Wet in Wet Acrylic Painting Techniques

by | Aug 5, 2013 | Blog | 14 comments

What is a wet-in-wet painting technique?

Once you apply paint, or mediums, onto your painting surface, it stays wet for a certain amount of time. Let’s call this your first paint layer. The time this layer stays wet varies according to the type of paint or medium you use, how thickly it is applied, and environmental factors like temperature and humidity.

While this layer is still wet, you can load your brush or knife with more paint or mediums, then add it, or unload it, directly into the wet layer. That’s wet in wet! By working this way, you can create soft edges or blended areas much easier. If you use a clear medium or clear gel for your first layer, and you work your paint color into it while wet, you can get a variety of transparencies. This is a good technique to use when you want these results; blended edges, transparency or texture.

As an example, below is a technique I created that uses this wet-in-wet idea in a very dramatic way to create in addition to what I just mentioned above, lots of gooey texture. I call this technique “Soft Melted Effects”, and it is just one of the many unusual acrylic painting techniques included in my book, Acrylic Illuminations: Reflective and Luminous Acrylic Painting Techniques.


Wet-in-wet acrylic painting technique


Paint: one or more acrylic paint colors

Substrate: any primed painting surface

Tools: paintbrush, painting knife or other spreading tool

Products: a matte or gloss acrylic gel

For clean-up: water, water container, paper towels or rags

acrylic painting technique using wet layers in wet layers called wet-in-wet for blending, soft edges, texture
Step 1 – Rough out an underpainting
On a surface paint an underpainting using any style or technique. This ice cream cone with violet background uses Cobalt Turquoise, Burnt Sienna, Vat Orange, Raw Umber, Carbon Black, Titanium White and Hansa Yellow Light.
Step 2 – Apply Gel Thickly
Select an acrylic gel. Gloss dries transparent while a matte gel appears veiled or cloudy. Using a knife or other spreading tool, such as a spatula, heavily apply gel all over surface at least ¼” in depth. Here Heavy Gel Gloss is applied. Continue to the next step while wet.
acrylic painting technique using wet layers in wet layers called wet-in-wet for blending, soft edges, texture
acrylic painting technique using wet layers in wet layers called wet-in-wet for blending, soft edges, texture
Step 3 – Paint Into the Wet Gel
Using a brush or knife, apply paint color on the wet gel. Heavier gels allow smoother applications of paint, while softer gels record the application texturally. Gel appears white when wet, temporarily hiding the underpainting. If you need to control where the paint is applied for this layer scrape the gel away from small areas at a time with a knife to peak at where forms are then push gel back into place.

Tip: Remember to use white as it’s easy to forget to use it when the wet gel is white. Continue to the next step while wet.

Step 4 – Embed Edges
Using a clean knife glide over the edges pushing the color down into the depths of the gel layer. Move the paint around to soften and blur until satisfied. When the gel is dry the underpainting and overpainting will visually merge as seen here.
acrylic painting technique using wet layers in wet layers called wet-in-wet for blending, soft edges, texture

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  1. Syd

    This looks so cool! Totally going to try this! <3

    • Nancy Reyner

      Great! Enjoy!

  2. Carol Davis

    Wow, this is fabulous. Question: I’ve painted a field of small flowers, and now that it’s dry I would like to crate a soft blur or soft Monet look over most of them. Any thoughts for post-blurring of a detailed multi-color / ever changing painting? Gel with a transparent white? I wouldn’t mind if it tones down the colors a bit.

    Thank you so much.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Carol,
      Sounds like a cool painting! If the surface is fairly smooth (or light texture) you can use a rag and rub a glaze mixture (70% slow drying medium like Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Liquid with 30% Zinc or Titanium White). Once you make the mixture rub on a test area first, let it dry, to see if it is transparent enough. If too opaque and covers what’s under it too much, add more medium to the mixture and test again. If too transparent – that’s a good thing – just keep applying more layers of the same mixture, letting each layer dry before applying the next, until you build up the blur you want. If your surface is highly textured then I recommend spraying a mixture (similar to above but using Acrylic Transparent Extender for the medium to go through a spray without drying, and using High Flow or Fluid paint). Home Depot sells an easy inexpensive hand spray bottle called Preval, that makes spraying easy. Hope this helps.

  3. Demeri

    I followed this great little ice cream cone from a general Google search on acrylic pours, and I’m so glad I found your site! Thank you for sharing this technique – can’t wait to try this.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you! Glad you liked the technique!

  4. Nancy Reyner

    Jamie, You asked how long it takes to dry. Drying times vary greatly depending on many factors – how thick the layer, the humidity and temperature of the environment and whether there is air movement. Here in Santa Fe things dry fast, but a 1/2" layer of Soft Gel Gloss will usually take 2 days. In the winter it can be 4 days, and on hot dry days it can dry in 1 day. I hope this helps.

  5. Jamie

    How long does it take the acrylic gel to fully dry? I have never worked with it before but after seeing this I want to try it out!

  6. marge

    that's a great technique! can't wait to try it!!

  7. Patricia Voinche

    Thanks for the tip! I plan to try it out the next time I paint 'fabric' such as animal skin on a painting. Your new book sounds like exactly what I have been waiting for. I viewed all the paintings on your site. My favorites are the acrylic and gold leaf. They are absolutely gorgeous! I would love to own one some day. Your first 2 books were the the first art books that I purchased. These books got me established and helped me to create a style that I enjoy and that are very sellable. I will be watching for the first opportunity to purchase one.

    Again, many thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise with others.

    God bless you,
    Pat Voinche'

  8. Lindy T

    Wow. Awesome new technique! Thank you Nancy!


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About Nancy

Nancy Reyner is a professional fine-art painter with over 30 years experience using a variety of mediums including oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. She has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever,” and authored several best-selling painting books with F&W Media. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM. Read more.
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