13 May 2012

Working with watercolor(s)

A new EDMer, Linda, wrote and asked how to get started with watercolors, because she hadn't used them before. I answered privately, but then thought I'd post my answer too, because I'd like to save others some frustration and disappointment! Linda asked,
"Shall I just start with a kid's pan set?"

My advice is, if you want to paint with watercolors, do NOT start with a kid's pan set, or even with student grade watercolors! Make an investment in a small array of good quality tube paints, buy a palette to put them in, and begin as you mean to go on. The kid's pan sets are hard and chalky and will prove so unsatisfactory (pallid and weak) that you won't be happy with your results and will perhaps give it up.

Also, be sure you buy only transparent watercolors. The way to do this is to avoid anything with "cadmium" in the title. I have been painting (off and on) for seven years, and no one EVER said this to me until this weekend (thanks, Brenda Swenson). I often wondered why the work of others was so translucent while I had to struggle for that light-filled look, and now I know!

Also, get a couple of grades of paper to work with. You can start out on cheaper paper (no sense spending ALL your money!), but you need to see pretty immediately what the difference is between watercoloring on sketch paper vs. on 140-lb. (or better!) watercolor paper. It makes all the difference in the world how the paint moves around and into the page.

The hardest thing to master about watercolor is the reverse nature of painting. With acrylics and oils, you build up layers and add your highlights last. With watercolor, your highlights are created by the white of the paper, so you have to remember to save the lights and whites you want to show at the end, which takes a little wrapping your head around. (I'm re-posting this plate of olives to illustrate--all those highlights were painted around, not added later. It takes some thinking.) But don't be daunted by this--once you get it, you will love it.

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