When I first discovered this painting technique over 18 years ago, I knew nothing about it. My youngest was two years old and I was very pregnant with my twins. I had already introduced painting to my youngest but was still intriqued by this Waldorf painting method and wanted to bring it to my children.
I did my due diligence research and what I found was thin in terms of HOW to do the technique. What I did find was layered with a lot of esoteric teachings that didn't make a lot of sense to me at the time. Because Waldorf Education was so foreign to me I believed that there must be rules to follow. Which if I'm being honest, I stressed about a lot! So, when it came to wet on wet painting, I believed that there must be rules to follow here too and I needed to find the rules. What I discovered is that there are very few rules. In fact, Rudolf Steiner, whose ideas Waldorf Education are based in, said nothing about this painting technique. Wet on wet water color painting in the Waldorf tradition was invented by Waldorf teachers. It becomes obvious how the technique was developed when we know what Steiner did say about painting with children:
Painting should be brought to children early
They should paint solely with liquid paint mixed in water
And the paper should be tacked down
That's not a lot to go on but you can see how watercolor painting became the choice. The technique also pulls some of its spiritual leanings from Goethe's Theory of Color. Goethe suggested that every color has a nuance of feeling and that color is not only what the eye sees but also what the soul feels. As a painter, I know this to be true and I work with these ideas in my own studio practice. I imagine that most folks have experienced the beauty of a painting with their eyes and their emotions too. It's not an idea that is way out there.
As far as rules for wet on wet watercolor painting in the Waldorf tradition as I said, there aren't many. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor early on who told me to forget about rules and trust my painterly instincts. Which I did and wet on wet watercolor painting my way was born. In addition to trusting my instincts, I also found this quote by Steiner which really set me to ease, “In art, you can do different things in many different ways. It is not possible to say that one thing is definitely good and the other is definitely bad.”
So, regardless of how orthodox you approach wet on wet watercolor painting in the Waldorf tradition, I hope you'll take my suggestions below and mix them with your own instincts. You know your child better than anyone. There are really very few rules and my way is only one way. There are many different ways. Though one thing I can say for sure, any painting practice is better than no painting practice.
How do I bring this painting practice to children?
When I bring this technique to anyone, I have three objectives:
Reverence for the tools. In any art practice, preserving your tools for as long as possible should be a goal. Good art supplies are not cheep and with a little care, they can last for many years. On a more spiritual level, art tools and supplies are the stuff used to realize your creative visions. Art tools and supplies are the closest thing we have to magic.
How to use the tools. Here is the one place we have definitive rules and in the beginning, we need to learn them. Which is no different from any other subject. We must learn how to use the paintbrush, how to use the paint, how to prepare the paper, and how to properly clean up when we are finished painting. Picasso urged us to - learn the rules like a pro so you can break them as an artist. Learn how to use your tools and then let your imagination soar!
A positive painting experience. Here is where we can bring in all of Steiner's and Goethe's teachings. We slowly learn to look with our eyes and look with our soul. We slowly learn to connect with the inner feeling life of the colors. The goal is not to have a perfect painting, rather it's about taking our time and experiencing the creative impulse. It's about trying our best and allowing the colors and the painting to show us what they have to teach us. Don't get hung up on how the painting looks or if it matches exactly my examples. It's more important to have a positive experience than a perfect painting. Striving for excellence comes with practice. So, paint a lot!
How to bring this technique to your children?
Typically, the individual primary colors (red, blue, yellow) are introduced in painting to children 6 years old and under. The reason for working with the individual primary colors harkens back to Goethe's Color Theory and the idea of the feeling life of each color. When we introduce color, we want the child to connect with that color. The lesson for wee littles is presented as - let's paint blue and that's it. Just let them paint. There is no agenda except to paint AND to start learning about the tools. Even the youngest child can learn how to properly use a paintbrush and contribute to cleaning up when painting is over. Reverence for your art supplies is important. If we want to paint again, then we need to take care of our tools and supplies.
