Painting Wet on Wet: Waldorf Watercolors for Children

Written by Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys and Moon Child

Wet-on-wet watercolor painting is a technique taught in Waldorf schools and enjoyed by many homeschoolers. It’s a satisfying artistic experience, and the beautiful results can be turned into lovely gift cards, book covers, paper lanterns, or any number of beautiful objets d’art.

Why Wet-on-Wet?

The intent is to give young children an experience of color, not form. Because the wet paint is laid on wet paper, the colors flow, blending into one another in beautiful, unexpected ways.

I recommend painting with one color at a time to get comfortable with the technique. Single colors can be painted as “clouds” of color with varying intensity on the page, allowing some white to shine through here and there. You’d be surprised how beautiful a painting with just one color can be!

Discovering the Magic

Photos by Madrona Wienges

After painting with each of the primary colors singly, try the various two color combinations: red/yellow, red/blue, and yellow/blue. Children will be excited as they experience how secondary colors are formed when combining two colors.

“Look, Mama! There’s ORANGE in my jar!” Let them discover the magic for themselves. There’s no need for any further explanation at this age.

After experiencing the single colors, then two colors, 5- to 6-year-olds can be introduced to painting with all three primary colors.

What You Will Need

  • • A sink, basin or tray in which to soak your paper. I’ve found that an inexpensive kitty litter tray (new, not used!) works well.
  • Heavyweight watercolor paper (I recommend 140 lb. weight, and the size I like is 11”x15”.)
  • • 1-3 shades of watercolor paint: Carmine Red, Ultramarine Blue and/or Lemon Yellow (I recommend Stockmar paint, but artist’s watercolor paint in a tube works well, too.)
  • • A watercolor paintbrush with flat bristles (1 to 1.5 inches wide)
  • • Pint-size jar (or larger) for water
  • • One pint-size for mixing paint
  • • One baby food jar for each color of paint
  • • A flat, waterproof board or counter on which to work
  • • Two sponges (one clean and paint-free, and the other to wipe the painting board clean later)
  • • A rag

Preparation

1. Submerge paper (one sheet at a time, so that they don’t stick together) in water and let it soak while you prepare everything else. Paper should soak about 10-15 minutes.

2. Mix your paint(s). When starting out, I recommend painting with one color at a time. Put a dollop of paint in the bottom of a pint jar (a tablespoon or so), and add water until the jar is about 3/4 full. Mix well. (I like to use a chopstick for this purpose.) You can test the intensity of the shade on a scrap of paper. Add more paint to make stronger, or more water to soften.

3. Pour a small amount of mixed paint (just enough to cover the bottom) into baby jars (one for each painter). Remaining paint can be refrigerated to use again later.

4. Lay a piece of soaked paper on a painting board or other flat, smooth, waterproof surface. A kitchen counter works well, but keep in mind that the painting should not be moved from the surface until dry. Most watercolor paper has a rougher side and a smoother side. Lay paper down with rough side up.

5. Wipe excess water off paper with clean, damp sponge. Make sure there are no puddles of water on the paper, and wipe away any air bubbles. Paper should have a sheen to it, but not be soaking wet.

Now you are ready to paint!

Painting!

Photo by Jennifer Jo Lickiss Tan

You want to model this technique for young children, so make sure you have set up all supplies for yourself and your child/ren.

Have each painter’s place set up with:

  • • a painting board and paper
  • • jar of water
  • • jar(s) of paint
  • • a rag

I wait to hand the child his or her brush until after I’ve told a “color story” like this one:

“One morning, Tippy Brush woke up and looked outside his bedroom window. It was a crisp autumn morning. As he looked outside his window, he saw bright red leaves falling from the maple tree and blowing in the wind, filling the sky with their color. ‘Oh, I want to play with red today!’ he thought.

So Tippy jumped out of bed, but before he went outside, he had a nice foot bath…

[Here I would demonstrate rinsing the bristles clean in the jar of water]

…and dried his feet clean with his towel [the rag]. Then Tippy ran outside and cried, “Good morning, Red! I’ve come to play with you!”

[At this point Tippy (my brush) dips his “toes” (the bristles) in the red paint.]

The red leaves were happy to have a playmate, and Tippy joyfully danced among the falling red leaves, until there were piles of bright red leaves all around.”

[Here I would apply the red paint to my paper, placing red here and there, letting the colors dance on the page.]

After telling the story, I would hand out the paintbrushes and let the children paint freely.

When finished, allow the paintings to dry thoroughly before removing them from your board or counter.

(All the above-mentioned supplies can be purchased from Bella Luna Toys, but similar products can be found at your local art supply store.)

Have questions? Leave them here and I’ll do my best to answer them. Have you tried it? Share your experiences with us!

