Book Review- Ewa Karpinska's "Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting"

A couple of years ago, after I went to Narbonne and discovered Ewa Karpinska's work at the 2nd Biennial Watercolor Show, I picked up her book and really began to dig into wet-into-wet technique.  To me, at the very least, this is the hardest, most rewarding, and most challenging way to work in watercolors.  You're no longer just learning how to control your glazes, or even how to build an interesting composition.  Now you've got to activate and guide a process that you are a partner with, and have to learn to read like tea leaves.  You've got to simultaneously know how to read your paper (how wet is it? how saturated the paper?) and how to read your brush and pigment mixture (how thick is your pigment? how diluted your mixture? how much water are you carrying on the brush?).  It's both a liberating and limiting technique, because it only offers certain things, but it's just that thing which can lead to some really interesting work.  Ewa's website gives a good sense of this.

What's so interesting about her book, Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting, is that it takes something like Joseph Zbukvic's Watercolor Clock, and essentially spends an entire book unpacking and teaching the concept.  She doesn't talk about color coordination, or glazing, or composition.  It's all about wet into wet work.  If you're looking for a mellow read, this is not the book for you- it's technical and gets into the nitty gritty details.  But that's exactly why I like it.  If you're looking for something cheap, you should also probably go elsewhere.  The book is out of print, and can run anywhere from 25- 250$ a copy.  I lucked out and got mind for 10$ on ebay.  There are two covers too, and they sometimes are priced differently.  The other one looks like this-

but they are the same on the inside.  If you can't afford the book, it's still worth trying to borrow a copy from a library, or find a pdf.  I think it's probably the best book I've found on wet into wet work.  Nothing beats a real life teacher, but if you don't have that options, this book is a good alternate choice.  Why?  Read on and find out!  :)

The book is broken down into four basic parts- a section on tools (paper and brushes), a section on the water cycle and the various results you can get from it, a section for readers to learn affects through small paintings, and a step-by-step section at the end, with more sophisticated paintings- but the heart of the book is the section on the water cycle and the follow up section for readers to try out their own tests repainting a leaf to learn what can be done.  Ewa does a very good job of breaking the water cycle down into small increments.  She also shows us good photographic examples of what each stage looks like on the page, what it looks like on the brush, and (most importantly) what it looks like when we combine the two.  I cannot overstate how valuable this section is.  Here's a photo of the water cycle, as she shares it-


The good news is she then follows it up with various photos showing you what it stage looks like, as well as descriptions involving temperature and wetness.  Here's an example-


There are photos like this repeatedly, often for each stage, presented in a step by step manner.  Same goes for the dilution and application of paint on the brush.  Here's an example of how she explains what these different dilutions look like, both on the brush....


and on the paper-


Each time things begin to dry out and the moisture level on the paper changes, she presents a new set of photos and descriptions, showing what the results will look like for each level of dilution on the brush.  It's a little overwhelming, honestly, and eventually perhaps it's broken down too far, but I'm one to go for too much information instead of too little.  What's really invigorating and useful about this section of the book is that you can see what different results will look like.  It's like a catalogue of affects, some of which you might discover for the first time as your read the book.  That can be very exciting to explore- atleast it was for me!

Next, she enters into a section where she gives you 25 (!) different ways to paint a leaf, like these-

Each mini-demo helps you see what you get when you apply different dilutions of pigment to paper at different moisture levels.  If you have the chance to follow along with this, its a great way to learn through doing.  No fear about learning on your next masterpiece.  Just paint these leaves and learn what the heck happens when you're really playing with water wet into wet.  Very few books set up this sort of learning space for you to explore in, and this, plus the previous section, really make the book stand out.

Of course, after this we go into the more sophisticated step-by-step demos often shared in books like this.  They are lovely paintings as well, and are well done and educational.  They're way more complicated than these tree sketches she provides earlier in the book, but just like these, each painting is included to help you see and explore a particular facet of wet-into-wet painting-

They help you see more of what can be done on a more sophisticated level, which I like.  However, if they were all the book offered, it wouldn't get the rave review I give it here. 

I recommend the book wholeheartedly, particularly if you're reading something else like Zbukvic's "Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor."  Combined, I think they're a powerful combo.  Joseph's book is broader in scope and I feel his Watercolor Clock provides a simpler way of stepping into learning the water cycle.  But if you're interested in really grappling with the Watercolor Clock, you'll need more than what Joseph provides.  His book is more about providing the proper mental framework to build off of.  Karpinska's book, however, offers exactly what Joseph's book is missing, and fills in a lot of gaps (at the expense of a great many other things that Joseph includes in his own book).  Together, they're a great 1-2 punch for introducing yourself to wet into wet work.


Also, someone wondered if there was a DVD of her painting available.  I hadn't thought of this, but on looking it up, there is a French DVD. I might try and get one.  Seeing someone paint is always an instructive alternate way to learn. Here's the link-