons at

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