Wet-on-wet watercolor painting is a technique taught in Waldorf schools and enjoyed by many homeschoolers. Watercolors are painted on a wet surface, allowing the colors to shift and blend into each other. It’s a satisfying artistic experience, and the beautiful results can be turned into lovely gift cards, book covers, paper lanterns or any number of beautiful objets d’art.
The intent of wet-on-wet painting is to give young children (5–6 years old) an experience of color without form. Because the wet paint is laid on wet paper, the colors flow, blending into one another in beautiful, unexpected ways.
I recommend painting with one color at a time to get comfortable with the technique. Single colors can be painted as “clouds” of color with varying intensity on the page, allowing some white to shine through here and there. You’ll be surprised how beautiful a painting with just one color can be!
Discovering the Magic
After painting with each of the primary colors singly, try the various two-color combinations: red/yellow, red/blue, and yellow/blue. Children will be excited as they experience how secondary colors are formed when combining two colors.
“Look, Mama! There’s orange in my jar!” Let them discover the magic for themselves. There’s no need for any further explanation at this age.
After experiencing the single colors, then two colors, children can be introduced to painting with all three primary colors.
What You’ll Need
A sink, basin or tray in which to soak your paper; an inexpensive kitty litter tray (new, not used!) works well
Heavyweight watercolor paper (I recommend 140 lb. weight; the size I like is 11 by 15 inches)
1-3 shades of watercolor paint: Carmine Red, Ultramarine Blue and/or Lemon Yellow (I recommend Stockmar paint, but artist’s watercolor paint in a tube works well, too)
- p>A watercolor paintbrush with flat bristles (1 to 1.5 inches wide)
Two pint-size jars: one for water, and one for mixing paint
One baby-food jar for each color of paint
A flat, waterproof board or counter on which to work
Two sponges (one clean and paint-free, and the other to wipe the painting board clean later)
Note: The above-mentioned supplies can be purchased online from Bella Luna Toys (bellalunatoys.com), but similar products can be found at your local art supply store.
Submerge the paper (one sheet at a time, so that they don’t stick together) in water and let it soak while you prepare everything else. Paper should soak for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Mix your paint(s). When starting out, I recommend painting with one color at a time. Put a dollop of paint in the bottom of a pint jar (a tablespoon or so), and add water until the jar is about three-quarters full. Mix well. (I like to use a chopstick for this purpose.) You can test the intensity of the shade on a scrap of paper. Add more paint to make stronger hues, or add more water to soften.
Pour a small amount of mixed paint (just enough to cover the bottom) into baby-food jars (one for each painter). The remaining paint can be refrigerated to use again later.
Lay a piece of soaked paper on a painting board or another flat, smooth, waterproof surface. A kitchen counter works well, but keep in mind that the painting should not be moved from the surface until dry. Most watercolor paper has a rougher side and a smoother side. Lay the paper down with the rough side up.
Wipe the excess water off the paper with a clean, damp sponge. Make sure there are no puddles of water on the paper, and wipe away any air bubbles. The paper should have a sheen to it, but not be soaking wet. Now you are ready to paint!
Brush on Paper
You want to model this technique for young children, so make sure you have set up all supplies for yourself and your children.
Have each painter’s station set up with:
A painting board and paper
A jar of water
Jar or jars of paint
I wait to hand the child his or her brush until after I’ve told a “color story” like this one:
“One morning, Tippy Brush woke up and looked outside his bedroom window. It was a crisp autumn morning. As he looked outside his window, he saw bright red leaves falling from the maple tree and blowing in the wind, filling the sky with their color. ‘Oh, I want to play with red today!’ he thought.
So Tippy jumped out of bed, but before he went outside, he had a nice foot bath…
[Here I would demonstrate rinsing the bristles clean in the jar of water.]
…and dried his feet clean with his towel [the rag]. Then Tippy ran outside and cried, “Good morning, Red! I’ve come to play with you!”
[At this point Tippy (my brush) dips his “toes” (the bristles) in the red paint.]
The red leaves were happy to have a playmate, and Tippy joyfully danced among the falling red leaves, until there were piles of bright red leaves all around.”
[Here I would apply the red paint to my paper, placing red here and there, letting the colors dance on the page.]
After telling the story, I would hand out the paintbrushes and let the children paint freely.
When everyone is finished painting, allow the paintings to dry thoroughly before removing them from your board or counter.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #36.
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