Sunday, 29 June 2008

Talking about drawing

Now that you have your paper and paints and have practised a bit, you will probably want to paint a picture and in all probability, you will want to make a drawing on your paper before you start - unless you are a very free-spirited painter! How do you erase any mistakes you make? - you don't!

One big problem with watercolour paper is that the surface is delicate. This means that if you start erasing your pencil marks, you will damage your paper and when you paint over the area, it will leave an unsightly mark where the paint reveals the scrubbed surface. You might try the kneadable putty eraser rather than the normal type of rubber (whoops, sorry I think that's rather rude for my US friends!) - I mean of course eraser. I can't get on with this type of eraser myself as I find it leaves a slightly greasy surface to the paper so just use a small, soft rubber eraser. Why not get a piece of pre-soaked paper (make sure to use a piece pre-soaked as it's surface is more delicate then and will give you an accurate result) and try varying degress of pencil pressure and then erase them (I keep having to change my wording to 'erase' with this piece!!) When you then paint over these areas you will see how much you can get away with. You will be all right with very light pencilling. However, after much trial and error, I now draw onto tracing paper instead and then just transfer this to the paper as I had too many sheets of paper wasted when I drew straight on to the paper. Now I can erase my pencil marks to my heart's content!
Watercolour painting entails a lot of control - even in apparently free-flowing pieces, so all the practising you do now will really pay dividends. You will have a lot more confidence when you feel even just a little bit in control of those beautiful watery colours. If you have practised you will already have made some discoveries - that watercolour dries lighter than when you apply it, for instance, unlike acrylics which dry darker. You will probably have found that when you start to mix more than two or three colours together you always end up with mud! One of the challenges of watercolour is to retain its vibrancy - particularly difficult in paintings like mine which are made up of many layers, as of course the natural tendency for the paint when overlaid with another layer of paint, is for the two lots to dissolve together and it is very easy when layering watercolour to end up with an opaque, muddy mess, but don't worry, with a little help, you will soon be producing paintings you are proud of.

The pictures I am including today were originally intended to be for my website but I forgot to keep taking photos as I went along!! The 4 photos show a) the pencil drawing (I hope you will able to make this out), b) a few washes in c) more work on the eyes d) the finished article. For those who wondered, he is a lurcher - a really lovely friendly boy I had the pleasure to meet when his owners came to pick up the painting.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Painting hints and tips - brushes

Before we talk about brushes I will just quickly mention gummed tape.

The tape I am talking about is what you will need to stick your wet watercolour paper to your board. Quite obviously ordinary sticky tape or masking tape won't do, as this would just peel away from the damp paper. You need the kind which needs to be wetted to make it sticky. I am mentioning this as someone told me that they weren't quite sure what tape I meant. I have found this site by googling it - and it does show what I mean. I haven't used this store personally as I buy mine from my framer.

Okay, back to brushes. A very difficult subject for me to be able to make any recommendations to you. Artists vary widely in the sort of brushes which they like and use. For my own work, I mainly use a size 3 pure sable. I like two makes in particular - Rosemary & Co and Premier Brush ( - perhaps my favourite of these is the P33? Maybe and then maybe not - each brush varies quite a lot and I have to spend a long time in my local art shop trying them out to find out which one suits my needs. In any art shop worth its name you will find a small pot of water beside the brushes. This isn't for thirsty tiny people, but it is for you to try out the brushes in. When I buy my brushes, I am looking for several attributes. Firstly I need the brush to hold a reasonable amount of paint - bearing in mind that due to the small size, this is still a very small quantity. It must be springy and not flop when wet. When I say springy, I mean that when you press the brush against the paper and then lift it off, it springs back into shape. When my brush is wet, I like it to come to a fine point with no odd little hairs sticking out further than the rest. But now comes my own peculiar brush requirement! When I press the brush down against the back of my nail, I want the brush to fan out so that the bristles make a straight edge. The photo above shows what I mean. I use the brush like this to make the fine coat texture in my paintings. Unfortunately, due to the way I use these brushes, they only last for about one or two paintings before I need to use a new one as they become blunt and therefore the coat texture in my paintings would become coarse unless I changed the brush for a fresh one. I have only found sable to meet my needs with the exception of the brush I use for laying in the backgrounds which is a Daler Rowney Dalon D88 1". I also have a very old and worn half inch brush which I use for scrubbing out areas of colour (or should I say reducing areas of colour as you can never get back to the white paper once it is painted on). Of course if you looked in my paint box, you would find it full of all sort of brushes which I have collected over the years and which have been discarded but not completely, as you never know when I might need it!!

So, you have your paper on your board, you have your paints and now your brushes. All you need to start your painting is some clean water and a piece of kitchen roll to wipe your brush on, and you're off!

