Wet or dry? Watercolours 101

When I started painting with watercolours, there was one technique that I hadn’t even thought of using. It really blew my mind. 

It is the reason you see beautiful colours dissolving into each other in watercolour paintings. The secret behind it: wetting the paper before applying paint on it. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

There are two main techniques in using watercolour: wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry. The difference: applying the paint on wet or dry paper.

Painting on wet paper allows the colours to blend smoothly, creating the soft colours that you admire in landscape paintings.

Painting on dry paper gives you the opportunity to work with more intense colours and laying flat washes, but the pigment of the paint won’t spread easily. This means that you can be precise and work on details, such as painting the eyes of a face.

Here are some examples of using wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry in one painting for different purposes.

Wet on dry technique

I needed the poppies to be distinct, so wet on dry was the technique to use. This will allow the colours – and poppies – to remain separate. I added details on the wet paint making sure to not let the paint flow over the nearby poppies.

Wet on wet technique

For the grass and sky I wanted the colours to blend into each other and create abstract forms. I used a variety of blue and green shades, and in the end blended the sky and grass areas together. If you want your colours to be lighter, add more water, or if you want them to be stronger apply more colour without dipping your brush in water. In this painting, I also added salt to give the painting a dramatic effect.

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