Saturday is Painting Day.
Unlike regular painting or drawing, wet-on-wet painting, by nature of the medium, is about color and movement and not so much about form. Because the paper is wet, distinct figures and configurations continually transform on the page so this kind of painting seems almost to have a life of its own. The process is slow and gentle and, performed mindfully and with reverence, it is a magical undertaking for children and adults alike.
With that in mind (and to avoid the wild and frenetic tendency of other activities) we often begin this afternoon by setting a tone of calm centeredness. Sometimes we'll light a candle after we've prepared our space and just prior to picking up our brushes we'll say a special verse or read a poem.
Now I take the brush so gently
In my hand with loving care
Watch the color flow so softly
On the paper clean and clear
For those not familiar with the wet-on-wet method though, here's a picture of what our time in this activity looks like from the start...
We begin with high quality watercolor pigment (Stockmar is our preferred brand) and pretty heavy good watercolor paper. A glob of pigment is placed in a small jar before water is added and the jar is shaken to thoroughly emulsify the paint. The quantities vary each time we mix depending on the density of color we'd like to work with. (In these pictures, I would say we used about 1/2 tsp. of pigment to about 4 Tblsp. of water. This particular batch was more vibrant than that which we normally use.)
I then round the edges of the paper. This isn't necessary but the theory is that it opens possibilities in the child's imagination because the edges of the painting space are less defined and limiting and create less of an abrupt boundary. Also, I just think it looks nicer. The paper is then soaked in water for 10 to 15 minutes. (We use a high edged cookie sheet to accommodate large pages.)
We place the wet paper on a waterproof surface with the coarse side up and smooth it with a sponge from the center out toward the edges to remove any bubbles trapped underneath. (Naiya enjoys the sponging sometimes almost as much as the painting.) This is usually when we'll have our verse or poem or have a little color tale. Some time back, Naiya shared with me a verse she had learned at school just as we were beginning to paint. Like the instruction to always be sure Peter washes his hair between each color, this verse is a lesson on how to gently use the brush:
Peter Paintbrush dances always on his toes
Never on his bottom and never on his nose
Always on his tippy, tippy, tippy, tippy toes(She brushes my hand with the bristles as she sings this and gently swipes one finger on each "tippy" that she says. Peter on his "bottom" means the brush is crushed into the page bending the bristles too much. Peter's "nose" is the metal gusset that holds the bristles to the brush handle. So, we don't want Peter dancing on either of those!)
After our verse, either we just paint or I'll talk about a mood or a color or a feeling. One of our favorite subjects is times of the day. In Oregon, especially in the Summer, right before dusk, there's a subtle but amazing change in the light some days so that everything is golden and the air kind of shimmers (it lasts for only about five or ten minutes). We'll talk about something like that and then we'll both pick up a brush and each tenderly place color on paper. Maybe we'll feel guided by our talk, maybe not. Sometimes our hands and the hues and the light have lives of their own.
We generally paint with between one and three colors. Today was an exception because Naiya was interested in rainbows.