I really would suggest that you spend more of your time finding out what the paints do, rather than rushing in with painting a picture. I only say this as I don't want you to become discouraged. It is so easy to start full of enthusiasm and quickly come to the conclusion that you can't paint, when had you only taken things more slowly, you would have seen that after all you can paint! It isn't only being an 'artist' that makes you able to paint, it's much more about learning the skill of how the paints work which will enable you to produce paintings you will be proud of. Everyone can paint - we all just need confidence and practice. Also, don't worry about what you paint. Paint what intrigues and satisfies you. Don't worry if it isn't fashionable or if the cognoscenti would turn their noses up at it - if you like it, it's ART!!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008


Did you enjoy your visit to the art shop? Have you had a go at sticking your paper to your board? Perhaps you've even attempted splashing some paint onto the paper - I hope so!
Talking about paints - which type should you get? Watercolour is available either in pans or tubes. I used to prefer the pans as I felt the paint was a little more 'pure' without the running agent which is in the tubes. However, as I gradually worked my way through the pans which came with my ready filled watercolour box, I started to replace the colours with tube paint. I squeeze a small amount into the empty(ish) pans as I need it and find I am happy with this. The brand I use is Winsor & Newton - for no other reason really than that my art shop has a large selection of their paints! I would suggest you buy the paints which are easily available to you - no point in making life harder than it is!

Winsor & Newton has an Artist range and a cheaper range called Cotman. Both of these are good quality paints and I know that there are some professional artists who are extremely happy with Cotman paints. I have a couple of tubes myself, but most of mine are the Artist range as I find the colours cleaner.
In traditional watercolour, white and black paint is not used. If you want white in a painting you have to reserve the space i.e. don't paint on it! or scratch it off with a blade. You can use masking fluid to help keep the paper clear of the paint - it's a rubbery fluid which dries where you paint it, and is rubbed off when the paint above is dry. When rubbed off, it leaves the untouched paper underneath. I have tried on several occasions to use masking fluid and in fact only threw away a dried up bottle the other day - which I think demonstrates quite clearly how I got on with it - or rather didn't! I struggled for several years not using white or black, not liking to break the watercolour 'rules'. Then one day, I just thought to myself that my sort of work was not the common application of watercolour paint with gorgeous washes and light brushwork. My paintings are built up of many layers - again a 'no no' in traditional circles, and I do now use both white and black! I must admit however, that white, in my experience, has to be used very carefully indeed if the painting is not to become chalky and dull. Despite the many layers of paint in my pictures, I still like to see the paper glow through and it can't glow through a thick layer of opaque white! What colours to buy? Well, this really does depend on the subjects you like to paint. My own most often used colours are Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Lamp Black, Mars Black (I love the way this granulates in background washes), Winsor lemon, Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Red. I have several other colours but the ones listed are the ones I tend to use most often.

Next time, we'll talk more about brushes and erasing pencil drawing on watercolour paper (don't!!)
I remember at the beginning of this blog I said I would post a Tervueren I was painting - well, here it is finally!

Have fun painting!

Friday, 13 June 2008

More watercolour hints and tips

Well, last time I said I would go into more detail about starting off with watercolour - or watercolor as my American friends would write - so lets get back to basics with the paper.

As I wrote before, I use Saunders Waterford 140 lb NOT as it is a nice middle of the road sort of paper. I would suggest that as a beginner to watercolour painting, you should find your local art shop and spend a nice hour browsing around just getting a feel of the place. Most art shops have very helpful staff who are often artists themselves and can be a mine of useful information. You will find that watercolour paper is sold both in pads and in large sheets. I recommend that you buy a few of the large sheets in different finishes, weights and makes. Not too many as otherwise you will become overwhelmed but enough for you to have fun trying them out. These large sheets measure 22" x 30" and I certainly wouldn't recommend you try and use a whole sheet straight away. With most of my paintings I use half a sheet, but I think to begin with, that a quarter sheet is a nice size to get acquainted with the paper's characteristics, and give you enough pieces to experiment with.

Now - soaking the paper. You may wonder why this is necessary. Well, you only have to think of a sheet of paper which gets wet - how it crinkles and dries anything but flat. By soaking the paper ourselves, and then sticking it to a board, we end up with a lovely flat surface. When you buy your watercolour paper you will need to buy a roll of sticky brown tape - the type you have to wet to get it to stick. I buy the 2" thick rolls and I get mine from the art shop as well, rather than a stationers, as it makes sense to buy the really large roll which they sell - you will use it quickly enough!

So, you get home with your paper - let them roll it up in the shop. Don't worry too much about it being damaged as you are going to stick it in the bath soon! Fold it in half and cut it and then either use that size or fold again and cut to use the quarters - which I would recommend. Don't put it in the bath yet though as now you need to make a board on which to stick your paper. My board is made of plywood - a quarter of an inch thick and measuring 19" x 25" (I have a larger one as well). The photo above shows it as it is right now - with a nearly finished Boxer on it. Make sure that the surface is completely smooth - including the edges as you don't want your first dabble in watercolour to end with splinters! It is even more important though that the surface has no lumps or bumps on it at all, however small, as when your paper dries on your board, these small bumps will show right through and ruin the painting - I speak from experience!

