Five Stages: Wet in Wet Method

Watercolours wet-in-wet methods:

There is a misconception about the wet-in-wet method. It’s actually a process: from wet-to-dry. While the paint is wet you get very blurred edges, and as the paint dries you get sharper and shaper edges. At each stage of wet-to-dry, you can perform different types of techniques.

Watercolour using wet in wet method

A5 watercolour: Imaginary scene using wet-in-wet method.

First stage: WETTING both sides of YOUR PAPER.

“Why do you wet both sides of the paper?” With both sides of the paper equally wet, it equally counteracts and neutralizes the possibility of cockling.

Cockling is when your paper pucker and forms undulated valleys, where paint gathers in nasty pools.

Personally I lightly (fine) spray my drawing-board first with water. Then place my paper on the wet surface and lightly spray my paper as well. But you don’t have to wet your drawing board like I do, just hold up your paper and spray it both sides and then lay it down on your board.

You must paint immediately after spraying your paper. If you don’t, the water soaks into those speckled spots and the result is that your wash when you do paint over the paper, your painting will look spotty (unless of cause you require a starry night effect).

To prevent spottiness, make sure you are properly setup to paint before you start spraying. Perhaps it’s better to use a sponge if you are unsure or apprehensive.

“But I see other artists tape down their watercolour paper, why don’t you?”

I don’t tape mine down, because it adds to the cost of the commission and its time-consuming. Also I place a wet/damp cloth under my paper if I want to prolong the wet/damp state. Then if I want to hurry-up the drying process, I place my painting on a rumpled towel, this allows the air current to pass easily under and around the painting.

WATCH-OUT:   Whatever you do, don’t ever over wet your paper. The paper becomes soggy. And if you stir your paint into that, you will land up with mush. Better to quickly soak up the pool of liquid with a sponge before it’s absorbed. If it’s too bad, the situation is beyond repair, rather throw away the soggy paper and start over with a fresh piece of paper.

 Stage two: UNDERCOAT STAGE is optional:

An undercoat doesn’t have to be an overall imprimatura wash. You can also block in a selected area or shape.

 “Why do an undercoat?”

  • An overall wash prevents white spots and contours occurring. It unites the composition components and radiates up through the topcoats, giving your painting an atmospheric appeal.
  • *Blocking in selected mass shapes with their local colour pronounces their shape’s And also it allows you to retain white areas in the rest of your painting, thus keeping those areas fresh, like the blue of clear day sky.

Stage three: SYNOPSIS STAGE is optional:

Synopsis is done when you want to assess the placement of objects within your composition. Only the dominant shapes (objects) are done with the synopsis. That is, a minimal symbolic rendition of the basic facts. It’s important that you don’t start with detail. Detail at the beginning complicates things. From experience I can tell you, you tend to fuss and your work turns out looking busy and contrived.

If you do a synopsis stage you don’t have to do stage two, unless of cause you want a coloured background.

 “What is a watercolour synopsis?”

A synopsis is a light coloured outline sketch, using a brush instead of a pencil. `Draw’ the basic outline shape of the object with soft free-flowing spontaneous brushstrokes. Use simple symbolic formations to identify the basic shapes, flow of gestures, planes and action lines. Don’t worry about neatness or precision.

The paint on your brush must be the same or similar colour to the background, or the object you intend to create, for example:

  • If you have a raw sienna background and blue vase: Use a mixture of the raw sienna and the blue you intend to use for the vase, for your synopsis.
  • White background and blue vase: use light blue synopsis paint.

 “Why is a synopsis generally done on a wet/damp surface!”

  • It gives you object atmospheric aura and perspective dimension, thus settling your object comfortably within your composition.
  • The blurred indistinct outline doesn’t fully define the shape at the start, thus giving you freedom to change it shape or position as you wish.

“Can we reiterate our synopsis?”

You can softly reiterate the shape of the synopsis while it is wet if you wish. Reiteration can suggest spiritual energy, a scherzo or animated movement. Reiteration also prevents a stiff rendition and in itself that generates emotion in the viewer.

Wet in wet synopsis

Watercolour synopsis examples.

Stage four: BLOCKING-IN the synopsis:

*Blocking-in is the filling-in of large prominent shapes or creating mass shapes with the local colour of the object(s). And the intensity of the colour depends on the result you require.

 “Where would you use blocking-in?”

  • When you want one flat colour, to create an open peaceful restful area in a busy painting.
  • And if you want to group small things together, you mass them together with one colour.

 “What if you want to add additional colours?”

  • Additional colours are added while the paint is still wet/damp, as more detail is required in the process of giving your painting description.
  • If you want an atmospheric effect, you mingle analogous colours. That is, blocking-in a warm colour and then dropping-in* a cool pigment while the first is still wet. For examples: French ultramarine blue and Winsor thalo blue to give you sky atmospheric dimension. Or add magenta or orange to alizarin crimson to give the red object more impact. Tip: add the cool colour around the edges and warm colour in the centre, to give the object smooth perspective form.

 “So which brush should we use?”

Usually blocking-in is done with a big brush. The brush must fit the size of the area: the bigger the shape, bigger the brush you use, so you don’t get uneven fussy messy washes.

*DROPPING-IN:    If you drop-in another colour it enhances or subdues the local colour depending on, if you use an analogous colour or an earth pigment. Or if you want a glow effect, drop-in an opaque pigment, eg: white or yellow.

 Stage five: RE-WETTING is optional:

Re-wetting is done when the previous washes are dry. You could call this glazing as well. Some people call it ‘subtractive colour mixing’, because the result of two colours (layers) makes a `third-party’ colour.

“Why should you re-wet an area?”

  • When you are layering colours, you can achieve a particular colour you wouldn’t naturally get in pre-mixing. In this case try to use fresh analogous translucent pigments. If you layer complement colours you will get grey results.
  • Or if you want to remove paint to create a special effect, like light coloured stones or white tree trunks.

Often used to correct mistakes:

  • Sometimes you re-wet an area or spot because you want to blot and remove colour there. The size of the brush depends on the size of the area or spot.
  • Or you want to re-work the area or soften a sharp contour (outline) edge before the paint stains or dries completely.


From all that has been said so far in this ‘Watercolour Secrets’ blog series, I’m sure for those who have had misgivings about watercolours in the past and not been able to correct mistakes etc, will by now think otherwise.

It’s a great medium. You can create a painting faster than an oil painting. In fact the merger of colours is a boon. The colours mingle so beautifully, giving you such exquisite atmospheric ambiance, that you can’t achieve in any other medium.

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