How To Paint Using The Wet On Wet Watercolor Technique

A watercolor painting of landscape

Watercolor is a versatile medium and can be used to paint portraits, landscapes, or abstract paintings. Watercolorists use several techniques, and one of them is wet on wet. 

This guide on the wet on wet watercolor technique will discuss how it differs from other techniques, how to do it successfully, and every watercolorist should know additional pertinent information.

Get all your supplies together before starting. Tape your paper to a flat surface, then apply water until it turns shiny. 

Start by applying a bright wash over the paper, then add your details. Maintain a balance of the washes by wiping off excess colors, then highlighting your images. Lastly, take a step back from your painting to get it a good look.

How to Paint Wet on Wet Watercolor

Blending watercolors in wet on wet technique
Blending watercolors in wet on wet technique - Image by
Kirsty Partridge

1. Tape your paper on a flat surface.

It is important to prepare your paper well before starting the wet-on-wet technique. You can use an easel, a drawing board, or a piece of glass to tape your paper.

Use washi tape, painter's tape, or drafting tape but be sure to push the tape where it meets the paper to seal in the colors, and you get a good white space around your painting.

2. Pre-wet your watercolor paper.

Once you have securely taped the watercolor paper on a flat surface, apply water to the paper using a mop, flat, or hake brush. 

Aside from brushes, you may also use a spray bottle to wet the paper. Remove the excess water with the brush or paper towel.

You're sure the watercolor paper is adequately wet when it looks shiny under the light.

3. Add the background wash.

Use a mop or a flat brush to add a background wash. Leave the first wash light enough to avoid clashing with the whole painting. Make your paint strokes in one direction.

Sometimes, artists omit this step. However, if you want to do this, add less water curing the pre-wetting stage, so your paper is only damp, not soggy.

4. Start painting your image.

Start painting on the wet area by adding certain elements to your painting. You may need more water if the paper gets dry. 

Add shapes and slowly spread your wet paint over the design to blend in the colors well.

5. Wipe off excess colors and wetness.

Have a clean rag or paper towel with you when painting so you can remove the excess water while painting. If your paper is too wet, it may cause issues with blending techniques, while colors too dark may cause your painting to look too sad.

6. Add details and contrasts.

Add outlines and fine details to your painting, then adjust the contrast. In this stage, let the painting dry completely before adding a second color for the glaze. Glazing will create depth and dimension to your painting, so it is very important.

7. Step back to view the whole painting

While you're painting, you only focus on certain parts of your work. However, to see what you've done so far, step back to see the bigger picture. 

If necessary, make changes and then repeat looking at the entire painting until you achieve the desired result.

Wet on Wet Watercolor Techniques

Different blending techniques used for wet on wet watercolor


Blooms make lovely graded colors when applied next to each other. 

To make the bloom effect, add a wet wash on the watercolor paper, add new paint layers using a round brush, and let the colors blend. Lay your watercolor paper flat on the drawing table, and let the watercolors work their magic on the wet paper.


Getting runs is part of the painting process, especially if you're doing the watercolor abstract painting. Runs are best observed when painting wet paper and are made by the natural movement of the water or by controlling the angle of the paper.

You can either tilt the paper or tap the paper while holding it vertically on the drawing table so that the paint runs on the wet surface, giving them soft edges.


Splattering creates different effects, depending on the technique you use. The watercolor splatter remains sharp when applied on dry paper, but the shapes are more random when used on wet techniques.

Control the shape of the splatters by holding the other brush at a certain height from the painting. Try splattering on another piece of paper to see how it goes.

For creating the splatters, hold a clean brush with your non-dominant hand. Dip the brush you're using into the watercolor, then tap it on the other brush to create splatters on the painting.


Bleeding is a popular method of feathered effects or softening lines and is best done while the watercolor is still wet. However, you can still reactivate the watercolors even if it is already dry to soften the edges of your artwork.

Bleeding is different from blooming. When watercolor bleeds, the paint expands outside the painted area, often done intentionally by the artist to soften the edges of the painting.

To do this technique, simply rinse your brush thoroughly and draw a clean line right along one edge of whatever shape you want to soften out with water. The watercolors will then feather into a softer and more appealing effect on the painting.

However, only watercolors that stain the paper are best for the bleeding technique. Some watercolors, especially the cheap ones, 'float' over the paper, resulting in lifted-out colors and no bleeding at all.


Some artists treat backruns as an error, while others intentionally add them to improve the depth and texture, especially when adding details. Backruns are best used for watercolor abstract paintings, and you should avoid them in realistic and structured paintings.

To minimize backruns, tap your paintbrush on a clean rag or let the layers dry before adding layers.


When you add another color to wet watercolor on the paper, artists refer to it as charging. Instead of mixing your paint on the palette, you mix the colors directly on the watercolor paper, creating a smooth transition of colors in a gradient and softer edges on the painting.