To recap, you have your paper, cut and ready, you have your roll of sticky tape and your lovely new board. To action! It's probably easiest to cut the sticky tape (not sticky until you wet it otherwise it won't work) while your paper is dry. Cut it the length of the four sides and overlapping each end about an inch or so. Take your chosen piece of paper and put it in a bath of cold water - as little as possible remembering to be eco-friendly! - but covering the paper completely. At this point I usually go away, get on with something else and completely forget it for absolutely ages! I wouldn't suggest you follow my example but probably wait about 5 minutes or so, but don't worry if you're as forgetful as I am!

Take your piece of paper out of the bath and drip off the excess water, then take it to your board and lay it down in position. Get a piece of kitchen roll and lay it flat over your paper and gently mop up the excess water - don't take ages over this, it's just a quick dab. Then I very quickly run the damp kitchen roll over the edges of the paper to take up just a little more water at the edges. Now get a sponge - not a huge one but a small kitchen sponge size - wet it, and run it along the length of one of your pieces of tape but only wet half the tape - so you go along the full length but half of the full length is dry and half wet - do however wet each end (where it will overlap onto the board) completely. This means that you can stick the wetted half of the tape to your board and the dry half to your damp paper. You will then need to spend half a minute or so, running the back of your fingernail along the dry side of the tape to get it to absorb the water from the paper. Repeat this for all four sides. By doing this instead of wetting the whole of the tape, you avoid the common problem of paper not sticking to the tape properly. If this does happen, you really just have to take the paper off the board again, as when it dries, it shrinks and becomes tight like a drum and unless stuck firmly to the tape, will pull away from it and dry in a most peculiar fashion! Don't be scared to try - the worst that can happen is that you have to throw the paper away (recycle of course) and start again.

Once your paper is firmly stuck to your board, put it aside to dry. You can hasten the process with a hairdryer but I've had more problems with the paper pulling away from the tape when I've done this, so generally try and avoid it. Of course, if you want, you can get your paints and find out what it's like to put 'wet in wet' ie watery paint onto wet paper. I can tell you - it spreads! One of the challenges with watercolour is that it can be difficult to control. Wet in wet washes are an instance where you really don't have a huge say in what happens with the paint - well that's perhaps an exaggeration but makes the point. On the other hand, some wonderful accidents can happen this way and a lot of artists use the results as a starting point for inspiration. Depending on which mixture of colours you use, you can get granulation which I really like. However, that is for another day and I shall leave you now with your lovely watercolour paper and I suggest that to begin with you just 'mess around' with your paints to see what happens with a fully loaded brush, an almost dry brush, working on dry paper, wetting the paper (with clear water) and then puddling paint into it. Some things you can only learn by hands on experience so you mustn't think that you are wasting your time, or that because the result looks a mess, that you can't paint. This is a valuable learning experience and your first step in learning about how watercolours work. Everyone can paint - but some people need to rid themselves of their preconceived notions that they can't - so go on - enjoy! Let me know how you get on - I'll be really interested.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Poppy and Watercolour hints

This is my latest to be listed. I love poppies and this was one growing in my garden. I thought it was too pretty not to paint and so I have - in acrylics! It would be quite interesting to paint it again but in watercolour to see how the different styles look. Maybe I will at some time.

I said I would start to give some tips on watercolour painting, so I will give my first today and that is to buy quality equipment. It's no good buying children's quality paints and expecting anything other than a child's quality painting! You will need to experiment with different makes of paper to see which you like. I generally prefer Saunders Waterford 140lb NOT. NOT stands for Not Hot Pressed believe it or not! The paper comes in different weights and the surface is either rough, hot pressed or Not. Not is a nice middle of the road paper - Goldilocks would have liked it - not too rough and not too smooth but just right - well for my purposes anyway! As for brushes I have tried and tried so many different makes and still have to find the perfect brush. I have recently been using brushes from a company called Rosemary & Co and find the quality very good. I only use sable as I just can't get along with artificial blends - and I have tried because they are a lot cheaper. The artificial blends are just too floppy and lack the spring that sable has. Don't buy too many though as they are expensive - start off with just a couple. Having said that you should only use sable, you can get away with an acrylic blend with a larger brush which you will use to lay in backgrounds but only use sable for the delicate work.

In my next blog I will go into more detail about materials and also a trick to make sticking a wet bit of watercolour paper onto board easy (you need to do this to stretch it but I will explain all next time!)


Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Arctic Fox in Summer

Still on the Arctic theme (it must be the British summer making me feel so cold!) here is the latest painting I've listed. I was fed up with always seeing paintings of Arctic Foxes in their winter coats and thought it would make a nice change to see one in his, still beautiful, summer coat standing in the flowers.

This is an acrylic painting, like the Timber Wolf, and was painted using a layering technique. This is I think pretty self-explanatory and the result is that by making the layers semi-transparent, the painting (hopefully) achieves a nice depth to it. I hope you like it!