Controlled Wet on Wet Technique

Controlled Wet on Wet Technique

As the paper dries, during the wet on wet technique, it will arrive at a point where it has lost its shine, now if at this stage you run the point of your brush across this damp section of paper you will see an interesting effect as shown in figure two. As the paper is no longer very wet, at this point it will actually have less water on it than is on your brush. Now what happens is that instead of the watercolor paint just running down the paper, some of it is actually sucked up into the dryer section of the paper – so you can get a whole range of soft to furry effects both up and down from the position of your brush stroke.  I use this edge in many places within my watercolor paintings. This is a great edge I use for creating soft connections of a boat’s hull with the water so it looks like it is floating, I use it when creating certain shadow shapes, for quickly creating trees and reflections on a distant lake shore and I also use it in my watercolor landscape paintings to create a tree line on top of a hill. Its uses are almost endless!

Controlled Wet on Wet Watercolor Technique
Figure 2: Controlled Wet on Wet Technique for watercolor painting
Controlled Wet on Wet Technique, with addition water brush stroke
Figure 3: Controlled Wet on Wet technique followed by a stroke of clean water to create a shore line
Waterline of Boat painted with controlled wet on wet technique
Figure 4: Waterline of Boat painted with controlled wet on wet technique
Distant tree line painted with controlled wet on wet brush stroke
Figure 5: Distant tree line painted with controlled wet on wet brush stroke

When painting with watercolor you need to take advantage of this interaction of water,watercolor paint and gavity, to create the effects you would like to produce.

This is one of the most difficult of edges to conquer as so much depends on timing (how wet is your water color painting), how wet is your watercolor mixture in your pallet and brush, the anble of your board as well as how fast it is all drying; environmental conditions greatly affect your painting and you must be aware of them. When painting watercolor landscapes plein air environmental conditions are even more critical!

Continue to: Watercolor techniques wet on dry

Painting Reflections and Shadows

Painting reflections and shadows with watercolor

Some of my beginner watercolor painting students often get confused when painting reflections and shadows. As they follow quite different rules it is best to have each clear in your mind before you start painting.

For the purposes of this article, cast shadows, are shadows formed by objects which block light from the sun or another light source and is seen as a hard edged shape on the ground or other surface. This is different to form shadows which appear as the shaded side of an object away from the source of light. Form shadows add solidity or form to an object being painted. For this article I am referring to cast shadows unless I state otherwise.

If there are only shadows, then it seems clear enough, but once reflections are thrown in students sometimes confuse the two and often have then going in the wrong direction.

Painting Reflections

A simple rule to follow is:

  • Reflections are always towards the viewer and directly below the object they are reflecting.

Painting reflections of Clouds
Figure 1: Painting reflections of Clouds
Reflections of Buildings and Boats
Figure 2: Reflections of Buildings and Boats

Continue to: How to paint shadows with watercolor

Watercolor Brushes and Paint for Beginners

Watercolor Brushes

Brushes used when painting with watercolor come in many forms and quality levels.

Some of the most common types are:

  • Round Brushes
  • Flat Brushes
  • Mop Brushes
  • Fan Brushes
  • Rigger Brushes

I use round brushes for 95% of my work, but also use all the others as I need them.

For beginners Round Brushes are the best way to go so will concentrate on these for this article.

When selecting a round brush the key thing to look for is a brush which comes to a good point when it is wet and you tap the ferule (the metal part that holds the brush hairs on the wood handle) on the side of something hard like your water container. The brush must also hold a lot of water. You can see an image of good round watercolor brushes below.

Round Watercolor Brushes hold lots of paint and bounce back to a point
Good quality round watercolor brushes have a good point and hold lots of water

In the past the standard recommendation was to buy the most expensive brush you could afford (usually this meant one made from sable – if you could afford it). These days there are brushes which are much less expensive and still do an excellent job.  The ones I use are a mixture of squirrel hair and manmade fibers.

Why do you want such a brush?  Well if it has a good point it means you can use it to paint both broad and fine areas without having to change brushes.  And why is this important you say? Well each time you have to change brushes you lose valuable time during which your painting will be drying (remember the water in watercolor) and if it dries too much you may not be able to produce the particular effect you are after.  Understanding what the water is doing on your paper, in your brushes, and in your palette is critical to painting good watercolor paintings.

Key points for watercolor round brush selection for beginners: Comes to a good point and holds lots of water.

Artist’s Quality Watercolor Paint

Artists quality paints often appear excessively expensive when you first start out however as in most things in life you get what you pay for.

Why Artist’s quality paint should be used instead of student grade watercolor paint?

Artist’s quality paints generally use purer pigments. Usually the student grade paints use pigments that are the “hue of” some color or pigment rather than the real thing. This means the colors are different. This is mainly a problem if you are taking a class and you have different paints than what your teacher is using and you ask him what paints he used to create a particular color.

Artists’ watercolors have much less filler (used to alter the way the paint behaves out of the tube) than student paints. This means you get more pigment per volume of paint tube. The colors will look cleaner and more transparent as often, in my experience, the fillers make the paint look more opaque.

Student watercolor paints also have more gum Arabic, the glue which allows the paint to stick to your paper, again reducing the amount of pigment which you are actually purchasing for your money.

So now that you have the correct materials and you have decided you want to paint a particular subject matter how you should tackle your painting.

For now we will assume that you have a good design, I will be talking about the importance of good design in another article.

After doing a light drawing on your paper, begin by mixing your starting colors in your pallet before you touch the paint. I often have three of more colors already mixed before I ever touch the paper with my brush. Test you colors on a scrap piece of watercolor paper to make sure each mix is correct color you are after and is of the right consistency.

