Wet-into-Wet painting with Real Watercolor

By Cher Threinen-Pendarvis

Each of my paintings has its own unique feeling. I sometimes work in a series, using the same media and complementary color schemes. Water Lilies, a loose watercolor painting, was painted using Corel® Painter™ and a Wacom® Intuos® pressure-sensitive tablet and stylus. Watercolor wet-into-wet techniques were used; then details and texture were added. Wet-into-wet is a traditional technique that can be simulated using Painter’s Watercolor layers. Wet-into-wet is the most fluid way to apply color, as it involves keeping the paper wet while new color is applied, so that new colors blend with existing moist paint. With Watercolor layers, you can paint with brushes that apply pigment that percolates and diffuses into the paper grain, and paint washes that blend into the existing wet paint.

For this painting I used three references: a pencil sketch drawn in my conventional sketchbook and two photos that I shot on location. The Water Lilies painting was painted from scratch beginning with an empty canvas. I clipped my references to the side of my monitor to refer to while painting. Sometimes I scan the sketch and import it into Painter to begin a painting.

1. Real Watercolor brushes

Before we work through the painting, let's try out some of my favorite Real Watercolor brushes. Real Watercolor is a versatile medium and brush category, which allows you to paint expressive strokes, washes, add texture and more. Open a new file for trying out the brushes. Choose File, New and in the New Image dialog box, set the Width and Height at 600 x 600 pixels.

Brush Tracking
Setting Brush Tracking

Before you begin to paint in Painter, set up the Brush Tracking so you can customize how Corel Painter interprets the input of your stylus, including parameters such as pressure and speed. Choose Edit, Preferences, Brush Tracking (Mac OS X users, choose Corel Painter 12, Preferences, Brush Tracking) and make a representative brushstroke in the window. For instance, if you plan to use both light and heavy pressure while sketching slowly for awhile and then quickly, try to make a brushstroke in the window that would include all of these factors.

RWC strokes
Painting strokes and flat areas of color

Click the Brush Selector to open the Brush Library panel. Begin by choosing the Real Wet Watercolor brush category in the Brush Selector, and the Real Oval Wash variant.  With the Real Oval Wash, you can paint thick and thin strokes, and flat, even washes of color. To paint a flat wash, use the Real Oval Wash brush to make overlapping strokes while the paint is still wet-into-wet and diffusing. (When you select a Real Watercolor brush and make a brushstroke on your image, Painter automatically creates a new Watercolor layer in the image.) Note that the right area was painted later (paint had settled), and the dark area in the center was created where the strokes new strokes overlapped the earlier strokes.

RWC  strokes 2 RWBristle
Combining color in strokes and washes

The Real Wet Bristle brush allows you to paint strokes of even thickness with bristles marks at the beginning and ends of the strokes. Choose a medium blue and paint a stroke. Choose a medium green and paint an overlapping stroke. You will see the second stroke picks up some of the blue color from the blue stroke, just as it would with traditional wet-into-wet watercolor.

RWC  strokes 3 RW Flat
Painting varied flat strokes

The Real Flat variant allows you to paint thick to thin lines, depending on how you hold the stylus. The ends of the strokes have subtle bristle marks, as you can see in the illustration. The Real Wet Flat Fringe paints lighter tints and color pools along the edges of the strokes. The Real Wet Thin Flat also picks up a lot of color if you paint over existing paint.

RWC  strokes 4 texture
Painting rich textures

Two of my favorite brushes for painting textures are the Real Wet Sponge and the Fractal Wash Wet. The blue texture painted with the Real Wet Sponge is shown in the upper portion of the image. The blue and green textures painted with the Fractal Wash Wet are in the lower part of the image.

New image dialog for Lilies
Starting a new file for the Water Lilies painting

2. Setting up and opening a new file for the painting

Now that you're familiar with some of the Real Watercolor brushes used in the painting, lets follow the process of my painting, Begin by creating a new file (File, New). In the New Image dialog box, set the Width and Height at 1500 x 1800 pixels, and then choose a paper texture by clicking the Paper swatch (I chose French Watercolor paper). Make sure the Color swatch is set to white, and click OK. (The brush sizes that you’ll use will depend on the pixel size of the document.)

