Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting

This morning at the farmers’ market I bought cabbage flowers.

I decided to use them as inspiration for some wet-on-wet watercolor painting.

Materials: Watercolor paper, Stockmar watercolors, glass jars, soft paintbrushes, painting boards, sponges.

Although I’m using a technique common in Waldorf education (and one I learned while homeschooling using Enki curriculum), what I’m demonstrating here is the nuts and bolts of set-up, not the particular method of introducing the colors, paints, and technique used in either philosophy. There’s quite a bit of setup before getting the kids in the studio.

First, mix the paint. I eyeball it, squeezing some paint into the glass jars (I’m almost out, so this got tough!), adding some water, and then shaking it up. Because my paints are getting old, I stirred some, too, using the end of a paintbrush.

This is what each child’s place at the art table looks like:

A painting board, sponge, paintbrush, jars of color, jar of clean water for rinsing, and some paper towel to dry the brush on (a cloth towel works well for this, too). You can buy very nice painting boards that will last and last, but I went to Home Depot and had them cut a piece of board for me. (I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s the same brown board that clip boards are made out of. Anyone know what that’s called?) This will warp over time, but it cost maybe $5 for three of them 2 1/2 years ago, and they’re still working just fine.

Back to procedure: You need to soak your paper.

Before I had a utility sink, I used a plastic storage bin with water in it. Just make sure the bin is larger than the paper you intend to use. You can soak more than one piece at a time, but put them in one by one, gently submerging them. Ignore them while you finish setting up. A few minutes is good. When you’re ready, take one out, let some water run off, then place it on a board. Show your child how to use the sponge to wipe the paper, top to bottom, to wick up the excess water–but make sure he’s not overzealous, or the paper will be too dry. Just a gentle wipe is enough.

Then paint.

I suggested the boys use the flowers as inspiration, pointing out that they wouldn’t be able to match the colors exactly. We talked about how we could create the colors of the flower (mostly green and purple) using the colors we had (red, blue, yellow), but I pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to create a painting that looked exactly like what we saw. Wet watercolors going onto wet paper makes a beautiful, hazy effect, but it’s not going to be detailed. “Try to paint the idea of the flower, not necessarily the flower itself.”

(“I don’t understand you,” said my literal, logical nine-year-old. We got there.)

Those paintings in the photo on the left are drying on top of my washing machine. Use the space you have, I say. I soaked enough paper for two paintings each, and we only have three boards, so I had to get creative. On the far left is my toddler’s experimentation. She tried each color, and then she was ready to move on. (She’d already painted at the easel, and then she went on to draw with crayons.) On the right is one of my nine-year-old’s paintings, and the photo on the far right shows his second painting, still in progress, where he’s working on the idea of the veins of the petals.

My six-year-old, I think, focused on the colors he saw.

You can see the effect of the watercolors. It really is beautiful. There are some nice explanations on how to use this technique with the Waldorf method, and this is something I plan to do with my daughter as she gets a little older. (I particularly like this one, which I recently found.) Meanwhile, I don’t think we’re quite done with these cabbage flowers in the studio just yet.

5 thoughts on “Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting

  1. Michelle

    Yes, my literal 7 yr old will probably have the same response. 🙂
    So those are the liquid watercolors? I saw somewhere a dilution ration of 10:1. Does that sound about right for the liquid or the tubes?

  2. abh21

    No, the Stockmar aren’t liquid, they’re kind of gooey and then you dilute them. I was never very good at following the ratios (same way in the kitchen–oh, some of this, some of that!). I just kind of eyeball it. Sometimes they come out too watery. Then just add a little more paint. 😉

    We used the liquid watercolors the next day–you’ll see the difference in the next post.

  3. Rachelle

    your 6 year old’s pictures do look like an interpretation of the purple cabbage flowers! i love that you do all of these activities with a toddler, 6 year old, and 9 year old!! i can’t even imagine how i’d do that, but you’re able to pull it off so effortlessly.

    1. abh21

      I usually do these activities on weekends when my husband is home (although not always), because that’s when my school-aged kids have time. So if he’s home, he’ll play with our toddler if/when she decides she’s done. But even without him, it usually works out okay, because the kids are interested in what we’re doing.

  4. Pingback: Cabbage Flowers, Revisited | kids in the studio

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