Painting Wet-On-Wet: A Mindful Sensory Art Experience

We did some wet-on-wet painting yesterday, and it made me think about the things I really like about it. I especially appreciate how it tends to give great results despite being so simple. Or maybe it’s BECAUSE it’s so simple that the results are great..?

Either way, I thought it could be worthwhile sharing with you how we usually go about painting wet-on-wet, as well as a few examples of our results, and some thoughts on the positives of using this technique.

Painting watercolours wet-on-wet can be a way for us to calm down and refocus. It's also good fun! #artwithkids #eyfsart #mindful #sensory #kidsactivities #Waldorfinspired

What materials are needed for wet-on-wet watercolours?

I’d say the minimum requirements are:

  • Paper, thick and sturdy enough to use for watercolours
  • Watercolour paints
  • A sponge or two
  • At least one brush, preferably wide (around 3/4” or so is great)

We usually use a heavy cartridge paper, sponge it down with water, and then apply watercolours using a fairly wide brush. Most of the time we choose just two or maybe three colours to use, and you can actually do a lot with only one colour as well, focusing on effects created by differences in intensity (light/dark), different brush strokes, and shapes.

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Sometimes we’ve skipped the brush and just used sponges for applying the colours as well, and other times we’ve made it more of a gross motor activity, using the garden hose to wet the papers and then splattered and/or dripped the paint from above.

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In what ways could this be considered “a mindful sensory art experience”?

In all fairness, pretty much all art activites are more or less of a sensory experience, and when painting, we’ll naturally be using our visual sense in particular, focusing on colours, lines and shapes. When painting wet-on-wet, the soaking of the paper with a squishy sponge, and the overall wetness of the whole activity, brings almong an element of ‘messy play’. Of course there are many other ways of including tactile aspects of various kinds in painting activities, wet-on-wet watercolours is just one possibility.

Moving on to the ‘mindfulness’ of painting wet-on-wet, I will start off by saying that I’m not in any way a pro when it comes to mindfulness, nor am I a qualified art therapist or trained in the Waldorf methods of painting which I will talk a little bit about below. But I’m hoping that our experiences and my reflections on these can still be of use and inspiration! If this sparks an interest, there is a whole world of further knowledge which you can go on to seek out in your own time, if you so wish.

Firstly, some background: When our Penguin was little, he went to a Waldorf preschool (or rather he went to two different ones, due to us moving when he was 3 years old), and after that he attended a Waldorf school for about 1.5 years, before we decided on giving home education a go instead. We’re quite eclectic in our approach to learning, so I’m happy to take on board influences from various educational philosophies, and although our overall experience of the Waldorf school that Penguin attended wasn’t a very positive one (to put it nicely), I can still take inspiration from some of their methods and ideas.

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Although I’d experimented a little bit with wet-on-wet painting myself when I was younger, I got a whole new perspective on it when taking part in the lessons at Penguin’s school. There, the activity was almost ceremonial, and meditative. They used large,thick papers of perfect quality for this purpose, and these were soaked in water well in advance, in shallow trays. When it was time to paint, each child collected a painting board to put the paper on, and then when the paper was placed on the board they carefully brushed it with a sponge to make sure no air bubbles were trapped under the paper. The children were also provided with a small glass cup containing liquid watercolours. When everyone was ready to start painting, they each grabbed their brush, and from that moment total silence was expected (and often achieved, too!).

The focus was very much on the experience of the colour being applied to the wet paper, as well as the physical act of it all, holding the brush, dipping it into the paint (they used liquid watercolours), moving it across the paper while applying the colour, and so on.

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This is where the mindful side to this activity becomes apparent. As I said earlier, I’m not at all an experienced mindfulness practitioner, but I know that a fundamental part of it is about focusing mentally on being in the now, and taking detailed notice of both our inner and outer world at the present moment.

As I see it, painting wet-on-wet in the way they did it at Penguin’s school, and in the ways we tend to do it at home now, really encourages a moment of being mindful. To take full advantage of this, I’d recommend:

  • Staying abstract, rather than being figurative. Let the colours and shapes be enough in themselves.
  • Using a limited amount of colours, preferably just one or two. I think it helps keeping focus on the act of painting, not having to consider colour choices during the activity.
  • Having an idea about form before you get started. For example, just painting horisontal lines across the paper, from left to right. Perhaps with an intention of gradually making the colour lighter at the bottom and gradually darker towards the top? Or start off by making some kind of shape in the middle, perhaps a spiral for example, and then just build on that, perhaps including a second colour and letting the two meet..?

Before letting you run off to get your paints out, I want to confess that our painting sessions probably never appear very ‘mindful’ to any onlookers. Penguin is, for the most part, a very full on kind of person, and he’ll rarely stop moving about for more than a brief moment. However, in some ways I think he could be described as a very ‘mindful’ person, as his natural setting is to live very much in the moment, always taking notice of details in his surroundings and communicating with his whole body rather than with words (for those of you who don’t already know, he’s autistic and non-verbal).

Either way, I feel that this type of painting activity provides us with opportunities to focus on and enjoy the qualities of the materials and colours, in a simple and low-demand kind of way. And if I feel that we’re not having a great day, for example if Penguin is a bit ‘all over the place’, this usually helps us finding a somewhat calmer and more positive mindset. I hope some of you can relate!

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Thank you so much for reading! For more art & crafts ideas from us, please take a look HERE. And to see more of what else we get up to, join us on social media!:

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39 thoughts on “Painting Wet-On-Wet: A Mindful Sensory Art Experience

  1. The results are so pretty. I’d so like to have a go at doing some watercolour painting like this, I wonder if I’d be able to keep my three quiet and focused while doing it?
    #mmbc

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marbling is great! My dad used to do book-binding as a hobby, and made lots of beautiful marbled papers for his book covers etc. I loved it when I too got to try that.
      The materals I’ve tried marbling with since then hasn’t given quite the same results, but still beautiful and quite a magical process xx

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  2. Thank looks so fun and the paintings are beautiful. I’ve always been fascinated by Steiner approach but there’s no where near us that follows it so J just goes to ‘standard eyfs’ Preschool/nursery x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I think there are a lot of good things about the Steiner/Waldorf approach, so I like to take inspiration from them. The downside with Steiner schools can be that some of the staff is so invested in the purist ’Steiner ways’ of doing things, that there can be a lack of flexibility, and a tendency to blame the parents or children if something isn’t working well (because Steiner’s ideas can’t be questioned). Not all staff is as inflexible as some, so I don’t want to paint Waldorf schools in a negative light, just that there is good and bad. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great idea, it’s a process art with great results! I remember doing similar in art classes as a kid myself, hadn’t thought about doing it with my two so thanks for the idea! Thanks for linking up with #KidsandKreativity, really hope you join me again next time x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Kerry! Yes, it’s a pretty simple and enjoyable process, and the results are often very pleasing! We often use them as ’covers’ for little books/flyers we make about animals etc, but they could also be nice to fold little boxes out of (I’m going all in waldorf there ;-)) xx

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  4. From some who studied art to degree level I can completely believe the meditative qualities of this activity. Just focusing on the brush and each brush stroke and taking your time to watch the colour ‘bleed’ before you make your next mark! Very relaxing and soothing. #KidsandKreativity

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes absolutely, you describe it really well! I only did a BTEC foundation diploma in Art & Designs (once upon a very long ago…). I had plans of doing a photography degree, but ended up going down a different route in life at that point. Later took an MA majoring in Art History instead, which was also interesting and fun 🙂 xx

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