These early painting sessions may ensue over several months and then are revisited again over several years. With the introduction of each individual primary color, we are asking open ended questions like, how does that color feel? What does the color make you think of? Where else do we see this color in the world? At this age, all answers to how a color makes the child feel are correct. We are just posing the questions. There is no wrong answer.
At 7 years old, grade one in Waldorf education, we introduce the secondary colors through two color blends. I suggest that you return to the individual color paintings first and review the gradation exercises - one color with one brush stroke. Reviewing tool usage and revisiting the feelings of each color can be a quick exercise or a longer review.
Then we introduce the secondary color blends. These are fun exercises in color mixing. Unfortunately, you only get one shot to share the discovery of how two primary colors makes a third color. It's magical to watch a child make this discovery for themselves. Once your child has the secondary colors (green, orange, purple), spend some time doing the exercises for each secondary color blend. In my course, I give you one exercise like, the rain on the Texas prarie, which is a blue and yellow makes green painting. Though that is only one painting exercise. Primary color blends can be revisited with a different visualization or no visualization at all. Try making different colors of green. How many greens can you make? The goal is to have fun with these blends. There is easily a year's worth of paintings playing with the secondary colors.
Once you've played around with the primary color blends, next you would introduce the full spectrum. In a Waldorf classroom, these would be introduced in grade two at around age 8-9. Kids love rainbows so these can be really fun. Make the blends in stripes, make a radiant circle, make a blended arc, make an inner blend and an outer blend. How smooth can you make the transitions? Are all the colors present? The intent here is to move into greater control over the paint and the paintbrush. Though not in a rigid way. Remember we want to keep the fluididy of the painting technique in our practice. This isn't about perfect, this is about intent and trying.
Class two is also where we introduce the figure. We start with using two colors, one primary color and one secondary color. We are introducing complementary colors but letting the child experience them first before we give the color theory lesson. In Waldorf education, we also introduce fables in class two, which are fun to paint. Regardless of whether you are following Waldorf or not, simple stores like fairy tales or Esop's fables are a great resource to pull your stories from. These simple figure paintings are just another way to experiment with the technique. Another step in learning to control the paint and brush though this time with the added layer of trying to paint something specific.
Once you've gotten to painting the simple stories, you have all of the foundational exercises to introduce color through wet on wet watercolor painting to your child. In my Wet on Wet Watercolor Painting Course, I give you 22 painting exercises. One example for each step of the painting progression. My hope is that you expand each one of my lessons into multiple paintings on your end. Make lots of paintings. Ask lots of questions. And then make more paintings.
Keep painting! Paint holiday stories and the stories you are reading together. Paint the lessons you are learning together. Paint the ideas you have or the ideas your children have. Paint for fun! Introduce different types of brushes. Try different sizes of paper. Keep using the wet on wet painting technique and continue to explore the medium of liquid watercolor paint.
My feelling is that the painting exercises I present in my course can be revisited year after year. Here is where Waldorf education and I diverge. I believe that the exercises in the wet on wet watercolor painting technique have value far beyond the early grades. The exercises are simple but they are not easy. I believe the painting exercises, especially the blends and the gradations, can be revisited in the upper grades as an exercises in practicing painting control. How even can you get the blends? How smooth can you make the transition from light to dark? How subtle or bold can you be with the colors? And how does your control over the medium change how your paintings feel, how you feel? The more you paint these exercises, the more control you have, the more you experience and discover. The more you practice, the closer you come to achieving the effects you want. These are will force exercises and are just as important to the kindergardener as they are to the teenager.
Will force is also important when working with folks with special needs. Which is why I teach these paintings even to adults with special needs. For some, just having control over the brush may be difficult. One has to engage with the will force to have any semblance of success. When we use one color and one brush stroke we focus our will without the worry of painting something specific. Like I've said, the paintings are simple but they are not easy and there are benefits to revisiting even the simpleist paintings throughout the grades, or throughout your lifetime, as I have.
If you're interest is piqued, try my Wet on Wet Watercolor Painting Course for free. I've made the first three painting exercises available - HERE. If you feel we are a fit and you'd like to learn the rest of this painting technique, then you can purchase my full course. I'll see you there!