Learn more about watercolors by reviewing my "frequently asked questions" listed below. Why paint with watercolors?
Watercolor can be a tricky medium to master, they can be unpredictability and uncontrollable to paint, but the results are magical, exciting and the most expressive medium of all.
Master inspirational painters include:
Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917-2009)
Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910)
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925)
Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Vincent Van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890)
JMW Turner (English, 1775-1851)
Claude Monet (French, 1840 - 1926)
Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906)
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528)
Paul Klee (Swiss, 1879-1940)
What are the advantages of painting watercolors?
Watercolors are water-based, so they dry very quickly, are portable, and also easy to clean up.
What is transparent watercolor?
Transparent watercolor is painting without the use of white paint or opaque paint whether it is in tube or cake form.
What are watercolors made of?
Watercolor is a blend of pigment (colored powder), gum arabic (a water-soluble adhesive), and enough water to make the mixture workable.
How do I start painting?
When painting with watercolors I always work from light to dark. because adding light colors later can be difficult. I traditionally use "washes" of color applied one on top of the other, allowing one to dry before applying the next, in order to create depth of color and to add detail. A "wash" is a thin layer of paint applied to the surface of the paper or a canvass board.
Please see my How to Paint Watercolors Web site page to learn more about getting started. What surfaces are suitable for watercolor painting?
The most common surface to paint on is watercolor paper but you can paint on other surfaces such as vellum, parchment, clay mineral panels, sumi rice paper, canvass or thin fabrics such as silk can be used.
Why use a special watercolor paper rather than an ordinary paper?
Watercolor paper is specially made to be resilient, and to absorb water evenly and slowly. Because watercolor pigments are transparent, the surface takes on enhanced importance. It is thicker and heavier than ordinary paper and has more texture. The type and amount of sizing in the paper controls water absorption.
Why use a professional grade watercolor paper?
I recommend painting on professional grade papers that are acid and lignin free, made of cotton fiber rather than cellulose. Because these papers are both stronger and more enduring. With proper treatment, a painting on professional paper can last hundreds of years. The paper's texture and surface is brought out by the transparency of watercolor paints, and is one of the desirable qualities of a fine watercolor painting.
Machine-made watercolor papers basically come in three surfaces: rough, hot-pressed or HP, and cold-pressed (or not).
Rough watercolor paper has a prominent tooth or textured surface.
Hot-pressed watercolor paper has a fine-grained, smooth surface with almost no tooth.
Cold-pressed watercolor paper has a slightly textured surface, somewhere in between rough and hot-pressed paper.
The thickness of watercolor paper is indicated by its weight, measured either in grams per square metre (gsm) or pounds per ream (lb).
Paper weight: the standard machine weights are 190 gsm (90 lb), 300 gsm (140 lb), 356 gsm (260 lb), and 638 gsm (300 lb). Paper less than 356 gsm (260 lb) should stretched before use, otherwise it's likely to warp.
Watercolor paper can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, so I like to experiment different kinds of paper and with various brands of paper.
Why do artists "stretch" watercolor loose-leaf sheet paper?
Most all watercolor paper has to be stretched before you paint on it, this is especially true with lighter weights of paper, that will otherwise buckle after absorbing water.
What types of brushes should I use for watercolor painting?
There are many types of watercolor brush available for you to choose from. Although watercolorists have traditionally used natural fiber brushes, the best quality natural fibers have become rare and expensive. I like to use a variety of high quality synthetic brushes that are now available at your local art stores or online stores.
The highest quality natural fiber brushes for watercolor are Kolinsky, then pure red sable brushes. The hair on both is very soft and springy, and can hold a great deal of color while still able to create very fine points.
Types of brushes include:
Rounds The tuft has a round cross section but a tapering profile, widest near the ferrule (the "belly") and tapered at the tip (the "point"). These are general purpose brushes that can address almost any task.