Glazing is adding one or two colors over another color. However, you wait until the layer you want is dry for this technique before adding another color. The result is a textured effect instead of a one-color painting.

Another method is applying glaze using the wet on wet technique. Here, the artist adds one color over the dried layer, then adds another color to enhance the saturation of the colors. For example, you may add a red glaze over pink and a small black to deepen the red glaze.

Tips for Using Wet on Wet Watercolor Techniques

Watercolor paintings and supplies

Use at least 140lb (300gsm) watercolor paper

It's vital to use watercolor paper that is heavy and absorbent enough for your paints. For the wet on wet technique, use at least 140lb (300gsm) watercolor paper with enough tooth (texture) to hold the watercolors. For best results, though, go for heavier watercolor paper.

Choose your color palette wisely

Watercolor has properties that make it hard for an artist to control, especially when employing the wet on wet technique. Once applied to wet watercolor paper, the watercolor runs and blends with the other colors. 

However, to keep the colors distinct and less chaotic, know your color palette first. It helps to try several color combinations before starting to understand how a color behaves when applied wet on wet and how it appears after it dries. 

Complementary colors tend to dull each other, so stay away from these color combinations unless you want them.

Use multiple water cups

Painting with dirty water can significantly impact your painting, especially if you're using the wet on wet. 

Not only will it make the colors go wrong, but also you might end up using too much paint and ruining an otherwise beautiful piece of artwork.

It is best to use two or three water cups to clean the brush, one for rinsing and mixing colors. Always have a cup of clean water nearby so you can change your cleaning water if necessary.

Control the amount of water used

One way to know that your water is wet enough is the sheen when you hold it to light. Even if you use heavy watercolor paper, it has a saturation point, and anything that is not absorbed is excess water.

Remove excess water by dabbing the watercolor paper with a wadded paper towel. You can also use a flat brush to scrape off excess water.

Another trick is to let the watercolor paint dry before adding new layers. You can also wipe excess water on a paper towel if you think there's too much on the brush. Too much water on the brush leads to washed-out colors.

Don't expect a perfect painting

Sometimes all that needs repair is some gentle lifting of wet paint. You can carefully remove any excess with a paper towel or cloth before letting it dry entirely not to damage other areas in your painting which will be easier for future work.

Often, though, it's best to forget about our mistakes and move on simply. Some masterpieces were a result of a fortunate mistake. 

According to art critics, the painting The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky shows a wrong depiction of the oceanic wave.

But if you want to correct a portion of your watercolor painting, some artists swear by Dr. Ph Martin's Bleedproof White. This opaque watercolor effectively covers up mistakes on paper-based surfaces.

Common Terms


Pre-wetting is the term painters use to apply water to their watercolor paper before they start watercolor painting. Apply only enough water so you don't get it sopping wet as an overly paper may affect the result of your painting, not to mention damage your paper.

You know you've wet your paper enough when it gives a sheen when held to the light. Pre-wetting is also sometimes called priming.


The paper expands when it gets wet but buckles when it dries, though it's less noticeable when using heavier paper. To prevent the paper from buckling, tape it well on a flat surface before getting it wet.

After the painting, leave the paper flat on the table and let it dry naturally before removing the tapes.

Wet on Wet Watercolor Technique FAQ

How do you blend watercolor on wet?

Blending colors on wet is easier than when you use the wet on dry technique. The transition from one color to the other is smoother, so it is hard to identify the edges of the colors since they are a lot softer.

To blend watercolor, paint on one end of your shape, then add the second color to the far end. Slowly work the colors toward the center and work over both sides to smoothen their meeting point while creating a third color.

How do watercolors get different effects?

Different techniques create different effects on the watercolor, making it a very dynamic medium. This technique is best used on abstract and paintings that need fewer details.

If you want a more detailed watercolor painting, wet paint on dry paper is best because it has a structured effect with sharper edges and more defined shapes.

Do you add water to watercolor paint?

Water is very important for this medium. When you want light washes, you add more water to your watercolor, while if you want a more intense effect, use less water on your paint.

You can control how much water to add during the painting process to create the effect you want.

What is the difference between watercolor and poster color?

Though these are both water-based paints, watercolors are transparent while poster colors are opaque. Watercolors use finely-ground pigments, while poster colors use larger pigments leading to a grainy or chalky feel.

Both are water-soluble and are not permanent, meaning you can reactivate them when you wet the surface. However, layering one color over the other then reactivating the colors results in a muddy effect. On the other hand, watercolors are not prone to this effect, though the choice of colors may result in a dulled effect, especially if you add gray.


If you are interested in watercolor painting, this article will provide you with the information necessary to get started. The wet-on-wet technique is a great way to paint beautiful landscapes or abstracts that have depth and dimension. 

This guide should help aspiring watercolorists learn the basics of this technique and use the tips we provided here to improve their skills.

Feel free to share with us your experiences. We love hearing from our readers.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published