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Watercolour techniques

What are the 4 most frequently used watercolour techniques?

Watercolour has four techniques:

wet-in-wet, wet-on-dry, dry-on-wet and dry-on-dry. Each of these four techniques offers different possibilities allowing the artist to create great variation and interest in his/her work. A painting completed using just one technique can be monotonous and boring. Understanding these four techniques will allow you later to choose the best technique for each area of your painting depending on your needs. The last thing we want in painting is habit and routine, each painting will demand its own reflection, its own colour range, its own value range and its own technical range.

1. Wet-in-wet

Wet-in-wet is the ideal technique used for large fused surfaces where no precision

is necessary. An area of the painting,or all of the paper, is wet before colour is laid down. The colour will move freely across the pre-wet surface. If you paint on a horizontal surface the colour will fuse in all directions, if your board is inclined the colour will run vertically. You can obviously take the sheet or board in hand and guide the colour in the direction that suits you.



◆ Creates graded washes ideal for creating light and atmosphere.

◆ The washes beautifully cover large surfaces.

◆ As the paper is wet from the beginning the colour does not mark the paper and brush strokes are not visible.

◆ The wetter the paper, the more time you have to work.



◆ It is not possible to preserve precise unpainted areas of the paper without the use of drawing gum.

◆ It is not possible to paint precise shapes whilst the paper is wet.

◆ Due to the quantity of water in the brush and on the paper the colours are diluted, therefore lower in colour saturation and lighter in tonal value than if they were laid down on dry paper due to the second reserve of water already on the paper and the fact that this water draws the colour into the heart of the paper as opposed to remaining on the surface.

2. Wet-on-dry

Wet-on-dry is another technique used for large surfaces. The wet brush loaded with colour and water is laid down on dry paper. This technique can also create graded washes of a large scale. As the paper is dry the colour will mark the paper easily so you need to paint quickly with this technique. The colour will follow the trail of wet paint laid down which allows the painter to paint precise shapes or paint negative shapes by painting precisely around shapes.



◆ A good technique for painting large surfaces.

◆ This technique allows for more control than the wet-in-wet technique.

◆ Painting precise shapes or leaving precise shapes on unpainted paper are both easily achieved.

◆ Colours and values will remain stronger than with the wet-in-wet technique as the only water source is from the brush, as opposed to the brush and the paper with the wet-in-wet technique and more colour will remain on the paper’s surface.



◆ As the paper is dry the colours mark very quickly so speed is important.

3. Dry-on-wet

In my opinion this technique should be termed moist on wet or moist on moist. It means taking either pure paint or a moist diluted colour and placing it on the wet to moist surface of the paper. The key here is that the brush must always be dryer than the surface of the paper. If the brush is wetter than the paper you will lift off the colour already on the paper and possibly also mark a water mark. This technique is great for creating subtlety, it is my preferred technique. This technique requires a little more experience as constant adaptation of the brush contents on the drying paper surface is needed, but gives great effects.



◆ The best technique for creating depth and subtle detail.

◆ Shapes take on a fused, soft edge. This technique avoids “stuck on” shape appearances.

◆ Creates a better continuation in the painting as everything is painted in one go.



◆ If sharp edges are wanted this technique is not ideal.

◆ As the colour applied is moist colour intensity and value will be reduced when dry.


4. Dry-on-dry

Dry-on-dry is a technique for panting details and precision. The dry to moist brush is pulled over the dry surface of the paper leaving a rough or brokenedged stroke behind it. This technique is very good when a hard edge is required.



◆ This technique is also ideal for creating an illusion of texture.

◆ As the paint can be used either undiluted or diluted and the brush dried once charged, it is possible to achieve dry brushwork the stretches across the entire tonal value and colour saturation spectrum.



◆ As the paper is dry the colours mark very quickly so speed and accuracy are important.

◆ Dry brush work does not blend in with other washes and can create a cutand-pasted appearance.

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