Flats The tuft is compressed laterally by the ferrule into a flat wedge; the tuft appears square when viewed from the side and has a perfectly straight edge. "Brights" are flats in which the tuft is as long as it is wide; "one stroke" brushes are longer than their width. "Sky brushes" or "wash brushes" look like miniature housepainting brushes; the tuft is usually 3 cm to 7 cm wide and is used to paint large areas.
Mops (natural hair only) A round brush, usually of squirrel hair and, decoratively, with a feather quill ferrule that is wrapped with copper wire; these have very high capacity for their size, especially good for wet in wet or wash painting; when moist they can wick up large quantities of paint.
Filbert (or "Cat's Tongue", hair only) A hybrid brush: a flat that comes to a point, like a round, useful for specially shaped brush strokes.
Rigger (hair only) An extremely long, thin tuft, originally used to paint the rigging in nautical portraits.
Fan A small flat in which the tuft is splayed into a fan shape; used for texturing or painting irregular, parallel hatching lines.
Acrylic A flat brush with synthetic bristles, attached to a (usually clear) plastic handle with a beveled tip used for scoring or scraping.
How do I care for brushes?
To keep your colors pure and true, and I clean my watercolor brushes quite often by rinsing them thoroughly with a mild shampoo in warm water. When you are done painting for the day, I allow them to dry laying flat. Always reshape your brush before storing them, this will prevent damage to bristles and prolongs the usefulness of the brush.
Is possible to fix a mistake on a painting?
Yes, it is possible to fix some mistakes made on your watercolor paper surface. To remove unwanted pigment, simply blot the wet area with a tissue and if the paint has dried, then re-wet it and blot. Dried paint can be lightened, but it will probably not be entirely removed, especially if the pigment is a "staining" pigment.
Is it possible to remove a grease stain on a sheet of paper?
To remove grease on a sheet of paper I have blotted the surface with deluded dish soap on a Q-tip. I have also heard of cutting a potato in half and then rub it over a grease stain, I have never tried this but I suppose it could do the trick?
How do I make a deckle edge on watercolor paper?
A deckle edge is uneven or rough (rather than a straight, cut edge) and the paper thins slightly. A deckle edge on a sheet of watercolor paper is created when the paper is made; it is the natural edge to the sheet rather than a cut edge.
If you're not into making your own paper, the effect can be simulated by tearing a sheet of paper along a rough edge (you can even buy a tool for this, which looks like a seriously rough-edged ruler).
You can also fold a sheet in half, run your fingernail down the fold, then tear the sheet gently by hand (not against an edge). While either of these methods will create an uneven edge, the paper obviously won't thin slightly towards the edge as on a true deckle edge.
There are two methods for creating a deckle edge:
Dry Method: Hang the edge of the paper you want to deckle just out from the table and gently thin it down with fine sandpaper by going back and forth at random along the paper's edge. You are pulling outward, 'feathering', not sawing back and forth.
Wet Method: Create a deckle by using water and a thick round brush (such as an oriental brush). Run a line of water down the edge and then tear it off, slowly and carefully. When dry, you can 'feather' it using the same technique with the sandpaper, especially if the paper is very thick. You are aiming for an irregular look
Can I use a hair dryer to dry a watercolor painting quickly?
Yes, you can use a hair dryer to dry your watercolor paper after you've stretched it and to dry sections of the painting. I would keep at dryer at least 10 inches (25 cm) away from the surface so you don't push the pigment around. I would also put the hair dryer on its lowest setting, and wave it back and forth across the paper to ensure it dries evenly, so it will not buckle. If you're working on loose-leaf paper, you can use the hair dryer on the back of the sheet as well as the front.
How can you tell if the watercolor is dry?
If it's just a sheet of stretched watercolor paper, you can obviously touch it with your fingers to find out, or look at the surface with under a bright light to see if the surface has a gloss to it.
I like to work on two to three painting at a time, swapping between them while they dry.