Wet-in-wet oil painting can be both exhilarating and challenging. One common struggle artists face is effectively layering paint on top of an existing wet layer without losing control or creating muddy color. In this comprehensive guide, you will discover seven essential tips to help you navigate and master the art of wet-in-wet layering, ensuring your paintings achieve the desired richness and vibrancy. Plus download the bonus PDF guide. Let us get started!
1. Start with a Thin Blocking In Layer:
Creating a solid foundation is crucial when working with wet-in-wet techniques. Begin by applying a thin blocking-in layer of paint. This initial layer serves as a base that is neither too slippery nor too thick, allowing subsequent layers to adhere more effectively. This approach, known as "painting fat over lean," sets the stage for a smoother layering process. If you require a little more stability to the painting surface and time is not an issue you can leave the thin layer to settle overnight. This will provide a bit more “tooth” to the painting surface for your next layer.
2. Utilize Bristle Brushes for Thick Layers:
Selecting the right brush is key to successfully layering thick paint on top of a wet surface. Opt for bristle brushes, which have stiffer bristles capable of holding and applying a significant amount of paint. Unlike thin bristle brushes, which may slide over wet layers, stiffer brushes provide the necessary control to build up impasto layers effectively. I suggest a set of long flat bristle brushes in sizes 4,6 and 8. My preference is Raphael brushes, Paris Classic range, but any similar quality bristle brush will work fine.
3. Apply Decisive Strokes:
To prevent the blending of colors into a muddy mix, employ decisive strokes when applying the second layer. Treat each stroke as if you're placing individual tiles of color next to each other. Avoid going over the paint repeatedly, as this can lead to unwanted blending and compromise the integrity of your layered composition.
4. Avoid Excessive Use of Mediums:
While mediums can alter the consistency of paint, it's essential to exercise caution when incorporating them into your wet-in-wet process. Too much medium can make the paint excessively wet and slippery, hindering your control over the brush. Conversely, a lack of medium may result in paint that is too dry and difficult to work with. Aim for a soft and buttery consistency for optimal layering. Here is more detailed information on mediums and how I prefer to use them.
5. Experiment with Acrylic Underpainting:
For artists looking to expedite the drying process and enhance confidence in layering, consider starting with an acrylic underpainting. The quick-drying nature of acrylics allows you to establish a base layer that sets the stage for the application of thicker oils. Over time, as you gain proficiency, you may choose to skip the acrylic underpainting step altogether. If you want to explore this technique in depth I have a course called Paint with Oils Over Acrylics.
6. Clean Your Brush Between Strokes:
To maintain the purity of your new layer, regularly clean your brush if you notice it picking up colors from the canvas. This simple yet crucial step involves wiping off the brush with a tissue after every few strokes. By preventing unintended color transfer, you ensure that each layer remains distinct and contributes to the overall richness of your composition.
7. Embrace the Learning Process:
Finally, embrace the learning curve associated with wet-in-wet layering. Mistakes are inevitable, but they offer valuable lessons for improvement. As you persevere and create more paintings, you'll develop a deeper understanding of the technique, refining your skills and achieving a unique, glowing quality in your work. You can explore Impressionist styles of painting in my course How to Paint Like an Impressionist.
Mastering the art of wet-in-wet layering in oil painting requires patience, practice, and a willingness to learn from each artistic endeavor. By following these seven essential tips, you'll enhance your ability to layer paint effectively, resulting in paintings that boast richness, vibrancy, and a distinctive, impressionistic quality. So, grab your brushes, experiment with these techniques, and watch your wet-in-wet paintings come to life with depth and allure.
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