Usually you will start with the large shapes in your painting e.g. the sky and the ground, so use your largest brushes for these. As these shapes are often the lightest tones, you will have more water in your mixes than later on.  Then as your painting progresses, you will work with smaller brushes and thicker paint (less water) as you work on smaller and smaller shapes. You can read more about this in my article on watercolor painting steps and my watercolor progression chart.

Remember, it is very important to observe what the water is doing. So keep an eye on it, on your paper, brush and palette.  The more in tune you are to it the better and more confident your work will become.

Watercolor Painting for Beginners

When discussing watercolor painting for beginners, you generally start with what materials you will need and why.

Painting with Watercolor can be a little daunting for beginners starting out with this wonderful medium but there are steps you can take to make learning it as easy as possible.  These steps will also ensure you develop good habits which will make your watercolor painting much more fruitful in the years to come.

Watercolor (watercolour) is a great medium as it is very portable, does not give off fumes (its relatively clean) and can be fast to paint with. Also your paint generally will not go off, even after it has been allowed to dry, you can rewet it and continue painting.  Once you have developed a level of proficiency it will help you paint your paintings in a way no other medium can.

Your first step is to start with the correct materials.  While a good tradesman can do a reasonable job with poor tools, it is also true that a beginner will have a very difficult time with those same tools. The same applies when you start out with watercolor.

Watercolor Materials

The correct watercolor materials in order of importance are: watercolor paper, brushes and artist’s quality paints. In addition to these you will need a white palette which has large mixing areas and big wells to hold lots of watercolor paint, a backing board (sealed light plywood would be fine for starters), a simple easel (or you just use a book or something to hold you board at an angle), old towel to adjust the moisture content of your brush, tissues, HB pencil (I use a .7 mm clutch pencil as its point is predicable and I can store a lot of leads within the body of the pencil) and a knead able eraser.

I will devote my time talking about the first three materials as they are the most important of the above list, though there is one material I have not listed which is actually the most important – water! But I will discuss that on its own in a later article.

Watercolor Paper

There are many good watercolor paper brands on the market, Arches and Saunders Waterford are the main ones I use but there are many others. They each have different textures and properties which you should try out to find which best suit your particular interest in painting.  You want paper with good sizing (this is like glue that is used to stop the paper from acting like blotting paper which would be very bad for most watercolor techniques).  The sizing also makes the paper tougher, so it minimizes the damage to the paper as you work and lift color from it.

Watercolor paper come is various weights (think thicknesses) and usually when you start out you want to use paper of around 300gsm (140lb) weight.  If you select paper that is too thin it will very easily cockle (buckle) as it absorbs moisture. This will happen anyway but the thinner the paper the more this will happen faster making it difficult for you to paint.

Textures on watercolor paper vary from supplier to supplier, however there are some terms you should know which can help you in your selection within a particular suppliers range.

The three surface textures used when talking about watercolor paper are: Hot Press or Smooth, Cold Press or Medium (also known as NOT – Not Hot Press, though is not so common) and Rough.

The smoother the paper the faster the paint will dry. The reason for this is that the texture of Rough Paper has lots of little troughs which hold water, hence keeping the paper wet longer. Cold Press has smaller troughs so dries faster and smooth dries the fastest.

As your skill level develops you will be able to use smoother paper but when just starting out the Rough Paper is your best choice, especially for doing landscapes. Obviously if you are doing very detailed work like botanical art then you will need to start with Smooth watercolor paper right from the start.

Key points for Watercolor Paper selection: 1. Not too absorbent (good sizing). 2. 3oo gsm weight. 3. Rough texture.

Continue to: Watercolor Materials for Beginners


Watercolor Painting Starting Kit

This is my recommended watercolor painting starting kit for my students. It may not suit everyone so please check with your teacher for his or her requirements.


Arches Rough, 300gsm, one full sheet 56cm x 76cm, cut into quarters.  Do not skimp on paper, poor quality paper will make it impossible to do good work.


They must come to a nice point when wet.

Round brushes sizes 10,16 and 24. I use NEEF 4750-LP squirrel mix brushes as they have a great point and are not too expensive.


White plastic one with large mixing areas and large paint wells to hold plenty of paint.  A pallet which has narrow small wells for paint will make it difficult for you to get the paint out.  It will also cause more wear and tear on your brushes and will make it harder to keep paint clean.


I use Winsor & Newton Artists quality paint.  It is better to buy a few tubes of artists’ quality paint than lots of student grade (cheaper) ones.  There are many reasons for this. One of the main ones is because your tutor/teacher will not be able to help much with colour mixes because pigments used in artist’s quality paints are almost always different than those in student grade paints.  So if you ask your tutor which colours he used in a particular mix it won’t do you any good as you will be using different paints.  Other reasons for going with artist’s quality paints include purer and more transparent colours, better archival qualities and better handling.

Ideal starting colours for beginners would be

French Ultramarine

Cobalt Blue

Alizarin Crimson

Cadmium Red

Cadmium Orange

Cadmium Yellow Pale


Yellow Ochre

Raw Umber

Burnt Sienna

Cobalt Turquoise

Initially you could make do with

French Ultramarine

Alizarin Crimson


Yellow Ochre

Raw Umber

Burnt Sienna

Miscellaneous Items

Piece of plywood about 5 cm all around wider than a quarter sheet of watercolour paper

Box of cheap plain white tissues

An old hand towel

Spray bottle with a fine mist

Roll of 2.5cm masking tape

Kneadable eraser

Water containers and watercolor desktop easels provided in class.

Happy painting,

Joe Cartwright