Still having troubles with watercolours?
There is one more important secret fact: pigment constitution:
Watercolour paintings can be corrected and manipulated if you know the quality and constitution of your pigments.
“How do you find out the constitution of watercolour pigments?”
There are two basic experiments you can do that will give you the secret to manipulating watercolour paintings:
Experiment number one:
Making colour swatches:
Gather your tubes of watercolour paints together. Then basically line them up according to their primary colours. That is, all the yellows together, all the reds together and all the blues together, from lightest to darkest, etc, so you can judge one colour against another. Make sure you are doing this experiment under good daylight conditions. Then:
- Paint 6-8cm horizontal swatches of each of your pigments, one below the other down an A4 page of 200+gsm watercolour paper. Leave a small gap between each swatch, so that the colours don’t merge.
- Don’t paint too many swatches at a time. You need to control the drying time situation. That is, if they are too dry it is hard to judge their adherence qualities.
- While the swatches of paint are partly dry, still a little damp, scrub with a (fresh clean) wet hog hair brush, down the centre of the swatches. Don’t scrub too hard and destroy the surface of the paper.
- Then next to each swatch of colour, label the pigments with their names and the results, ie your impression of what happened. I symbolized my results by putting dark round spots next to pigments that stained somewhat. Empty squares suggested pigments that were easier to remove. See illustration.
- Results depend on the quality and character of the pigments.
- The strong strainer pigments won’t budge. You can paint freely over them when they are dry. They are usually translucent dyes.
- The grainy or segmented pigments are easily dissolved and the gains dislodged, even when dry. So paint carefully over washes that contain segmented pigments. They are generally earthy pigments.
- Also note that some pigments are grainier than other manufacture’s products, or have more gum in their constitutions.
Experiment number two:
The opaque test:
Some pigments are opaque and some transparent.
- Transparent pigments make lovely fresh translucent washes of colour. This allows the white of the paper to radiate up through the wash.
- Opaque paints aren’t translucent. They are called ‘body colours’. Why, because they are so dense, they are sometimes used to cover and hide previous washes. Correcting mistakes by covering them with `body colours’ isn’t advisable.
- Watercolour societies don’t like accepting paintings for competitions that have opaque colours added. Why, because opaque pigments make paintings look milky and dull. It is obvious when opaque paint is added, they compete with the sheen of the more transparent washes, thus making the painting look spotty and overworked.
How to determine the opaque status of each of your pigments:
- Take an A4, 200+gsm sheet of watercolour paper and with black Indian ink paint two 8-10mm columns.
- When the Indian ink is dry, paint small swatch strips across the ink columns, one pigment at a time, slightly apart, and careful watch what happens.
- Notice how the opaque paint when it starts to dry, particles in the paint float and cover the ink.
- Whereas the transparent pigments part and allow the ink to shine through.
- As in the previous experiment, label each swatch with the name of the pigment used and the manufactures quality control status. And added to that, in your opinion, each pigments opaque or transparent status. I used symbolic terms, eg: 000 (very opaque), S0 (slightly opaque), T (transparent), ST (slightly transparent).
- If you check with my illustration, you will see I also added symbols to state how some pigments go hard in their tubes or if the pigment intensity is so week that you have to scrub long and hard to get enough colour out of a pan.
These two tests are not a waste of time or effect:
What they revel is an eye opener, a great learning curve. The knowledge you gain from this experience will take you to a much higher level of expertise. A secret to success you’ll find so exciting. Just to think of the possibilities and what you can do with this knowledge!! Take for instance the following things you can do with this knowledge:
Knowing which pigments are easy to dissolve and which are stainers, makes it easier to make corrections.
- Segmented pigments: If you make a mistake all you have to do is wet the area and blot* And repeat if necessary to get the desired effect.
- Strong stainers: But if the paint is a stainer, you may have to wet the area, wait a little before gently scrubbing and blotting it. If it’s really stubborn, don’t rub hard, or you’ll damage the paper.
- When paper is damaged the paint is more easily absorbed there, and you land up with dark marks that you can’t remove.
- To prevent dark marks: Smooth the damaged paper with the back of a spoon. Wait for the paper to dry properly before painting over the damaged area again.
- Never paint over the area if the paper is too damaged.
- Never use complementary colours when painting over previous washes. If you do, you’ll get grey dull results.
*There are several ways of blotting:
- I blot with toilet paper when controlling a small spot, but you can blot with a clean dry paper-towel.
