As you’re learning about the basics of watercolor painting, you’ll come across a few different techniques over and over again—and that includes watercolor wet on wet painting.

It is a beginner-friendly method with a ton of different applications, and the more familiar you get with it, the more effects you’ll be able to create in your artwork. You won’t need anything beyond your standard watercolor supplies to get started with wet on wet painting, so grab the essentials, read through this quick explainer, and get to work creating beautiful watercolor pieces with wet on wet techniques.

Illustrator and Skillshare instructor Mirka Kim illustrates wet on wet techniques for painting rainbow botanicals. 

What is the Watercolor Wet on Wet Technique?

Wet on wet watercolor painting is exactly what it sounds like: wet paint applied to a wet surface, such as pre-moistened paper or a still-wet layer of paint. Its opposite is wet on dry painting, where wet paint is applied to dry paper or paint—a similarly basic watercolor technique that is used for fine detailing and more dramatic layering.

There are a lot of benefits to painting wet on wet with watercolors, particularly in terms of the ethereal effects that you can create. In many cases, you’ll combine both wet on wet and wet on dry techniques in a single painting, so it’s important to have a full understanding of both practices and what they can help you achieve.

What is Wet on Wet Technique Used For?

The results of this technique of painting are unpredictable, with soft edges that bloom out from the brushstroke and take on new shapes on the canvas. It won’t give you the realism of wet on dry painting, but you can use it to create all sorts of unique shapes and color blends, including rainbow techniques, soft and flowy landscapes, elemental effects like mist and fog, and pretty florals.

There is also technical value to wet on wet painting. Wet on wet is ideal for when you want to blend colors, and it can be used to layer on hues for color mixing, background washes, and ombres.

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Wet on Wet Watercolor Examples

You’ve likely seen lots of this type of watercolor painting, even if you haven’t identified it as such. Take a look at the wet on wet examples below, then try to find instances of it in some of your favorite paintings.

watercolor trees
Wet on wet landscape painting by Skillshare instructor Anjali Singh.

Blending colors while they’re still wet allows for seamless transitions between shades and whimsical, shadowy effects.

watercolor wet on wet
A bouquet painted in the wet on wet style by Skillshare instructor Robert Joyner.

There’s something inherently abstract about wet on wet watercolor paintings, as evidenced by this beautiful—but far from realistic—watercolor bouquet.

watercolor wet on wet
Skillshare student Stephanie Thormählen’s successful attempt at a tuxedo cat.

In this example, the wet on wet technique has brought additional dimension to a tuxedo cat, which looks extra fluffy thanks to the blooming of pigment on the page.

How to Watercolor Wet on Wet

How do you do wet on wet watercolor? It’s easier than you might think! Grab your watercolor brushes and follow these tips to start putting the wet on wet method into practice.

Pay Attention to the Amount of Water You’re Using

The more water involved in your wet on wet application, the more your color will dilute and spread. Experiment with different amounts of water on your brush and on your paper or paint surface to get an idea of what various consistencies will get you and how you can get more control over the effects that you produce.

Make a Color Mixing Chart

It may take some trial and error to create the colors that you’re looking for. Just like you did with water above, play around with color mixing to work out what combinations will work best for your piece. Keep in mind that it’s generally easiest to layer in thin, light strokes than to try and mix darker and thicker shades with each other.

Understand the Degrees of Wetness

There’s a big difference in outcome between painting surfaces that are wet vs. moist vs. damp. Pay close attention to the degree of wetness on your surface as you paint, noting that drying will happen naturally over the painting process, so you may need to reapply moisture as you go to keep things consistent.   

Regularly Replace Your Water

Clean water is an essential part of wet on wet watercolor painting. If you notice your water getting murky, rinse out your cup and replace it with fresh water so that you don’t accidentally muddy up your artwork.

How to Master Wet on Wet Watercolors

Practice makes (almost) perfect! If you’re serious about improving your watercolor skills and adding more magic to your paintings, then the best way to learn is by doing. Set aside plenty of time for experimentation with various types of watercolor supplies and methods, and be sure to learn from the best through online courses and tutorials. Engaging with these techniques first hand means that you’ll become more confident in using them in your art.

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Written By

Laura Mueller

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