Category Archives: Watercolor Lessons

Art-Post #3

Basic Watercolor Techniques – Part 2

In Art Posts #1 and #2, we experimented with adding different amount of water to the pigments and learning that paint flows in wet areas, but not into dry areas. Here are a few more watercolor techniques for you to experiment with. Art Post #4 will teach how to paint a complete painting.

FLAT WASH

The most basic watercolor technique is the flat wash and can be used as an underpainting for more layers or over dry painted areas to adjust colors or values. When thin paint is painted over dry paint to darken and adjust colors, it is called glazing.

The most important thing about planning a flat wash is to have enough paint. So mix up a large batch of paint on your palette. If you have a really large piece of paper, mix up your paint in a cup or bowl. The worst problem you can run into is to run out of paint while you are painting your flat wash. Don’t worry about wasting paint!

Experiment:

  1. For a flat wash you can either work on dry paper or prewet the paper until you have a matt surface.
  2. Use a large flat wash brush and load it with the paint. Start at the top of the paper and paint a broad stroke across the paper.
  3. Tilt the paper so that the wet paint pools at the bottom of the brush stroke, load your brush, and paint the next stroke catching the bottom edge of the first stroke.
  4. Continue to the bottom of the paper and when you are done, lay the paper flat to dry.

GRADED WASH

A graded wash is painted the same way that you paint the flat wash. But instead of loading your brush with more paint, add water to your brush to dilute the paint as you work towards the bottom of the paper. How much water to add does take some practice, so don’t be discouraged. You can always layer another graded wash over the first one if you have to. Just make sure that the paint is completely dry and that could take up to twenty-four hours. Watercolor painting is not always fast, fast, fast!

Experiment:

  1. For a graded wash, it is often easier to work on prewet paper with a matt surface.
  2. Use a large flat wash brush and load it with the paint. Paint a large brush stroke across the top of the paper.
  3. Tilt the paper so that the wet paint pools at the bottom of the brush stroke.
  4. Dip your brush in your water, but be carefull about adding too much water. Now paint the next stroke catching the bottom edge of the first stroke.
  5. Continue painting to the bottom of the paper, adding more water with each stroke. When you are done, lay the paper flat to dry.

GLAZING

Glazing is a technique used in all the painting media: oil, acrylic, and watercolor. To glaze, you paint very thin layers of paint over paint that has dried to adjust colors and values. One of my favorite watercolor painters glazes over 100 layers of paint to get subtle atmospheric effects. And yes, this means it takes months to complete a painting. But you must make sure that the paint underneath is completely dry and for watercolors that may take 24 hours. Oil paint can take days to dry for glazing!

In order to glaze your watercolor, first check to see if your paper is dry by touching it. If it is cold that means the paper is still damp and your glaze may pick up the paint that is already on the paper. You can dry it with a hair dryer, but be patient and make sure the paint is really dry and not just warm from the hair dryer. Often you will have to let the paper dry overnight for the best effects. Paint the glaze very quickly and it should not disturb the paint underneath. But if you overwork it, you may lift up the bottom layer of paint!

PAINTING DARKS

The last thing you need to do when finishing a painting is to add your darkest darks. The darks will create drama in your work. If your paper is dry, you will have the most control and your paint will stay where you put it. Plus any brushstrokes will have nice crisp edges. In order to make your darks, you will need sticky paint and paints with strong pigments. Here are three examples using the three colors that we have been working with. The top one is a cool dark mixing blue and red, with the blue dominant. The middle color is a warm dark with the red dominant. The bottom uses all three pigments, but only a touch of the yellow. That will create a grayed, neutral dark.

DRYBRUSH

Dry brush is a method of creating texture in a painting. For example, it can be used to create moss texture on rocks or to mimic wood grain. When the paper is dry, mix up sticky or creamy paint. Dry your brush on a paper towel or a cloth and then load it with paint. Split the bristles apart, hold the brush at an acute angle to the surface of the paper, and pull it lightly across the top of the paper so that the paint catches on the top of the paper texture. You may have to experiment with the feel of this technique. I practice on a piece of scrap paper before I add the texture to a painting. Experiment with different brushes and on different papers.

Art-Post #2

Basic Watercolor Techniques – Part 1

Now that you have experimented with paint/water/paper (Art Post #1), and have learned about sticky paint, creamy paint, and thin paint, here are a few more techniques. Have fun and experiment with your paints. Don’t worry about creating a finished painting. We will explore that in another post.

USING WET & DRY AREAS

One of the easiest ways to control your watercolor paints is to control where you put your water. I have seen beginning students take a spray bottle and wet their whole paper. And then they find that their paint does what it wants, not what they want. The solution is to carefully wet ONLY the section that you want to paint. The paint will only flow where the paper is wet, but not into the dry area of the paper. This is tricky because we often want to paint in an area that is next to a wet or still damp area. Be patient and make sure that any adjoining areas are almost dry. You can tell if they are still damp by touching the paper. If it is cold, it is still damp and paint may bleed into that part of the paper.

In the small painting below, notice how the stems, leaves, and flowers all have clean, hard edges. Before adding the color, those areas were wet with clear water. The paint only flowed into those wet areas and bleeding of the colors only occurred in the wet areas.

Experiment:

Take a brush and using only clear water, paint an abstract shape on your paper. Make sure that you leave big dry holes in your shape and make sure that the wet areas have lots of water. Now on your palette, activate three colors with water and mix up some sticky paint, some creamy paint, and some thin paint for each color. Load your brush and drop the different paints into the very wet areas of your shape. You can tilt your paper so that your paint moves around the wet shape.
In the example shown, I put in the thin paint on the left side, then the creamy paint in the middle, and the sticky paint on the right. Notice how the wet paint bleeds more than the stickier drier paint. This is how to control your watercolors.

