Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Painting with Watercolor or, How Control is an Illusion

Watercolor Tonal Studies

If you ever needed evidence that control is an illusion, try working with watercolor paints. These are a few tonal studies that I was working on the other day.

I began drawing mandalas and experimenting with different art supplies at the beginning of 2007. The painting below is from March of 2007.

Watercolor Mandala inspired by Rachel

Student grade watercolor sets like this Winsor and Newton Cotman Water Colour Sketchers' Pocket Box  are fairly inexpensive and is almost identical to the set I used to create the image above.

I believe that it's all fun and games for anyone who wants to play with watercolor paints - until they decide they that want to make the paint actually look like something. That's when all hell breaks loose - unless you are my friend Andrew Kish, an amazing watercolorist who makes everything look easy.

Seriously though, there is a lot to learn with regards to watercolor paints. To me, the most challenging aspect is knowing how much water to mix with the paint (or load into the brush) to get consistent results. The fact that wet watercolor paint dries significantly lighter is something that drives me bonkers. (The acrylic paints I work with tend to dry the same color as when wet.)

Some paints are permanent, others fugitive. Some are more transparent that others, etc. Artist grade paints cost more and are typically purchased by the tube or in cake form. They contain more pigment than binder and mixing colors are a little less challenging than with student grade paints. I personally like the brands Holbein and Daniel Smith. The website Handprint contains a tremendous amount of information about watercolor paint. If you are new to the medium, I suggest starting there.

Over the years, I've mostly moved away from watercolor and work primarily with acrylic paint. Similar to the studies in the image at the top, the image below depicts one that I did with acrylic paint earlier this year. One of the reasons that I moved towards acrylic was the opacity of the medium - I could work with it over black if I wanted to. (And I wanted to.)

Acrylic tonal study

There was another route that I could have chosen instead of acrylic, and that is gouache. (pronounced "gwash") Gouache is an opaque watercolor which has a matte finish when dry. I've since acquired a few tubes but haven't made a concentrated effort to work with them. I think part of me prefers the permanent nature of acrylic paint.

In the end, if you are looking for an immediately accessible and fairly inexpensive way to create expressive art, by all means, grab yourself a set of watercolor paints. If you'd like to become a realist and get more serious about the medium, it wouldn't be a bad idea to work with a teacher that has a style you would like to emulate.


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