Watercolour painting is a popular and enjoyable past-time, and if mastered, can provide countless splendid artworks for people to enjoy and maybe even buy. The transparent and opaque nature of the paint allows images to be built from the 'ground up', providing bright statements and beautiful gradients of tone. A great painting makes an impression, and entices its audience to look for longer than just a casual glance. It must also be able to become one image in itself but manage to captivate the eye in more than one place, providing an exploratory quality that allows a deeper transposition of meaning.
The materials of a watercolour artist are fairly simple. Of course the first thing they will need is watercolour paint. It is sold in many various forms, mainly in tubes, tablets, and powder. Most artists use tubes and tablets but powder is also very useful. Tubular watercolours contain a premixed concentrate of vivid colour which can be watered down or mixed. The consistency of tubular watercolour paint is thick and when applied as neat paint, establishes bold structures. Tabular paints are dried and compressed. These need to be worked on with water to form a stain on the brush. Powder paint is similar to tablet but it's been ground down into a fine dust. This doesn't need to be worked with water to gain the pigment, simply adding it to water is sufficient.
The next thing a watercolour artist will need is a set of good quality brushes. The three main types of brush are flat head, round tip, and rigger brushes, which have a long and fine brush. Flat head brushes generally work for washes and blocking in. Round tips are meant for texture and for drawing shapes and lines, where as rigger brushes are reserved for the fine detail. Alongside paint and brushes, an artist needs a palette, or a mixing board. When at home a china plate will work, or an old piece of wood, but it's best to obtain something small and manageable for when painting away from home.
For watercolour paper, the choices are extremely varied. It's possible to buy extremely high quality paper with special qualities for certain types of painting, or standard papers that are simply designed to hold their colour. It is better to use professional watercolour paper, or artist's paper of some kind, rather than standard printer paper. When practising with no intention of making anything to show, then the printer paper will be fine until the expert touches are needed. When practising the extra touches, you will need to use some better quality paper.
Often its necessary to draw on paintings before applying the paint, and because of the grading of the paper, it is necessary to use soft pencils in the low B category. A quality eraser will also be needed, and only the lightest of strokes are preferable in order to not damage the image or paper. Artists need something to rest their painting on so an easel or work table is essential too. That however is about all that is needed, apart from the water of course!
When using colour, it is vital that an artist experiments with different varieties and brands, mixing and painting, testing the capabilities and tendencies of each one. This can take time but in the process we learn what responds in the way we prefer and which paints will do what we want the most. It's not essential to have loads of colours, a small palette can be sufficient to make most scenes or images. When considered from a mixing point of view, a selection of the various primary and secondary colours with black and white for tone will be enough to create a huge variety of different shades and tones. With red, yellow, and blue in a palette as simply three primary colours, it's possible to blend almost any other colour. Black and white then change the shading of the colour, brightening or darkening the pigment.
The basic painting techniques that form the majority of paintings are as follows. Washes require wetting the paper first and almost saturating it with water. Then very wet colour is added to the page and allowed to spread out across the wet medium. It can be used in a gradient style or with mixing of various colours. This style of painting is good for backgrounds and for creating interesting shadings in colourful areas. Wet into wet painting like this can also be used with vivid washes which produces a clouded but strong image. Blocking in means using the flat brush to create shapes of block colour on the page which create form and structure in the image. These can be buildings or skies, anything with large surface area. By using watercolours to block in form, the distribution of pigment can create interesting nuances with subtle shading and flow.
Over glazing means to paint new colour over an already painted section. The opacity of watercolour paint means that light creates a mix of colour which further extends the palette. By painting over established colour with something new, we in effect mix the colour but on the page. Because the undercoat is dry at the time, the effects can be different to mixing it in the dish. Dry brush work is the style of painting that uses a high ratio of paint to water, meaning that when applied to the paper, the painting is less homogeneous and contains a speckled effect. Fine lines are painted with the rigger brush, where as blocks of colour are made with the flat brushes. Round brushes are better for intermediate detail, between fine line and blocks.
To conclude the basics, the important thing is to allow the painting to flow and form something that speaks to the viewer in some way. A good painting captures the imagination and perhaps asks questions, leaves things open to interpretation. By using watercolour, we have a great control of tone, shading, and distribution. It's a remarkable medium to work with, and is incredibly versatile with what can be done with it.
Getting proper artist equipment online needs an expert touch. For the USA it's good to use Blick, for the UK, try to go local or use Amazon and eBay
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