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Wet on Wet Watercolor

August 15, 2010

This is Wet on wet painting.

The other day  my good friend Lisa and I painted 15 or so sheets of paper  to be  used for name tags in First Grade. (can I just tell you how happy I am that Lisa and I  are able to have children in the  same class for the next 8 years. Lisa is a gem)  I so wish I had gotten a picture of all the name tags we made. All 81 of them. They were very lovely, we used the majority of the intensely colored sheets so only the lighter ones are left to show you.  Her son and Harmony were more interested in creating a snail village and the study of filtering water through various sediment, but Harmony did manage to paint a few rainbows and a circle form.

Wet on wet painting is fairly unique to Waldorf Education. Here it’s explained

Wet-on-wet watercolor is the preferred painting technique in Waldorf schools because it allows children to experience the qualities of different colors in a fluid way. During guided painting lessons, the students submerge heavyweight woven paper in a tub of water until saturated, then sponge off the excess moisture. Paint is applied with wide brushes dipped into jars of color.

“Watercolor is a medium that requires great discipline,” says Waldorf teacher Helena Niiva. “You have to learn when to let go and allow the colors to live and also when to exercise more control.”

Starting with clear primary shades in kindergarten and first grade, the students discover how certain colors advance while others recede, how some colors excite while others calm. They also discover how each color interacts with others to create new colors.

As students move up, their work becomes more sophisticated. They learn how to lift colors and how to bring out form and detail from the colors. They use proportionally more pigment and less water.

Waldorf students often paint themes from their morning lessons—an animal from Aesop’s Fables, a scene from the Peloponnesian War, or a map of the continent of Africa, for example—as a way of experiencing the content more deeply. Weekly painting lessons also help develop powers of observation that serve the students well in other classes—particularly in science.”

And frankly , it is beautiful. Any Waldorf teacher worth her/his  salt will tell you that painting is a deeply felt endeavor, some might say spiritual and should be brought forth with a reverence. Watercolors do not lend themselves to rigid lines instead they are fluid and moving. Children must strive for  balance thus making it an excellent exercise in self-control and mastering  the will.

If you are painting with a child, keep in mind that for the younger child pre-kindergarten you would only offer one primary color at a time to paint with. In Kindergarten once the child  has experienced each primary color individually,  multiple times  you may begin to introduce  a second primary color and explore that for a series of experiences.  I really suggest that you paint a few paintings on your own before bringing painting to your child. To offer the best of  Wet on Wet you will want to have experienced the colors and their moods, characteristics. Reverence and gratitude for tools are emphasized. Before we begin with painting in Kindergarten stories are told about the brushes and paper,  where it comes from and our gratitude for their use.

Here is a brief tutorial for you as an adult before you begin to paint with your child.

You will need ,

* Heavy watercolor paper 140 lb weight works best, most craft stores have them  in pads, you want large sheets of paper, say 11×15

* Liquid good quality transparent watercolor paint in primary colors-Carmine Red, Ultramarine Blue and Lemon Yellow . Many Waldorf schools use  Stockmar watercolors brand of paint, however, a high-quality tube of artist watercolor paint works as well. You can purchase small bottles of Stockmar online that last for quite some time as only small amounts are used- see below .

*Painting boards, you can purchase them at Waldorf school stores, or make them from melamine, or use the super-duper large clipboards, but don’t use the clip part.

* A tub/pan/bin that will hold the paper flat covered by a few inches of water. I use a clear plastic under the bed bin at home, Lisa and I used a baking pan.

*Paintbrushes, we use 3/4″ flat brushes with a 8″ handle, this can also be purchased online.

*  Two small sponges a regular cello kitchen sponge cut in half, a rag or paper towels.

They have most supplies on Amazone or these Waldorf retailers: , , 


  1. Begin at least 15 min prior to your painting by soaking the paper in a tub/bin/pan full of water for 10-15  minutes. Place each page in separately before sliding the next page in if your soaking multiple pages.
  2. While the paper is soaking blend your paints in jars. We used paint jars, but baby food jars, small glass yogurt or canning would also work.  You want a deep saturation of color, say a 1 teaspoon of the paint to 1/4 cup of water. Stir this together.Test the intensity of the shade on a scrap of paper, adding more paint to make stronger, or more water to diffuse. Paint can be stored with a lid in the refrigerator to use later, it will last about 6 months.
  3. Pull the paper from the water lifting it from the corner so that the water drains off the paper. Let it drip. Lay the paper flat on your board rough side up. You may find that it has air bubbles if so gently lift it and ease it down again. Using your sponge or paper towel, pat, do not rub, your paper until it is still wet with a sheen but no longer pooling with water. This sponge or towel will only be used for drying/patting the paper so keep it clean and paint free.
  4. Place the other sponge next to the paint jar on your painting board for dabbing the colors off.

Once you painted with individual colors here is a story of how the colors came out to play. This is a revised and abrupt version but it will serve to illustrate. The brush is always cleaned between colors and gently patted till almost damp, before dipping into the paint.

The brush is always cleaned between colors and gently patted till almost damp, before dipping into the paint.

Dip your brush into the jar of water and pat it on the paper towel or sponge next to your jar. Next, dip your brush into the paint, discharge some of the paint on the side of the jar as you pull it out. You don’t want it drippy wet, but you do want paint on it. You may find your brush is too wet and will need to dab/pat it on the towel/sponge so that it holds enough paint.

One fine spring day  Yellow came out to the garden to play. Oh,how lovely the garden was, she swirled and danced across the yard, flitting from flower to flower.  (Draw your brush in a light manner across the middle of the page, she is going to dance just aorund the middle).  The sun shone down on her warming her. 

Rinse Peter Paintbrush, dab on one of the sponges or towel, dip in blue paint.

From the other side of the gate, she heard her friend Blue call to her. Blue came to the corner of the garden  ( Begin to paint from the corner around the yelow circling it )to see what yellow was doing, he was a shy fellow and quietly circled around.  Blue held back from getting too close to Yellow but he began to creep forward to see what she was doing. After a bit, he came closer to her and then the friends held hands to play. (Colors begin to join and overlap) Soon, they were having such a lovely time their playmate Green joined them. Such a colorful day in the garden.

( rinse brush…)

Dry the painting flat. Wash the board off for the next painting experience dry the brush and gently straighten out the bristles. Rinse your sponges/towels.

A wonderful way to experience this in a disciplined way is to create the rainbow by making concentric circles beginning with yellow. Once you feel you have an understanding of the technique, you might bring it to your child with yellow alone letting them play with the color. If your child has been painting with tempera paints or such this may seem odd, but this isn’t about creating an image, instead it is about experience of each color, it’s nature, mood and the effects of that  color within the child. I find as an adult that it truly gives an accurate reading of my mood that day as I paint. Is it too watery, not blending, muddy in color, clear and vibrant, some colors won’t blend others washout. It is a meditation in itself.

You may wish to read Painting with Children by Brunhild Muller


One Comment leave one →
  1. August 15, 2010 11:56 am

    Thanks for stopping by . Those shutters you asked about were found here: and my guess would be it’s pewter.

    Now I’m going to play with painting wet on wet.


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