Watercolor Techniques

Watercolor Technique Wet-On-Wet

The watercolor technique of wet-on-wet is the process of wetting the paper’s surface first with water before applying watercolor paint to it. The water can be brushed on, sprayed on, or sponged on the paper. Watercolor paint is then brushed on while the paper is still wet or damp.

Wetting the paper first allows the watercolor paint to spread or flow when it is brushed on the wet surface. Whether the watercolor paint spreads or flows depends on the angle of the paper surface. If the paper is laid flat on a table, the watercolor paint will spread out from where the paintbrush tip touches the paper. How much the color spreads is dependent on the wetness of the paper. If the paper is placed at a slant on an easel, the watercolor paintbrush strokes will flow downward.

Wet-On-Wet Wash Technique

The wet-on-wet “wash” is used for painting large, solid-color backgrounds or underpainting for glazing and for smaller areas and objects in a composition.

  • Flat Wash Technique – painting an area with watercolor paint in a seamless color value without evident brush strokes showing.
  • Graded Wash Technique – painting an area with watercolor paint from a dark to a light color value by adding more water to the paint brush instead of adding more watercolor paint.

A sufficient amount of watercolor paint and water needs to be mixed ahead of time so that the color value is consistent throughout the wet-on-wet wash process. If you have to stop to mix more watercolor with water, the paper will become dry, and your wash mixture will most likely not have the same color value as your initial wash.

For covering large areas, use a one-inch flat brush or an oval “wash brush” (also called a “mop brush”). To paint smaller areas with a wet-on-wet wash, use a round brush size 10 or larger.

Controlling the brush and the painting speed is important. The wetness of the paper needs to be consistent until the desired area is covered with the wet-on-wet wash. The tip of the brush should lightly touch the paper and move across the paper in a smooth, horizontal stroke.

When the wet-on-wet wash is completed, leave the paper tilted at a slight angle on a board or easel until it has dried completely. Then proceed with painting the rest of your watercolor composition.


Use 140 lb cold press archival 100% cotton rag watercolor paper. It is advisable to stretch the watercolor paper first to prevent it from buckling if you plan to cover the paper with a wet-on-wet wash. To avoid stretching the paper, I recommend using a watercolor paper block.

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