I have a love-hate relationship with wet-on-wet painting. As a child in my Waldorf school, I can clearly remember the quiet excitement of Painting Day - getting the jars of water ready, passing out the board, putting on aprons, squeezing the "worm" into the bottom of the little jars for the paint.... But when it actually came to the painting itself, I can remember being more than a little ambivalent.
As a melancholic child (deeply, deeply melancholic) who has grown into a rather choleric adult (who continues to have a streak of the melancholic) I can remember the anxiety of getting that paint onto the paper - will it run everywhere? Will my lion look like a lion - or will it look like a tree or a cave - anything BUT a lion?! Will I make mud? Will it all look very nice when I'm finished and then somehow have transformed itself into an unrecognizable painting when it dries?
As far as I can recall, wet on wet ended somewhere in the middle school grades. I could be wrong - I remember an awful lot about my education but there definitely are some foggy patches. And there was very little wet-on-wet in high school although we did do some layering or veil painting. That I remember because we had a rather unpredictable art teacher in high school who was great in some ways - but had a sadistic streak. I clearly remember her taking one of my paintings, trouncing over to the sink and washing all the paint off - then announcing that I needed to start again!
Anyway...although I did do some wet-on-wet while I was a Waldorf teacher, as we had a very small school where we often combined the children, other teachers were more forthcoming in taking the children for painting. And so I did very little until my sons were born. Even then, both had interludes in Waldorf kindergartens so painting was taken care of as far as I was concerned. But.... then both were home at various times during the kindergarten years and I felt that as painting was extremely valuable, that we needed to do some (I should say that I did not paint with my sons before they were 4 or so. I know others paint with younger children but I saw no reason to. And as especially my older son was not one to sit still - except for stories - it seemed silly to try to get him to paint - he needed large muscle activity, not being still and painting - not yet!). By the time Daniel was about 5 1/2 we started to paint at home.
Lovely! Lovely colors, no form, paint gliding across the page, meeting and playing with the other colors! Glorious! Kindergarten painting was marvelous!
First grade - Son Number One goes to school - Son Number One returns home from school. Let's paint! Now we were in a Camphill community and sometimes we painted with the Villagers (Camphill Communities are anthroposophical communities where differently abled people live and work together). "My people" were not really up to making forms and as my son was only 7 and the other only 5, I saw no reason to do more than capture the spirit of stories in the gestures and moods of the colors themselves. And what wonderful times we had - just picture two little boys and three or four developmentally handicapped adults sitting or standing around a table, in utter silence, totally absorbed in the creation of their watercolor paintings. I cannot express what a moving and utterly healing experience this was. My mentors, senior Houseparents in our Community and in the two other Camphills close to us (one of which was a children's community) stressed that form is not the key in wet on wet - that this kind of painting is a therapeutic exercise for the soul. And I could see this so clearly - not only were my sons always more at peace after our painting sessions, but "my people" were far more relaxed, centered and content after the healing balm of the formless work with the beautiful pure Stockmar (or Stone) paints.
Year pass...... fast forward to my family now in Wisconsin on our little hobby farm. My sons were between the ages of 8 and 12 while we were there. Drawing was their preferred artistic expression, but we did do some painting. Building on what we had done in Camphill, we focused mainly on color moods - the changing colors of leaves, the greens of a sunny meadow, the cold blues of a snowy scene. Occasionally my sons would try to create forms when they did their free painting (I always let them paint one or two paintings of whatever they wanted after they had painted what I wanted them to paint). Rarely was this satisfactory - but always they got joy from their free form color paintings.
Now that I am creating our full grades curriculum, I have been doing a lot of painting! From grades two onward, there are a number of paintings included in each year's syllabus. And asI have the house to myself this afternoon, I just created three paintings for our soon-to-be-released 4th grade book, The Human Being and the Animal World (aka Man & Animal).
How lovely and relaxed I felt as I sat down to paint. How I do enjoy the whole process of asking myself what I should paint, getting everything ready, sitting down (being very tall, I do not stand when I paint - except when painting with young children) and doing it.
A couple of things struck me as I painted today which I thought I would pass on -
1) Paint fast. Wet-on-wet is not a method of painting which should be agonized over. Visualize your composition and just do it.
2) Do let things dry here and there so you can come back and neaten them up with a brush dampened with clean water - this is, of course, for when one is doing forms. When just working with the colors themselves, don't come back and correct or neaten up.
3) Be spontaneous! Do plan your picture - but then whilst painting, do something as you are moved to do so. Follow what the colors, the mood or the composition demands - not just what your thinking demands.
In an effort to keep prices down on the aforementioned book, we will be printing it with black and white pictures - BUT - we will have the full color paintings and drawings on this website (and people purchasing the full Fourth Grade Curriculum - due out early Summer 2009 - will have the color plates in their syllabus). When I announce the release of the book, I will give the link to the paintings. Then you can have a look at the paintings I created while my son and husband were out!
Which leads me on to another thought.... do always be mindful of wet-on-wet painting as part of your own inner work. To take the time to just relax into the beautiful colors - to follow them and let them flow - is a wonderfully relaxing and centering practice. Even if your children are very very young, do take the time to do some painting after they've gone to bed or perhaps when Dad is out with them. Try to not think about what you're doing - just paint. And, above all, enjoy!
At other times, it is also worthwhile painting before you present a specific painting lesson to your children. The painting book which we now sell is a brilliant guide to painting with ones children through the grades. And, most helpful of all, the book is full of painting exercises for the teacher - so you can practice various techniques and ways of working with color and form before presenting your work to your child or trying to help him.
I have written a couple of other blog entries on painting which people might find helpful - including a rather long one where people were asked questions and I answered them. have a look through our Blog Index to find them! And Happy Painting!