Water lilies sketch  sm

The pencil sketch drawn in Painter using the Real 2B variant of Pencils

3. Making a pencil sketch on a new layer

In the Color panel, choose a medium gray color and select the Real 2B Pencil variant of Pencils (in the Brush Selector) to draw your sketch. Make a new layer by clicking the New Layer button on the Layers panel. Drawing your sketch on a new layer will give you the flexibility to adjust its opacity and composite method. I set up my references next to the computer and sketched from observation. If you like, you can scan your sketch and open it in Painter.

  Water lilies first  wash
Painting smooth washes using the Real Oval Wash variant
Layers panel WC layer1 sketch hidden
An active Watercolor layer shown in the Layers panel. The sketch layer is hidden.
Water  lilies washes2
Adding light, varied washes of color using the Real Oval Wash and Real Wet Filbert variants of Real Watercolor

Painting deeper blues on the lily pads and water to help focus more attention on the flowers. The sketch layer is viewed at 50% opacity in this example.
Lilies mid-tones deep sm

4. Painting the first washes

The brush work in the Water Lilies painting is loose and expressive. As you prepare to begin adding color, make a few practice brushstrokes. (You can always undo the brushstrokes by pressing Ctrl/1-Z, or you can delete your practice Watercolor layer by selecting it in the Layers panel and clicking the Delete button on the panel.)

Plan to work from light to dark as you add color washes to your painting. Choose a light color in the Color panel (I chose a light turquoise blue). In the Brush Selector, choose the Real Oval Wash variant of Real Watercolor. (When you select a Real Watercolor brush and make a brushstroke on your image, Painter automatically creates a new Watercolor layer in the image.) When you apply a light, even pressure on your stylus, the Real Oval Wash allows you to lay in the wash areas smoothly. The slight bit of diffusion built into the brush will help the brushstrokes to blend subtly as you paint. When you make a new stroke, place it next to the previous stroke so that it barely overlaps. Try not to scrub with the brush or paint over areas too many times, unless you want to darken the area. When I wanted a more dramatic, thick to thin stroke, I switched to the Real Wet Filbert variant of Real Watercolor. Painter’s Real Watercolor performs like traditional transparent watercolor. Paint with strokes that follow the direction of the forms in your subject. Complete the lighter wash areas, leaving some of the “white of the paper” showing through for the highlights. If the paint seems to build up too fast, reduce the opacity of the brush using the Opacity slider in the Property Bar. (I used opacities between 30% - 70% for the light washes on the flowers, lily pads and water.)

Lilies texture washes sm
The soft washes on the flowers were painted with the Real Oval Wash variant of Real Watercolor. The textured washes were painted with the Real Grainy Wash and the Fractal Wash variants of Real Watercolor. The sketch layer is hidden in this example.

5. Building up the mid-tones

Using medium-value colors, begin to develop your mid-tones, painting lighter colors first and then adding darker tones to continue to develop the form. Keep your light source in mind and let your strokes follow the direction of the forms. To resize the brush or change its Opacity as you work, use the sliders on the Property Bar. I gradually built up deeper golden-yellows and blues, while keeping the brushwork natural and loose.

As I completed the mid-tones stage, I switched to the Real Grainy Wash variant of Real Watercolor, which allowed us to add a more brushstroke texture over some of the wash areas and at the ends of the strokes, while still allowing the new strokes to blend as wet-into-wet.

Lilies mid-tone washes tex
The modeling on the flowers was painted with the Real Oval Wash and Real Wet Filbert variants of Real Watercolor.

