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Wet-into-wet – by Robert Genn

by Robert Genn

You might paint wet-into-wet for several reasons. Lubrication is one of them. Just as an engine runs better with a bit of oil on its parts, so does a painting. Indeed, oil painting works its wonders because the oil medium is slippery and slow to dry and thus passages can be more easily blended, gradated, softened, even removed. Titian, one of oil's earliest technicians and first masters, declared it to be the greatest discovery in all of art.

Another reason to paint wet-into-wet is the compounding of techniques. Even if you're habituated to fast drying acrylics, this doesn't mean you have to be victimized by their limitations. Popular slow-drying acrylics invite the use of lots of paint and permit all kinds of painterly outrageousness in realism and abstraction alike.

A rewarding technique is to really "grease up" (put on an overall layer of slow-drying medium as surface lubricant). In acrylic, you might try using Golden Open Medium as imprimatura. No, I'm not on Golden's payroll. The lubricant layer can be clear or variously tinted and put on with a rag, brush or any number of other tools. After this, your colours slip and slide and mingle with abandon. While requiring above average skill in handling, they can add painterly efficiency, happy accidents, sly gradations and arresting effects.

Acrylic painters in particular need not give drying time a second thought. Even the slowest drying acrylics can be force-dried in hours or less. I find the most fun can be had with the yin and yang between wet and dry. When impasto areas dry they are easily scumbled (generally lighter, brighter colours dry brushed over the slubs and bumps of darker zones). Then, after further drying and further grease-up, it's back to wet-into-wet for fresh new passages.

Perhaps the greatest reason to work wet-into-wet is to achieve a professional look. You might have noticed that the oils, acrylics and watercolours we really love to look at were at one time really wet ones. Further, many pros prefer a fresh look that belies the effort they've put into their work. By encouraging more fluid, cursive and longer flourishes, the professional's prowess is revealed. After that, little dry strokes are not as much fun anymore.

Best regards,


PS: "The thicker you paint, the more it flows." (John Singer Sargent)

Esoterica: Lack of freshness and flow in a painting can often be traced to miserliness on the palette. Sargent advocated, "No small dabs of colour--you want plenty of paint to paint with." Working on a pre-lubed surface with gobs of unsullied paint, Sargent moved in an efficient order: "If you begin with the middle-tone and work up from it toward the darks so that you deal last with your highest lights and darkest darks, you avoid false accents." With wet-into-wet you stand a better chance of maintaining a harmonious whole. Oh, and by the way, too many wet-into-wet strokes and you get "mud, mud, glorious mud."

Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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