I used just three primary colors for this exercise:
• Cobalt Blue
• Winsor Red, Naphthol Red or Pyrrol Red
• Cadmium Yellow or Cadmium Lemon

MIXING PAINT ON THE PALETTE vs. LETTING IT MIX ON PAPER

The true beauty of painting with watercolor is that the colors are luminous, they glow. But this happens only when you “mix” your colors on your paper, instead of on your palette. Mixing colors on the palette can result in dull, muddy colors. But if you use the same pigments and drop them into a wet area, the colors will glow. This luminosity is one of the qualities of watercolor paintings and it is incredibly difficult to achieve it in oil or acrylic.

Experiment:

On your palette, activate the three primary colors and let them flow into each other. Notice the many different colors that just happen by the paints flowing into each other. By dipping your brush into different sections of the paint puddle you get different colors. Paint little squares of each color to see how many different colors you can get.

Experiment:

  1. Start by drawing two 2” squares. You will be comparing two color samples.
  2. For your first sample, take your three colors and mix them all together on your palette until you get a brown.
  3. Paint a square on your paper.
  4. For your second sample, wet a square on your paper with clear water and then “mix” your three colors by dropping them into the wet area.
  5. Letting the three paints mix naturally in the wet area will give you a richer color. To get a brown control how much of each color you put in. But notice how the pigments separate out and the brown square glows rather than looking muddy. Watercolor pigments create a pointillist effect.

BASIC COLOR THEORY!! Believe it or not, for this painting, I only used three paints, the three primaries that I recommend for these exercises­—yellow, red, and blue. The secondary colors—green, orange, and purple—are the mixes of the three primaries. Notice how many different colors
and variations I can get with just three paints.

Art-Post #1

Paint/Water/Paper

Welcome to watercolor painting! This is lesson that will help you learn about my favorite way to paint. Although I have painted in acrylics and oils, I love what I can do with watercolors.

Like all paint mediums, watercolor paints are ground pigment particles suspended in a binder. The type of binder determines whether the paint is an acrylic, an oil or a watercolor. Gum arabic is the binder used for watercolors and when you add water, the pigments disperse. The more water, the pigment disperses more and the paint color gets lighter. This is an important part of learning to paint with watercolors. You have to learn how to judge the pigment to water ratio because the water is your “white” paint. You have to learn to control how much water you mixed into the paint, how much water is on your brush, and how much water is on your paper. It is all “paint/water/paper.”

PAINT
I prefer tube paint and recommend you start your adventure with just three primary colors:
• Cobalt Blue
• Winsor Red, Naphthol Red or Pyrrol Red
• Cadmium Yellow or Cadmium Lemon

Sticky Paint
When the paint comes out of the tube, it is STICKY!
Squeeze out a small amount of one of the colors and add just a touch of water so that you can paint with it. Paint about a one inch square and feel the resistance on your brush.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Learning to understand the water to paint ratio is often how it FEELS on the brush.

Creamy Paint
Now add a little more water to your paint so that it is the thickness of heavy cream. Paint a small square to see how the color of the paint changes. It will still be pretty dark, but a shade lighter than your sticky paint sample. Notice that there is less resistance on your brush.

Thin Paint
Now add lots of water so that the paint flows freely and looks like tinted water rather than paint. In color theory, colors mixed with white, or in our case water, are called tints. For example, red mixed with white or more water becomes pink.

Now do the same for the other two colors. Clean you brush by rinsing it in water and dry it on a paper towel. Clean your palette by spraying water and it and wipe it with a paper towel.

Squeeze out a dab of the next color and repeat the sticky, creamy, and thin paint exercise. Then paint the third color.

Notice how the color has changed from the sticky paint to the thinned paint, its tint. Sticky paint is used for intense color and rich darks. Diluted paint is used for under-painting washes and glazing. It also tends to dry lighter than it looks when applied.

PAPER
The samples that you have just painted were all painted on dry paper. Everything can change when put water on your paper and that is what makes watercolor painting really fun!

So now we will play with the amount of water on your paper. Again you will be painting small sample squares, but make them about two inches so you have more room to experiment. Once you have wet the paper, experiment with the three thickness of your paint.

Very Wet Surface
Saturate the paper with lots of water so that it pools on the surface and forms a bubble that sits up on the paper. When you have this much water, you can really let the paint flow but you will have very little control. If the paper starts to dry, add in more clear water to create the maximum amount of paint flow.

Paint with all three colors in that very wet area and observe how the sticky paint, the creamy paint, and the thin paint behave. How much control do you have and how did the paint colors change?

Shiny Surface
Saturate the paper with lots of water so that it pools on the surface. Then using a damp brush, pull out the large pools of water. The surface will be shiny, but you won’t have big puddles and you will have more control of the paint. This is often the best surface to paint on, but the paint will bleed.

Paint with all three colors in that very wet area and observe how the sticky paint, the creamy paint, and the thin paint behave. How much control do you have and how did the paint colors change?

Moist Surface
As the paper continues to dry, the surface will lose its sheen. It will be damp and cool to the touch, but not look wet. The paint will work beautifully on this surface, but it still may bleed into areas where you don’t want it. Often in watercolor you have to wait until your paper is completely dry to have complete control.

Paint with all three colors in that very wet area and observe how the sticky paint, the creamy paint, and the thin paint behave. How much control do you have and how did the paint colors change?

IN THE NEXT LESSON YOU WILL LEARN A FEW MORE WATERCOLOR TECHNIQUES.

For a PDF of this lesson, download here: