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Learn to Paint with Watercolors

Information courtesy of Winsor & Newton™

Watercolor InformationWe all envy those people who can paint or draw. Well, the secret is out – with a healthy desire and the right instruction, anyone can bring shape and life to ideas on paper. This article offers step-by-step instruction to help you get started.

Artists have enjoyed the charm of watercolors for many centuries. Constable, Cotman and Cezanne used them to great effect. Beginners, too, can get excellent results after a little practice; the medium has a lot to offer. Watercolor’s loveliest feature is its transparency. The white of the paper shines through the color, giving a feeling of light and sparkle to the picture.

When using watercolor, the two main things to remember are that you should always work from light to dark, unlike with poster paints and oils, and that if you want white in your picture you should normally use the white of the paper, i.e. leave it unpainted wherever you need some white.

Also, normally it is best to make very dark colors by mixing the other colors in your set, rather than using black.

Watercolor paints are made from colored pigment and gum arabic and are used by diluting them with water. Depending on how much water you add, you can get pale, delicate colors or quite strong ones, to suit the different effects you are aiming at. It is important not to overwork the painting, or you will lose that beautiful translucency that is essential to watercolor.

It is far better to spend time testing your colors on a piece of scrap paper before you start than to keep going over and over a painting in an attempt to improve the color. The best watercolor paintings have a look of freshness and spontaneity, so be bold. If one painting does not work out quite as you had thought, just have another try.

Paper
You will definitely get the best results on a proper watercolor paper that is thicker and heavier than ordinary paper and has a special surface with a ‘grain’ to it. Ordinary thin paper will wrinkle (this is called ‘cockling’) when it gets wet, and even when it has dried it will never be properly smooth and flat again. So watercolor paper really is worth the small expense. Hampton Photo Arts

A 90lb paper will be fine for most purposes by the thicker the paper the wetter you can make it without it cockling. Rest it on a table or on a wooden board which you can slope towards you, or use a watercolor paper block.

Pencils and Brushes
For sketching your picture, an ordinary pencil will do. Remember, that the pencil drawing will show through the transparent paint when you have finished. You could also try using no pencil at all, which gives you a very soft, flowing effect.

Brushes range in sizes from 00000, the smallest, to 14, which have a very large head. The thicker a brush is, the more paint it will hold at one go. So use a large brush for a wash and a small one for fine details.

To keep a good pint on your brush, smooth it back into shape with your fingers while it is still damp. Store your brush with the hairs pointing upwards.


This is one of the basic watercolor techniques. It will give you an even ‘wash’ – a liquid layer of diluted watercolor over a larger area of paper; for example, in a sky. Have everything ready, if you stop for any reason, you will get hard edges which you will not be able to erase. Mix up enough paint for the whole of the wash as you will not have time to mix any more when you have started. To get an idea of how much you will need for the area you have to cover, you could practice with plain water on a spare piece of paper.

Tilt the top end of the board your paper is resting on up a few degrees to make the diluted paint run towards you. Fill a brush with paint: for a very large area you would need a large brush. Drag the brush carefully along the top edge of the paper, noticing a bead of paint that will build up on the nearest edge. Now reload the brush and repeat the action, overlapping the bead edge of the last brush stroke. Continue down the paper like this until you have covered the area. Clean up the last bead of paint at the bottom with the end of the brush.

There are many variations of the basic wash and it is worth experimenting. Try graduating a wash by adding more and more clear water as you go down the paper (as the sky fades towards the horizon); or blend colors together gradually or sharply to give interesting sky effects such as sunsets, clouds, water, mist, etc

Color Mixing

Mixing colors from a basic range will give you a wide range of hues. To make a ‘wash’ of the strength you want, mix the desired color of paint on a mixing palette an old plate will suffice for this purpose and add clean water. Remember to mix up enough paint at one go to last for the whole of the section of the painting you are working on, it is virtually impossible to match the color exactly if you run out!

Other Techniques
The following is a selection of special techniques you can learn to help you create special effects in watercolor paintings.

Wet Into Wet
This very soft, flowing technique relies on the action of wet washes of paint on the paper. You will need heavy paper to be able to do it. Either flow two washes into one another on dry paper, or wet the paper with clear water first and then try adding colors. They blend beautifully; perfect for skies, water, reflections, misty hills and so on.

Masking Fluid
If you need to keep a small detail white in a broad wash that would be spoiled by painting round the detail, a good technique is to paint or draw on masking fluid[?] to protect the place you need to keep white (or at least paler than the areas around it). Wait for the masking fluid to dry. Then wash over the top of the whole thing without worry.
When the paint is completely dry, peel off the rubbery masking fluid and the paper will be pure white underneath.

This works well for seagulls in a stormy sky, sailing boats on the water, flowers in a hedgerow, tendrils on vines (use a steel-nibbed pen), veins on leaves and a host of other features.

Wax-Resistant Technique
This technique gives a softer, fuzzier look than masking fluid[?]. Use a permanent masking medium to draw on your painting: when you come to paint on those areas you have masked, the paint will run off. This cannot be rubbed off as masking fluid can.

Scratching Out
Working on good-quality paper gives you access to this technique, as it has the strength and thickness to stand up to it. To add sparkle to a picture, try scratching the painted paper carefully with a sharp knife. This will take off the surface and give you little touches of pristine white paper. If you do this in horizontal strokes you will find it useful for points of light on water. It will also enliven a flat area, or correct a small mistake.

Do not over use this technique, and do not try to over paint as the surface has been removed and will now behave differently from the rest of the paper. Another way of removing color you have already applies is wiping out or blotting. Try this for soft cloud effects. Simply blot a wet sky wash with a paper tissue to remove some of the color. You can also use this technique where a color has turned out too strong: just wet the area with clean water and blot some of the color off. It will not work so well where you have used a staining color.

Framing Your Work
Watercolors need to be framed behind glass to protect them from dust and damp. Remember not to hang your paintings in bright sunlight, or you find that some colors will fade.

 

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Learning to Paint with Watercolors

By Cindy Tabacchi

ImageWatercolor is an easy, fun medium for creating art.  Color theory, composition and design can be explored freely with watercolor paint, paper, and brushes.  Several techniques may be used with watercolors for varying effects including painting wet on wet, wet on dry, layering washes, and more.

Watercolor paper comes in cold press, hot press, and rough.  Rough paper has the most texture, and its hills and valleys can result in interesting effects when paint is added.  Hot press is the smoothest and has the finest texture.  Cold press has a moderate amount of texture and is the paper most commonly chosen by watercolor artists.

Watercolor paper comes in several weights ranging from 90 lb. to 300 lb. based on the pounds per ream of paper.  Most artists prefer to use at least 140 lb. paper.  Papers vary somewhat between manufacturers, so sampling different papers is advisable.  Paper can be purchased in pads, in blocks or in large sheets.  The large sheets are usually the most economical and can be torn into whatever size is desired.

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