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Watercolour | Wet on Wet

Wet on wet is a watercolour technique used by artists such as Emil Nolde when particular effects are desired; it refers to laying down watercolour onto paper that is entirely wet, or wet in areas. Here we mix Cadmium Yellow with Alizarin Crimson and Cerulean Blue with Alizarin Crimson as well, in an 80% to 20% ratio. Using paper on a 30-degree tilt, water is added generously to areas of the paper whilst leaving some dry as well. Then the lighter yellow-orange is applied to wet and dry paper and allowed to move freely, followed by the darker blue-purple mixture. Several things begin to happen as the colours run into each other on the paper and react with the wet and dry surfaces. Green is created as the yellow and blue mix; Alizarin separates from the Cerulean and a vibrant pink appears. The granular quality of the blue also becomes clear as it settles into the texture of the paper. When working this way, it is good to remember that the colours you choose should tend to a darker value as they will be diluted by the water already on the paper.

Video Transcript
0:07    Hi, today, we're going to look at a watercolour technique called wet on wet. For many artists, as in the work of Emil Nolde, working on a wet surface, lets the colour move around. And for the colours to mix on the paper. I’m going to use three colours to mix up two separate washes. The first is pure Cadmium Yellow. I’m mixing with just a touch of Alizarin to dull the brightness of the Cadmium in a clear glass. So I can see the opacity of the paint, as well as making sure it's evenly dispersed.

0:49    The second wash is dominated by Cerulean Blue, it's a lovely granular colour to use wet on wet. I've added some Alizarin Crimson to make it into a light purple, so roughly 80% Cerulean and 20% Alizarin. I’m now wetting some of the people here with water, you'll see why in a moment. It may not be obvious, but my work surface here is tilted at about 30 degrees.

1:28    So this is the lightest wash. Already we can see the contrast where the paper has been left dry, as it’s staying white against the yellow of the Cadmium. Now I’m adding the purple, initially the colours look very naive. But watch this as they slowly mix and separate on the paper. The Alizarin, through basic chromatography, separates from the Cerulean leaving the pink of the Alizarin behind.

2:02    I’m just going to take away some of the excess water from these hard lines with my brush. The tones I'm using are mixed slightly darker than I would with a dry on dry technique because they're diluting with the water already on the paper. Look here at how the sediment of the Cerulean has settled into the texture of the paper. And here where the Alizarin and Cerulean have separated from each other. Also areas here, where the yellow and blue have made green.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing how using colour on wet paper and by playing with the tilt of the paper, you can achieve some interesting results.