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Mindful Painting Using Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Technique in Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

The wet-on-wet painting technique is a method that involves adding watercolor paint to a pre-wet surface. This process enables the watercolor paint to spread and move in spontaneous and fluid ways once it makes contact with the wet areas of the paper. One may choose to add a light wash to the entire paper surface using a water-filled paintbrush or paint specific areas of the paper with water, while leaving other areas dry. Once the wash is added to the paper, one can then add pigment using watercolors to these areas and engage in a therapeutic process of observing the paints move across the surface. This technique can be used for a variety of purposes, including expressing emotions, achieving relaxation, and improving mental health.

In art therapy, the focus and purpose of incorporating this specific technique in a session is to increase a state of mindfulness in which the individual is able to connect to the present moment by paying specific attention to the way in which the watercolor pigment spreads around the surface and blends with different colors on the page. Attention is also placed on the emotional aspect of the painting and how the artist is experiencing the fluidity, spontaneity and chance-oriented aspects of the painting process.

This particular process can be difficult for individuals who struggle with needing control and ‘going with the flow’ so to speak. Watercolor painting can feel overwhelming when the reality of our work does not match our internal expectations for the image. It is important when engaging this technique to expect that the painting will continuously change and transform as water and paint are added. Much of this process is guided by curiosity, play and discovery.

In order to practice this technique you will need mixed media or watercolor paper (yes, this does make a difference!), a variety of sizes of watercolor brushes (often these will have softer bristles that come to a point), watercolor paints (tubes or cakes work fine), and a few water cups.

Depending on how you want to work with this technique, you can try taping down your paper on all four edges to prevent the paper from buckling if you choose to add a wash to the entire paper. You may choose to only add water to specific areas of the page. I often enjoy adding circular patterns with my water-wash and then adding watercolor pigment to these areas either starting at the middle of the circle or at the outer edge. It is fun to watch the colors bleed together or fade away in an ombre type pattern. It is not uncommon to experience some grief or sadness if an area of your paper you had appreciated changes, fades or gets covered by another color spreading over it. Consider how this process impacts your own views and experience of impermanence.

If this is a technique that you have done before, how was it to go into an art process without any expectations and letting the materials guide the painting process? Was this relieving and freeing or scary and unnerving? It is okay to struggle with lack of control in the process and it is also okay to allow yourself to play and have fun. It can be relaxing to just watch the color spread from one area to another and then play with adding different colors to the same area or overlapping colors and seeing how they mix together.


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