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Tao Te Watercolor

December 9, 2010

                              “Nara Buddha II” watercolor painting by Shellie Lewis, 22” x 30”

Since I recently did a post on a recommended instructional book on watercolor painting, I am now posting a list of things I’ve learned from handling watercolors over the years.

  • If you are turning in a painting or work on watercolor paper and it is really wrinkled, you can press it between weighted boards to flatten it if you have time.  I will place wax paper over the side with the art to protect it.  If you are in a hurry, put blank newsprint on the front of the art, flip it over and iron it across the back like a shirt.  I’ve gotten away with re-flattening many paintings that cockled a lot from water absorption by using an electric iron.  Be careful to not scorch the paper.  I’ve never messed around with stretching watercolor paper by soaking it and binding the edges then leaving it to dry; I don’t have the time, space or attention span to mess with all that. 
  • Anything below 140 pound grade watercolor paper is total shite.  The low grade paper is so poor, it is frustrating to work with because you need water to absorb into the paper.  The best paper is 300 pound cotton rag fiber paper because it is so thick and can absorb a lot of water.  It costs a lot more, but you get what you pay for.
  • You can go darker in hue on the color of the paints, but taking a work, wetting it and trying to blot up color to lighten the colors is difficult and often does not work at all.  Work from light to dark.  If you are in doubt about how something may look dry, start by painting with pale hues and you can go back over it later with darker or stronger colors.  It is easier to do the painting over again as a new painting from the beginning than to try and salvage the one you feel came out too dark.
  • Watercolors are not a very “forgiving” medium.  Unlike thick paints like oils or acrylics, you cannot easily paint layer over layer until the piece is worked to the composition you like.  With thick paints, you can obliterate lower layers with new layers going over the top of them.  Watercolor paint is very transparent and immediate, to be worked quickly and he results all pull together and remain in the final work.
  • Watercolor purists do not use white as a shade of paint and prefer white as a color be provided from the paper itself.  I feel that white cakes or tubes of watercolor paint are incongruent in a set; it always seems that the white color is too opaque and the shade blends poorly.
  • People that feel strongly about the medium leave their original pencil lines in the work, which may or may not show to different degrees, and many artists that work with watercolor will never, ever erase pencil lines from their paper.  Erasing causes rub marks or may alter the surface texture of the paper.  Also, this may be part of watercolor street cred and keeping it real.
  • I love using the enameled metal “butcher’s” tray to mix watercolors and feel the biggest one you can buy is best.  You can often rehydrate dried paints on the tray and they are easy to clean up.
  • Use two containers of water when you paint.  One container should be dedicated to rinsing brushes, one should be kept totally clear to provide water to mix with the paint.  That way you don’t use muddy looking water with colors mixed in it to try and make shades to paint with.
  • If you are not sure what a newly mixed color may look like, test it before using it by making a brush swipe of the color on a scrap piece of white paper.  You can mix the color and try it on the scrap paper before you commit to applying the color you mixed to the painting.
  • The Crayola brand of watercolors is freaky high quality and handles well.  I once wrote a letter to Binney & Smith and asked if they had any data about the lightfast ratings of their Crayola paints but they never replied.  I have some things I painted with these paints that are going on a decade and half of age and still look good.  If you are just starting out, these or a reasonably priced set of liquid tubes (try Reeves) is a cost-effective way to get your art on.

Just by the way of opinion, at some point at least try a large sheet of watercolor paper, rather than just pages from blocks or tablets of paper.  The large sheet is really fun and an interesting challenge to work larger.

Categories: Painting, Uncategorized
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