The last few workshops I have participated in as instructor/facilitator/coach here locally in Sylva and Franklin were so much fun. I am always exhausted after two intense days of trying to pour everything I know about traditional watercolor techniques out onto the eager students.
Workshops are intense. I feel compelled to share everything I know and as much as I have heard secondhand about how to use watercolor. The way I use watercolor on 140 pound cold press paper is only one way to use the medium.
There is dry brush and pouring and charging and well you get the idea.
I use it another way too – on plate surfaces and I have yet to try and teach anyone about that because I am still trying to figure that out! That is the work that I have in galleries now. It is something I invented and am still inventing.
But you have to start somewhere.
The best place to start however, is to draw. Draw and draw all the time. Look at things around you and draw them. Draw your hand and your feet, the lamps and the tables, the cups, the plates, the stove, the dog, the cat. Draw until you feel your eye moving in sync with your hand. Do line drawings and contour drawings and perspective. Learn shading, hatching, stippling and then do it again.
Once you learn to see shape and relationships between shapes and the negative shapes between them start looking at color. Look at the colors in shadow and full light. Look at the light as it bounces and where it goes and if it becomes cool or warm.
You have your work cut out for you. Fill up sketch book after sketch book or get you an iPad and iPencil and a drawing program and fill it up file after file. I dare you.
And if you want – come paint with me. I promise to give you everything I’ve got. You may find out at the end that this is simply something you don’t want to take much time doing. And that is okay. But you’ll never know unless you try.
My printer has three color cartridges and a black cartridge. With a blue, red and yellow and black my printer can approximate every color I choose to print. The printer depends on programming. I depend on practice. With Cobalt blue, Alizarin Crimson and Aureolin Yellow you can can mix anything you need. You can if you wish add Burnt Sienna to the palette but the fact is you can make burnt sienna from the three colors I have listed.
By mixing your colors yourself – your greens and purples your browns and grays will be something much more interesting than anything that you can squeeze out of a tube. As watercolor dries (which is 1/3 lighter than when it is wet) the mixed colors separate just a tiny bit and the result is astounding.
It it is worth any artist’s time to make a color chart, mixing and labeling the colors and their components. I kept a color chart I made by my easel for years so I could refer to it when I needed to find a color quickly. Pre-made color charts from paint companies don’t represent what your hand is able to do – your particular touch. Better to practice yourself to cement the information in your mind for later when you are painting.
The resulting painting when it is rendered from a limited palette holds together very well. The secondary and tertiary colors are related through their parent colors and the relationship enhances everything.
If you decide to add a new blue or yellow or red to your palette you will need to make a new color chart – mixing it with all the other colors you have to learn what it is capable of. Some colors like Cerulean blue are opaque and do not contribute well to mixes for green and are finicky in purple. Cerulean Blue put down pure and then layered with Burnt Sienna forms a beautiful granulation texture that is useful and also needs to be practiced.
You can save money with a limited palette. You can buy large tubes of paint in the primaries you like to use. It is easy to pack for travel and it is great exercise for the brain. Your painting will improve dramatically because the limited palette will hold it together.
The painting I featured with the post is painted with the 3 blues, one red, two yellows and burnt sienna that I have worked with for 30 years! Happy painting!
I teach wet on wet watercolor a method I have worked in for over 30 years. That means I take 140lb. cold press paper and wet it front and back with a natural sponge until it is wet to the core. I don’t stretch it – pin it down or tape. The surface tension of the water with the paper and smooth surface underneath (either gator board or another slick surface) holds the paper flat. If it is not flat – if it has bubbles or begins to warp I wet it till it will lay flat.
I smooth the paper down like I am putting up wallpaper. I use a natural sponge (not cellulose) and I work with the paper at an angle so the water can flow downhill. Once it is flat I use the sponge again. I wring out the sponge and wipe down the paper. Any space that I have plannedto leave whiteI dry with a paper towel.
I have fresh paint on my palette. I use a limited palette with 3 shades of blue, two of yellow, one of red and burnt sienna. All greens, purples and grays are mixed. The reason to mix is because as watercolor dries the component colors separate just a little creating a bit of push and pull.
Watercolor dries 1/3 lighter than it appears when wet. That means you have to really plan and think about your darks. Don’t be afraid of using pigment. To have paint on the paper when it is dry you have to put paint down while it is wet. If you are not using fresh pigment or paint and trying to reconstitute dry paint from your palette you won’t get much pigment – what you will get amounts to a wash and it will be very light when it dries.
Once you destroy your white on a painting – it is gone. You cannot get it back. The cotton paper stains. You can lift it off and lighten it but it will never be as white as it was. That is why you plan. You have a preliminary drawing or plan to paint from. You plan every bit of your painting. That does not mean you might decide to change it if the painting tells you you need to – but that is the subject for another time. Leave more white than you are comfortable with to start with – you can always destroy it. You cannot get it back.
Wet on wet painting forces you to work fast, use a large brush, think in terms of shapes and large areas. All the more reason it is necessary to plan. The saying I have heard is “plan like a tortoise, paint like a hare.”
If you are interested in a workshop check here for future listings.
I don’t remember when I starting drawing. I don’t remember a time when I did not draw. My Uncle Donald had a printing company and saved all the ends and bits of paper making them into tablets so that I from an early age had a ready supply of paper.
My drawings were based on cartoon characters I saw in the Sunday “funny paper” and the cartoon “Tom and Jerry”. I told stories through my drawings and entertained myself allowing my imagination to exercise itself freely. In school my abilities gained me attention and I volunteered to use my abilities for bulletin boards, decorations and posters.
I drew illustrations for publication for my professors in college and for every subsequent job I held somewhere somehow my desire to use my creativity always came to light.
I am a signature member of the Watercolor Society of North Carolina, a member of the Georgia Watercolor Society and the Southern Watercolor Society. I teach workshops and love to talk painting with anyone who is willing. So the moral to this story is – keep trying. I love what I do. I hope you can see that in my work.