6. Painting wet-into-wet textured washes

Painter offers dynamic brushes that allow you to emulate various traditional Watercolor texture and bleed effects. For a brush with the feel of a conventional mop brush that paints wet, textured washes, use the one of the Fractal Wash variants. Choose a slightly different color in the Color panel and dab the new color onto areas with existing color. Using the Fractal Wash and Fractal Wash Fringe, I applied deeper blue and turquoise colors (using flowing, curved strokes) on the deeper colored areas of the water. These Wash variants allowed the new color to mix with existing color without moving the existing color. Then, I added deeper blue colors to the lily pads with the Real Grainy Wash variant. To paint more color onto the flowers I used the Real Oval Wash.

Detail lilies spatter fin
This detail shows the nearly final brushwork on the lily pads and the Dry Spatter brush work on the lily pad in the foreground
Water lilies final
The final painting with details and textures added

7. Modeling and adding details

If you want very crisp details, it’s a good idea to paint detail work on a separate layer, but in this case I stayed on the same Watercolor layer because I wanted to preserve the softer wet-into-wet look. Add crisper edges to areas that need definition using a small Real Wet Detail variant (6–8 pixels). To reduce the Size of the Real Wet Detail, use the Size slider in the Property Bar. If the Real Wet Detail seems too saturated for your taste, lower the Opacity to about 50%, using the Opacity slider in the Property Bar. If you’d like softer edges, experiment with the Real Wet Bristle and the Real Wet Filbert variants, using a small size (about 6–10 pixels). For expressive strokes, vary the pressure on the stylus. To paint details, I used the Real Wet Detail and Real Wet Filbert variants to add curved brushstrokes and to paint small areas of color on the interior of the flowers. I also added a little more color to the shaded areas under the flowers using the Real Wet Bristle. To break up some of the crisper strokes, I chose a lighter color in the Color panel and then used the Real Wet Filbert variant to dab, lightly scrub and pull color out from the linear strokes that I had painted using the Real Wet Detail.

It’s not possible to use a variant of the Erasers brush on a Watercolor layer, and you can’t use a Watercolor Eraser or Bleach variant on the Canvas, or on an image layer. To softly remove color on a Watercolor layer, choose the Wet Eraser variant of Real Watercolor or the Eraser Dry variant of Watercolor. In the Layers panel, click on the name of the Watercolor layer you wish to edit and brush over the area you’d like to lighten. I used the Wet Eraser variant to brighten the highlights on the flowers and lily pads.

Finally, I added a light speckled texture in the foreground, to help lead the eye to the focal point in the painting. To paint splatters on your image, choose the Dry Spatter variant of Real Watercolor and make curved strokes with the brush over the area you want to add spatters to. For a natural look, vary the size of the brush as you paint. 

Cher Threinen-Pendarvis

Cher Threinen-Pendarvis is the originator of The Painter Wow! Books. In addition to being the author of the Painter Wow! Book, she is a fine artist, designer, educator and author of The Photoshop and Painter Artist Tablet Book: Creative Techniques in Digital Painting and co-author of Beyond Digital Photography: Creating Fine Art with Photoshop and Painter (with Donal Jolley).

Beginning with a child's fascination with art, Cher has always worked with traditional art tools. Also a pioneer in digital art, Cher has created illustrations using the Macintosh computer since 1987. A California native, she lives near the coast with her husband, Steve, who is an innovative surfboard designer. She enjoys combining surfing with her arts, and her love of surfing's pure joy keeps her in the lineups at Sunset Cliffs. She is thankful to have surfing in her life and believes that every wave we ride is a gift.

Exercising her passion for Painter’s artist tools, Cher has worked as a consultant and demo-artist for the developers of Painter. Her artwork has been exhibited worldwide and her articles and art have been published in many books and periodicals. Cher holds a BFA with Highest Honors and Distinction in Art specializing in painting and printmaking, and she is a member of the San Diego Museum of Art Artist Guild. She has taught Painter and Photoshop workshops around the world, and is principal of the consulting firm Cher Threinen Design. To learn more about Cher, please visit her Web site at www.pendarvis-studios.com.