Water-Based paint technique
One of the opinions that I have heard frequently touted is the purist view of watercolour painting where all whites must be pure paper and everything must be done “by the book”. One must not use any other type of media and the use of white paint is a crime.
Well, if that appeals, go for it…. but there is no need to feel bound by any rules at all. It is your piece of artwork and you are entirely free to work in any way with which you feel happy. Rules, apart from being the delight of control freaks, are often based in some sort of useful reasoning so they are worth considering. However, freedom and mixed media are both good things and if you want to break painting “rules”, its fine.
There are things that it is as well to know before you begin and here are some of them:-
To stretch a piece of watercolour paper, soak flat in water for a few minutes ( use the bath for big pieces) drain and sponge gently down on to a clean drawing board or non-staining piece of wood, removing excess water.
Use brown paper gummed tape ( obtain at art shops) to fasten it down around the edges. This will hold your work down and prevent the paper from buckling unevenly – as it will, if you get it very wetwhen painting, without stretching.
Its possible to buy blocks of paper, on which you paint whilst in the block – you then remove the dry painting with a palette knife. Well, I, for one, have never managed this without tearing the paper and I would not, myself, choose to use one of these blocks except for outdoors painting.
Set out your workplace so that you have what you need to hand and if you are intending to make a painting within a larger piece of white paper – mask off the part you are not going to use, it is SO disappointing to drip on the nice white border. I cut a paper mask and paint inside it.
Remember the need for clean water at all times to mix paint. A glass dropper from a medicine bottle is good !
I sometimes add a drop of washing up liquid to my brush washing water – I believe it helps.
As you begin, try to hold your brush gently and allow it to flex in your hand, allow the paint to slide on to the paper from the brush – rather than applying pressure as you would with a writing instrument.
If you have not painted in watercolour before, give yourself time to practice.
Play with making different types of mark and with mixing colour. Play is a very relevant word – this is absorbing and entertaining – you may have forgotten the nature of play during adult life, it still has a purpose, even in adult life.
If you have several types of brushes, discover the difference in the kinds of marks that they make. You can experiment with dropping paint, flicking it, sponging it or spattering it as well as making the more usual types of controlled brush marks. Try wetting the paper with water – you can do this with a spray, brush or sponge – and putting a drop of colour on to it. Observe the difference of effect in the amount of water on the paper.
Experiment with making lines of paint on the wet paper and with blotting the wet paint with a tissue, sponge or a cloth – see the interesting textures that are created when you do this, then think about how these textures might be used in a painting.
Be aware that spontaneous and accidental patterns in the paint bring life to a painting and can be used expressively.
You can extend this experimentation to making some “sky” backgrounds: painting blues and greys into wet areas to see how similar the spreading paint appears to resemble clouds.
You can use sponging or blotting when making a background for a painting also – some people use cling film and it gives beautiful effects but I prefer kitchen paper myself as a bit more manageable.
You can use something like an outdated credit card ( for instance ) to make printed lines or to scrape paint across the paper – a small plastic ruler will do but a credit card is a good size and sharp edged.
I have some small pieces of stiff plastic into which I have cut various comb-like edges and I sometimes use these to move paint in a spontaneous manner.
Be aware that pigments have variable qualities and behave in their own specific ways on the paper and that different papers create effects of their own – so become sensitive to the beauty of form created spontaneously by the materials themselves and learn how to incorporate those features in your artwork.
Experiment with resist to keep an area free from paint – there are masking products which you can use – removable type also known as frisket (…and a great way to ruin a brush, use a spreader) I have found that the removable mask is pretty difficult to get off without damaging the paper but others possibly would not say that…… or you can try using wax but its hard, if not impossible, to remove if you wish to do so.
There are a number of products that create interesting effects for sale in art shops.
Gum arabic has been used for a long while to give brilliance to colour and to slow the drying time, useful for overlaid washes of colour. Follow instructions on the bottle.
Ox gall, a traditional material, used to treat paper before painting, makes the paint lie on the paper nicely. Salt or alcohol can be sprinkled into wet paint for an interesting effect: experiment, you may like it.
Fine sand in minute quantities can be added to paint – if you wish to do this, use a matt PVA solution mixed with water to bind it – you can add fibre, pastel shavings or other inclusions in this way but in a delicate water colour painting on paper, textural additions need to be just a hint.
In the event of a finished painting having areas that you dislike – it is possible to remove paint with sandpaper but be aware it is a make or break solution. I have even removed accidental splashes with bleach. If desperate with dislike and short of paper – wash it all off – it will leave a sort of cloudy shadow which can be a base for another painting or cut it up and make a collage for fun.
There is nothing actually wrong with using white paint, whatever people may tell you, although keeping the bare paper for white and thin washes for pale colours looks nicer. Neither is there anything wrong with drawing onto your painting with pastel or other media – You are free to do as you wish, ignore the painting despots who want you to obey the rules! At the same time, remain aware that methods become traditional because they work well.
It is possible to dry a painting with a hair dryer but be careful not to buckle the paper.
Consider working on two or three paintings together to keep your mind fresh toward the artwork. If only working on one – walk away every so often and take a break, your body will appreciate the rest and you will have new eyes when you return.
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