«Watercolor on wet” or English watercolor painting technique

«Watercolor on wet» (which is commonly called «wet on wet» or «wet watercoloring»)– is a technique characterized by abundant wetting the canvas from both sides and applying the paint at the same time. It was first applied by Turner and last years this technique is becoming more and more popular among painters who aspire for dynamism of line, color effects, exquisite transparency and fluidity of depicted objects. Mastering the technique requires time and attention of the painter, who must know exactly the degree of canvas saturation with water (whatecolor is already water-based paint), to reach the desired effect. Any inaccuracy in this type of painting (in contrast to transparent watercoloring) is not subjected to correction. Just one mistake  - and the canvas has to be thrown into the dust-bin, and the painter has to start fresh! Even experienced artist working on wet canvas can't forsee the final result as the painting stays «in motion» till it becomes absolutely dry. It's one of the most difficult techniques in painting. It doesn't let to work in the open areas as well as it doesn't like artificial light.

Pieces of art executed in «watercolor on wet» technique are notable for soft lines and unique texture of color layer which is impossible to reach by any other painting technique. This method of watercolor painting is appropriate for landscapes and recapturing “ambience”, soft and transparent art works, as well as expressive, bright and multi-color pieces of art.

The paint is applied swiftly, in full force and effect, with only one touch. Pigments of different colors mixed with water, applied to wet canvas, are not mixing completely, the paints “push away” one another and “leak” into one another, creating new unexpected combinations.

Element of casuality and unexpectedness is always very strong as it’s impossible to have full control over the paint flow. Watercolor is a capricious lady requiring full mastering the technique but at the same time opening unique effects and possibilities.

Alexandra always works behind closed doors where there are no drafts and only under day light, and on the horizontal surface – to avoid downflows. In her pieces of art Alexandra doesn’t use white or black paint as these colors do not exist in their pure form. The painter obtains these colors by mixing colors of the palette. And this peculiarity is the first distinctive feature of Alexandra’s creativity.

The second destinctive feature of her art is making use of big formats of painting, some are more than 100cm wide.

The third peculiarity is brightness and rave of color, intensity and emotionality of the painting.

To conclude our essay of watercoloring on wet let’s recollect the most notorious representatives of this technique.

One of the brightest painters using the technique of English watercolor is William Turner. He often resorted to watercolor on wet (“wet on wet”) technique when he was required to do many paintings at once. Thus he started working on series of landscapes watercolors, which were to be engraved then.  Being an experienced watercolorist he, from the accounts of eyewitness, created his pieces of art with «astonishing and enormous” swiftness and reached smooth transitions of tones and fresh colors. The painter created four watercolor paintings at a time, plunging the canvases, fixed on the drawing board, into the bucket filled with water, one by one, and then swiftly laying paint, thus finishing a significant part of the painting. In the end, on dry canvas he worked out minor elements, squiggled, rubbed up paint with his finger or even scraped the paint off. Bringing his idea to reality, Turner never  strictly followed only one method, using all artistic devices of watercolorist’s arsenal. Nevertheless, it's noteworthy that watercolors of the 19th century were similar to modern gouache.

In the second half of the 19th century one of the first pensioner-architects of the Emperor’s Academy to apply “wet on wet” technique in architectural painting was M. Mesmacher. His watercolor painting «The view of Keln Cathedral» is executed the way it was afterwards done by watercolor painters of the 20th century – freely, with downflows and in a very picturesque way. Practically the whole canvas was created «at one breath», only in some places the painter works out the architecture with the second layer of paint, leaving the background and the foreground washed out.

British self-educated watercolorist and tutor John Lidzey found his own style by experimenting. He painted on smooth paper (hot pressed), to procure unobstructed flow of the paint, combining two techniques: “wet on wet” and “wet on dry”. Lidzey valued unexpectedness of final result but at the same time he tried to control the process.

In creative heritage of A. Fonvizin watercolors «wet on wet» are an exception: usually the artist worked on dry canvas with a big paintbrush, which he immersed into paint and water. Only sometimes he worked on damped heavy rose paper, coated with whitewash, applying watercolor to still damp Roman canvas and reaching integrity of color texture with “special velvet colors”. This way he created his series of works devoted to circus (in 1950s). Fonvizin called this technique “frescolike”.

Watercolor, Arthur Fonvizin
Watercolor, John Lidzey
Watercolor, William Turner
Watercolor, William Turner