Thursday, May 7

Five Tips for Watercolor Painting

Today’s Image
Santa Barbara Patio
Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2009

Today’s Image (above) is one of my first watercolor paintings completed after having attended what I like to call Watercolor School (WS) for a couple of months. I posted it in response to one of my Twitter followers who asked about my watercolors (thanks @lulasi). WS is not actually an art school, but rather weekly lessons for a few of us lucky artists at the studio of two professional watercolor painters.

Having said that, today’s blog is about five tips I have learned so far at WS. They are not necessarily the most important tips nor are they by any means the only tips for watercolorists. They are five tips I have learned so far that were important enough for me to be able to remember them off the top of my head for this blog.

Here we go:
  1. Use 300-Pound (640 grams/square meter) Hot-Press Watercolor Paper for the “Best” Results - This is the standard for the class. Up until I took the class, I didn’t even know there was 300-pound paper; I thought 140-pound was the maximum. No one has said exactly what the “best” results are, but I have gleened from comments, they mean pleasing results in the way the paint goes on, sturdiness in being able to take many washes, and the ability to make changes (even what they call “scrubbing”—not actually scrubbing, more like scraping), and durability so the painting will last a long, long time.
  2. The Standard Palette is a Good Place to Start - This is a palette of three primary watercolors: Cadmium Red Medium (or Deep), New Gamboge, and French Ultramarine. The reason to use these is that you can make almost all, but not all, other colors you’ll need as a beginner. There are other palettes (delicate, old masters), but those will come later with more knowledge.
  3. Buy the Best Quality Paint You Can Afford - Since you’re only starting with the three colors, cost may not be a problem for many, but I don’t want to presume anything, and will let you know that in the US, a small 17 ml. tube of professional quality watercolor costs about US$8 to US$12, depending on the color and your place of residence. A tube goes a long way, but still. You can substitute the colors labeled “hue,” but I was told you use more of it, so there is not much cost saving, and that the hues are not as transparent (relatively speaking) as the good quality stuff.
  4. How to Flatten your Finished Painting After it Dries - Depending on how much paint and water you used on your painting, you will, no doubt, end up with a painting that curls or bows inward/outward to some extent. What you do is apply some water to the back of your painting—careful, not too much, but enough so that it’s shiny. Then on a level surface, place your painting between two other sheets of watercolor paper (300 lb.). On top of that, place some really heavy books so that they cover most of it. Leave it alone, and after the third day, your painting will be as flat as a pancake. No joke.
  5. Never Give Up on a Painting - I was told by the other students that this is the only rule that cannot be broken in the class. Once you start a painting, you cannot quit it no matter what. You may make corrections, you may change it up, you may put it away for a day or two, but you must finish the painting. No if’s, and’s, or but’s (and the instructors will not allow a haphazard, slap-dash effort either).

So, these are five useful tips I’ve learned so far. Occasionally I’ll blog about other tips I learn and show some more watercolors.


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