- I also use a dryish brush to pick up the wet paint. I either then squeeze the paint out of the brush with my fingers or pass the brush over an old towel lying across my knees, using whichever situation warrants it. I repeat the process until I get just the right effect.
- You can flick your brush, but having to do demonstrations at galleries for years, I resorted to using my fingers and towel. You can’t flick paint on people watching you or spoil a good carpet.
- Be aware that toilet paper becomes soggy with big pools of water and adheres to your painting. In that case it is best to use a clean lint-free dry cloth for bigger situations.
Clouds and sky:
Some artists like to paint their skies blue and then blot-in their white clouds, or soften and blot the paint along the bottom edges to soften the underbelly of the clouds.
- Painting the sky with segmented pigments makes it easier to blot the sky area.
- Segmented colours create a gentle mottled effect, the interplay of warm and colour blues gives you skies atmospheric depth.
- On the other hand if you fiddle too much with segmented colours, your painting will look tired and overworked.
- Transparent pigments make clear fresh skies. Segmented washes create moody skies.
Working with segmented pigments:
Basically two ways of applying segmented pigments:
Using segmented pigments in your palette mixtures, makes lovely grainy hazy atmospheric conditions, eg:
- Skies: Mixtures of French ultramarine blue and Light Red.
- Mist: Mixtures of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna or burnt umber.
- Dust storm: mixtures of raw sienna, burnt sienna and a touch of French ultramarine blue.
- Grainy shadows: Mixtures of Winsor violet and burnt sienna or burnt umber. The tint of colour depends on the ratio of pigments involved. That is how warm or cool you want the colour of the sand, walls, rocks, etc.
When dropping-in segmented pigments into fresh transparent washes, watch carefully how they interact and mingle with their host wash.
- Cool effect on warm painted areas: Drop-in cerulean blue into a still semi-wet warm coloured previous wash and see how refreshing the effect looks.
- Toning down an over-bright spot: When you have a bright red roof of a house in the distance, you don’t want it to standout of place perspectively. What you do to tone it down, is to drop-in an earthy brown pigment, like burnt sienna or burnt umber in the previous damp red paint of the roof.
- Shadows: A shadow isn’t black. Shadows are colourful. Shadows are a darker colour and possibly a complementary hint, of the surrounding sunny breached areas. For example: If you want a cool shadow on a hot day you will drop-in a blue tinge into the shadow areas. And if it’s a cool day, drop-in a warm colour, eg magenta, in the shadow areas.
The ‘cabbage’ effect was applicably named and coned years ago by artists. It occurs when you drop-in a colour into a previous damp wash, and your brush has too much liquid on it. The excess water and paint spreads quickly out of control and floods your painting, causing ugly lacy patches in your painting. This occurs when you are impatient or not concentrating on what you are actually doing.
Sometimes you can use the cabbage effect purposely to your advantage:
If you watch carefully what happens after dropping-in a fresh colour, you will see how the different washes meet and re-act with each other.
Depending on what each wash consists of, the second wash will push the first damp wash ahead of it, creating a ridge darker than the first wash. This can make lovely silver-lining cloud effects if your imprimatura wash is still damp!
And depending on how wet, some of the grains of paint rebound back creating a cabbage leaf effect. See illustration. And if the previous wash included a segmented earth pigment the cabbage effect will be crusty.
You can use the cabbage technique for:
- Painting fruit or delicate edged flower petals, like the artist Paul Riley does.
- I once saw a watercolour painting of actual cabbages in rows, in a vegetable garden scene, using the cabbage technique!
- Sometimes I use the cabbage effect to portray leaves and buds between flowers, eg: a painting of flowers in a vase.
- If your brush isn’t too wet you can make lovely starry-edged effects. For example: stars in a dark night sky. Just blot the wet tiny spots to ensure `whiter’ shiner stars.
- Some artists actually wet and blot semi-wet areas to create special effects. One artist who did this was John Blockley. He actually poured tap water over his paintings, and where the paint hadn’t yet dried it was washed away, leaving the dried paint areas exposed.
The secret is that you have the power to do as you please with this knowledge. Experiment for yourself, to find your power over watercolours. If you want some exercise to experiment with try those in the free download “Watercolour Doodle” book on page ‘Free art books‘
Like to hear from you, as to what you have gained from the “Watercolour Secrets” catalog series.