Watercolor Techniques.  So many and so confusing!  What’s the difference between wet into wet and charging? Please explain!

beginners watercolor lesson, techniques, debiriley.com
Watercolor Technique Charging


“If you wish to master watercolor, you must First,  become its disciple.”  DJR


This mini beginners’ watercolor lesson on techniques, features two of my favorites:  Wet into wet  and Charging.

I’ve used Ultramarine Blue pb29 and Burnt Sienna PBr7  to create the mountains in the above image. That duo is an exceptionally, versatile combination for skies, hills, rocks, water, trees, pottery, people, animals.



Watercolor Basic Techniques

Two primary basic watercolor techniques I use are Charging and Wet into Wet.

They’re often mixed up. But, there is a difference in how, why and where each is used,  and understanding those concepts makes things a whole lot easier for the beginner watercolorist.


Wet into Wet

Wet into wet is a fun watercolor technique that  can help create additional depth and perspective in a beginner’s painting.

Most useful in creating the Backgrounds.

wet in wet watercolour technique,skies, debiriley.com
Wet in Wet watercolour skies


The process starts with wetting the good quality paper,  Arches cold press works best for beginners to create the smoothness of the silky transitions desired.

The above example of a wet in wet sky, shows a lovely smooth transitition of color and tone.

There are no streaks, blotches or uneven patches.  I would have  those  –  had I used student quality paper.

100% cotton will give me smoothness, which equates to better results and then I’m much happier.



Wet into Wet watercolour technique

  1.   The paper should be wet, not flooded.  Definitely not too dry or patchy.

2.   The brush needs to be fully loaded with paint, dripping with paint.  Then just ‘kiss’ the brush tip to the paper’s uppermost surface…. allowing the paint to flow down and into the paper, without man handling the brush.

Try to avoid the urge to rub, scrub, force the paint into the paper;  but merely,  encourage it to flow into it.

Think of yourself as the Facilitator.

Often as I stand to paint, I hold the paper at an angle, so that “gravity”  will help this process.  It will.


Recession:    Wet into wet creates Soft Blurred Edges.

Soft blurred edges are ideal for creating the illusion of depth and perspective found in the background, in the distance.

Also,  perfect for skies.

Usually, with the wet into wet watercolor technique,  I’m aiming to create tonal variations of Light, Mid and Dark tones.  I won’t be too pleased with the consequences of just one tone. It will be too flat.  Not enough depth or perspective.






watercolour technique, painting workshop,sunrise debiriley.com
Sunrise, charging watercolor technique

Charging watercolor technique is probably the one I use the most.  It gives me the most versatility as I am working on the watercolor painting.

I need to remember a crucial factor for Charging:  the subsequent color to be added,  needs to be less watery, than the preceding color put down.

By just a narrow ratio. Not so dry that it ‘sticks’ to the paper, because then the colors will not flow and melt together properly.


Charging differs from Wet into Wet in that with Charging,  rather than being focused on the Background,  the charging technique can really be applied to any shape.  The shape of a cloud, a flower, a tree trunk,  a leaf, shrubbery,  etc.



Watercolor Charging Technique Process:

  • lay a light palest wash down over the entire area of the shape first
  • mix a medium tone and apply it into the pale wash starting at the base and going about 2/3 the way upwards
  • do this immediately, while that first pale wash is still wet.  Very…. Important.
  • next, while all the above color is Still wet – get the final color in
  • mix a very deep intense dark.  apply it to the base and soften it upwards about 1/4 the way
  • making sure that you have been fast enough, Very Important,  to get the colors in so they can melt and merge together seamlessly


Each of these flower shapes, have been created through the use of the charging technique.

watercolour blooms, watercolor techniques, beginner lessons, debiriley.com
Watercolour Blooms, charging technique

The goal is to create a smooth, even transition of colors plus Tone,  going from the palest light tone on top, to the deepest dark at the bottom of the shape.


That’s the Goal, anyway.

It takes practice,  several.  Well, perhaps….  a dozen or so. Or more.

Wait….Stop sighing!   Look on the Bright side.  This is just a good excuse to paint More! Its fun.


trees using watercolor charging technique, debiriley.com
Trees charging technique

Both have a nice transition of colors; Above is very smooth, the Below image is slightly rougher in the transition creating a more layered look.


charging watercolor technique lesson, debiriley.com
The Distance



  • Generally speaking, watercolour’s wet in wet is great for creating soft edges for backgrounds.
  • Wet in wet begins with clean water on the paper.
  • Charging technique is useful for shapes to create a transition of color and tone that is silky smooth and subtle.   But clear.
  • Charging begins with a pale light wash and introducing MEDIUM tone next, into it.

A  Glaze  is different altogether.  It needs Dry paper.  Whereas the other two need Wet,  the Glaze technique must have a perfectly dry paper to succeed.   ie   color is applied, left to dry,  then another color is applied in a thin ‘sheer, see through, veil’  over the first color that is Dry.  Very Dry.  Heavy Emphasis on Dry.     (hopefully, someone is smiling by now!)



More information, images and articles are available at Watercolour Tips page  ( there are 6-7 posts with relevant info on Watercolor Techniques, examples.  Glazing, dry brush, splatter, flat wash, etc.  are discussed.

Also,  check out my newly constructed art sites at Pinterest,  pinterest.com/debijriley  with amazing examples of inspiring and creative drawings, paintings, sculpture, printmaking and glass works.