About Sarah

Sarah is an author, mama to two teenage boys, and Waldorf early childhood educator. She is also the owner of Bella Luna Toys, an online shop offering wooden and natural toys inspired by Waldorf education. She writes about childhood, play, parenting and Waldorf education on her blog, Moon Child.

Comments

  1. Deb says:

    This is fantastic!

    I usually am reluctant to paint with my kids, but this looks fun AND you get a very pretty result. I am going to keep this in mind for the next warm day we have. Thanks for the tutorial!
    Deb’s latest post: People! Look!

  2. Kimberly says:

    Beautiful photos and I love your color story as well.
    My question is, after many years of doing the basics like this, my child is now 11 and I have no idea where to go with her when it comes to wet on wet. There seems to be so many places to find the simple early years wet on wet but I can’t seem to find anything beyond that. Do you know of something?
    Kimberly’s latest post: Science- Rainbows All Around

  3. We’ve been having fun with watercolors- but never tried wet on wet- I’ll try it today
    priest’s wife’s latest post: The Gift of Down Syndrome

  4. our weekly painting day is one of my personal favorites :-) I paint alongside the kids and it really is fun and something that can totally change the tone of a “bumpy” morning, too.

    We don’t have painting boards (on my wish list though) and I have been known to soak the paper beforehand in the bathtub LOL

    I’d love to hear more about painting with older children, too, Sarah. Thanks!
    Kara @Simple Kids’s latest post: Inspiring Finds- Four Fun and Simple Pumpkin Themed Crafts

    • Tubs and sinks work very well for soaking paper, Kara!
      See my reply to Kimberly (above) about the book I recommend for painting with grade school-aged children.

      Starting in first grade, form is gradually introduced, so that paintings are no longer just color experiences, but become pictures, that grow more complex as the children develop.

      Have you ever seen The Waldorf School Calendar? I buy one every year. Each month’s page is a beautiful watercolor painting painted by a Waldorf student from schools across the country.

      http://shop.chicagowaldorf.org/

  5. This is such a wonderful overview and makes the whole process sound much simpler than I’ve seen it explained before.

    Thanks, Sarah!
    Jamie~Simple Homeschool’s latest post: Painting Wet on Wet- Waldorf Watercolors for Children

  6. Mother of Pearl says:

    We did something similar in an art class for elementary education majors I took in college, but we just brushed water onto regular printer paper and let it sit a few minutes and then used a regular watercolor trays to paint on the paper. It was a simpler version with the same results.

    • I’ve had children paint on huge sheets of watercolor paper, which we would later fold in half to create painting folders. Because these sheets were too big to soak, I would spray both sides of the paper with a spray bottle.

      One reason we soak the watercolor paper for 10 minutes is because commercial watercolor paper is treated with a “sizing” material (similar to that used on new clothing). If the paper is not soaked adequately, the sizing will cause the paper to buckle more while it is drying.

      But I have to say that the heavyweight 140 lb textured watercolor paper will yield a much different result than painting on smooth, thin printer paper. Try both and you will immediately see the difference!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you!

  7. Emmalina says:

    I love this process! Here is a blog post I did this week about wet on wet painting http://emmalina73.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/bringing-autumn-in/

    Thanks for a great post : )

  8. Thanks for the sample of a color story. That’s the part I have yet to incorporate!
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: this Corner of my home

  9. what a brilliant idea. thanks!

  10. Wow! Thanks! My young daughter LOVES to paint, and we’ve recently discovered the joys of watercolor paper… but haven’t tried wet on wet yet! This upcoming rainy week will be the PERFECT time for experimenting!
    The Butterfly Nest’s latest post: My Baby Bump 16 weeks And Other Fall Fun

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  12. shandy says:

    thank you for the clear directions! Looking forward to trying this!

  13. Mara says:

    Beautiful tutorial! My oldest went to a Waldorf preschool and loved wet-on-wet water color painting. You’ve inspired me to order some supplies for Chanukah presents!

  14. I great tutorial Sarah. Waldorfteachers.com has some lovely painting and felt art on their website.

  15. JoAnn says:

    Love the tutorial, thank you! Where can I find more stories and / or poems to use with this type of painting? Thank you, JoAnn

  16. I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Hi, Are you serious?! I dont believe you. LOL

  18. Hi Cool info. My doggy is a beagle and he sat on my lap with me and read too :)

  19. very interesting topics

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  21. Bec says:

    This is beautiful – such a great way to teach children watercolour.
    thanks for sharing
    Bec

  22. Angelle says:

    I think it would be a great time for children and I know that most of them love painting. Its a perfect bonding with parents and kids! Thanks for sharing this idea. It would help a lot.
    Angelle’s latest post: dark circles under eyes in children

  23. sarah says:

    Hi, at the first is better to start wet on wet or other metod? thanks.( for adult)

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