Don’t get me wrong. I think that Audobon’s Birds of America was a masterful bit of work. it contains 435 life-sized watercolours of North American birds, all reproduced from hand-engraved plates, and is considered to be the archetype of wildlife illustration.However, as beautiful as it is and despite the fact that Audobon spent nearly 10 years painting life-size watercolors, my little black heart goes pit-a-pat when I see loose strokes, happy accidents and unlikely paints gracing a piece of watercolor paper with watercolor paint and supplies in the studio.
There are so many techniques
used to influence the paint that it is a playground for anyone working with watercolors. Salt gives a wonderful mottled effect to a wash, alcohol makes flower-like blooms. Scratching or sanding watercolor paper, or even compressing it in areas encourages color to pool and darken.
Using candle wax or crayons as a permemant resist is easy and gives a wonderful effect to the negative space. White gouache can be used to mask areas of a painting and masking fluid gives much the same result. Lifting color or patterning wet paint with tissue, paper towels, sponges or a soft cloth is always a great way to add texture to any piece.
Waterproof ink can be left until almost dry and then scrubbed off to give an aged appearance which is unpredictable and very random. An ink drawing can be sprayed with water or alcohol to change the look of it altogether.
Opaque gouache can give a wonderful vibrancy to an otherwise transparent painting, and for a different look altogether, try gessoing the paper either all over or in certain areas to give a different texture to a work in progress.
For as fussy and unpredictable as watercolor can be,
the number of techniques are only limited by the imagination. Remember, the result you’re getting that is unexpected and unwanted may not be something you’re doing wrong, it may be built into the paint you’re using.
There are two categories of watercolors
as there are to both acrylics and oil paints. Artist grade and student grade, and the difference is exactly what you might expect. Often the pigments used in student colors are synthetic and thus, less expensive.
Often instead of using expensive pigments, the paint companies will use a synthetic material as the pigment. This usually translates into less lightfastness and in some cases, less vibrancy of color.
That said, if you are just starting out it probably won’t make much difference. The “getting to know you” stage of using a new method takes time and a lot of materials to get to a point where you begin to understand the medium.
So don’t worry about spending a lot of money, just have fun. When you get to the point of getting serious, take the next step into some serious artist color.
There are quite a few product lines to choose from.
They all have different qualities. Some you will love and some you will fight, depending on how you work. If you don’t like a paint but don’t like the color, try a different brand that has the same color. And remember that just because the color name is the same in two different brands, it doesn’t mean that the color is the same.
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing paint.
You have the choice of transparent or opaque paint. For the most part it is a good idea to test paints to figure out which is which. An easy way to do it is to draw a line in black marker across a paper and simply paint across the line. If the paint is visible it is opaque and if not, well transparency works.
Also there is the issue of staining vs non-staining watercolors. A staining color stains paper while non-staining paint is liftable to reveal the white underneath. It is a good idea to know which is which.
A staining color stains paper while non-staining paint is liftable to reveal the white underneath.
are available in either tubes or pans, which are the small dried cakes of paint cut into either full-pan (20 x 30mm) or half-pan (20 x 15mm) sizes. Tubes come in sizes ranging from 5ml to 20 ml. and either full pans 20×30 mm or half pans 15x20mm are offered by most companies.
Below is a brief description of the major brands readily available. Just remember, some are more expensive than others, but in the end it’s the result, not the price of the paint that you are looking for.
Holbein watercolors are delicate, finely milled, transparent Japanese paints. The saturation and liftability is great, unfortunately there are fugitive colors and not very many single pigment paints. If you need true pigments and lightfastness in your paints, you need to look further. Blick
Daler Rowney makes an affordable set of tube watercolors with 80 available colors. The student-grade line of watercolors, called Aqufine. They won’t produce colors that are as rich or translucent as their more expensive artist-quality line, but they’re still a great choice. The paints are easy to blend and bind well with watercolor papers. Blick
Sennelier uses honey in its paints, giving its colors a rich luster. Honey also makes watercolors easier to mix with water, allowing for smooth, broad brushstrokes. More than 70 colors are available in 10 ml (0.33 oz) and 21 ml (0.71 oz) tubes as well as in whole- and half-pan sizes. Blick
And more watercolors
Windsor & Newton is one of the oldest watercolor paint brands from England and also one of the most popular. The Cotman student brand is a good starting point for a new artist. Most art and craft stores carry both the professional and student brands. What makes these paints a good choice is that many of the colors are very different and visually distinct. Blick
Schmincke is very bright German paint. . They are very rich and quite controllable. The formulation of these paints have a consistent texture throughout all the colors. The paints feel very creamy on the brush and slid onto the paper easily. They are available in both pans and tubes. Blick
M. Graham watercolor paints are heavily pigmented, so the colors are intense, bright, and saturated. Their 70 colors have a high tinting strength, so a little goes a long way. Their paints especially creamy and easy to mix with water with the addition of honey, gum arabic and glycerin. The result: smooth washes and blends that are exceptionally translucent. Blick
Their paints especially creamy and easy to mix with water with the addition of honey, gum arabic and glycerin.
Daniel Smith are top-quality watercolors with very pure pigments and a range of more than 200 colors. Many of these are single-pigment colors, which makes them ideal for color mixing. The range includes special-effect watercolors like iridescent shades. You can buy a Try-It Chart, which has small samples of 238 colors. Blick
If you’d like to try watercolor painting for the first time but don’t want to spend a lot of money, a cheap set of watercolors is all you need. Buy based on price, not brand. Arteza has a great set that is easy to use and fairly inexpensive.
Each of the brands above have different qualities. Do your research before purchasing. If that seems like too much work, just fly by the seat of your pants. Everything you learn about watercolor paints helps you make decisions based upon what you like to see, and how yo like to work. Remember, things will become clearer with the more knowledge you have.
And just in case nothing in the above list appeals to you, check out this video about making your own watercolor paint.
- Watercolors – either tubes or pans
- pallette (for tube paint only)
- watercolor paper, either in tablets or single sheets
- sketchbook – good for making “idea” paintings
- clipboard painting surface
And depending on whether you plan on working “plein aire” or not, you may need an easel. Also remember that soft rags or paper towels, and a jar for water are necessary. Have fun, don’t think too much and just feel what you are doing.