Mist sometimes has a blurring effect on objects, so that their outline no longer appears as a hard line. Clearly a flat wash will not convey this effect and attempts to soften it, once it is dry, can look overworked and fudged. This is where the wet-in wet technique comes into its own.

This is such a vital technique in watercolour that you should practise it regularly. It is, quite simply, the layering of one wash on top of a still liquid wash, so that the two bleed softly together.




If the first wash is beginning to dry a little and you then apply a more liquid wash, the result will be ‘runbacks’ or ‘cauliflowering’ as it is commonly called (right). The second wash spreads as far as it can into the drier first wash and, when drying prevents it going any further, it deposits its pigment in unsightly concentrations and so ruins the painting.


wet in wet applied properly



Make sure the first wash is still liquid and that the second wash is a little less liquid than the first (left).
There can be no other hard-and-fast rules in the wet-in-wet technique but success depends largely upon judging the required liquidity of your washes. If, for example, they are too liquid, the second will spread all over the place and will not produce the required soft-edged images. If the washes are not liquid enough, premature drying will occur and hard edges will appear where they are not wanted. Trial and error, and much practice, are vital to success and will enable you to add a vital technique to your repertoire. misty skyline





Demonstration: Misty Woodland (below)

The watercolour, Misty Woodland, features a track leading into the woods not far from my home – a pleasant subject made more interesting by the autumnal mist. It was a fine morning in early November, the colouring of the foliage was mostly russet and leaf fall had barely begun.

Watercolour is the ideal medium for painting the effect of mist and this was a scene that clearly required the wet-in-wet technique in order to capture the pale, soft-edge forms of the more distant trees.

The warm, muted colours suggested a limited palette and here I used only four colours.


Colours (tubes)

• Light red
• Payne’s grey
• Raw sienna
• Ultramarine

liquid wash of trees


Step 1

I began by applying the liquid wash over most of the paper, using a very dilute blend of raw sienna, a little light red and a touch of ultramarine. I increased slightly the proportion of the blue for the upper sky. I then dropped in pale greys for the distant trees (ultramarine and light red). When these two colours are used in very liquid washes, the light red has a way of bleeding a little at the edges and so gave the misty tree forms a pale, warm hue.


soft-edged trees



Step 2

Because the slightly darker, soft-edged trees in the middle distance were painted after the paler ones, the background wash had begun to dry a little and their outlines, though still soft edged, were crisper.

Before the background wash was dry, I still had to paint the grassy areas beneath the trees, as they were also softened by the mist. For these I used washes of raw sienna with a little light red and a touch of Payne’s grey, with warm shadows of light red and ultramarine.

While waiting for everything to dry, I prepared washes for the nearer trees which, unlike the more distant trees, appeared hard edged.


Nearer trees



Step 3

The tree on the right of this group was a warm russet colour and for this I used raw sienna, light red and a little ultramarine. The nearer two on the left still had quite a lot of green in them and for these I used raw sienna and Payne’s grey with just a hint of light red.






Grassy track


Step 4

Finally, I painted the foreground track and its rough grassy surroundings, using various mixtures of raw sienna, light red and Payne’s grey. The fact that I used various combinations of the same few colours throughout the painting helped everything to blend together and make a cohesive whole. As much of it had to the painted while the background wash was still wet, the process was naturally under an hour.


Mistty Woodland, watercolour, 11X15in (28X38cm)

Finished painting

Misty Woodland, watercolour, 11x15in (28x38cm)


This demonstration is extracted from an article by Ray Campbell Smith in the November 2007 issue of Leisure Painter