for watercolor painters
- ABOUT WATERCOLOR PAINTS
professional - hobbyist - student - about color names
- ABOUT WATERCOLOR BRUSHES
materials - types- care - shopping
- ABOUT WATERCOLOR PAPERS
types - finishes - weights
ABOUT WATERCOLOR PAINTS
Watercolor paints come in two forms: pan and tube. Pans are hard, like candies, and are made in full-pan and half-pan sizes. Tube watercolors remain moist in the tube.
Price is a good guide to the quality of artists’ colors; the higher the price, usually the better the paint. There are three grades: professional, hobbyist, and student.
Made of the finest materials refined to the highest standards. Compared to other grades, professional colors (also called “artists’ colors”) have cleaner and more brilliant tone, plus greater strength. Less paint is needed with professional paints to do the job than with other grades, and with more satisfying results.
Hobbyist paints are of good quality and perform well. Although they contain less pigment than professional paints, they are a reliable and more affordable alternative.
Student paints are not recommended for permanent work. In addition to other shortcomings, they contain fillers to make it appear you are getting a lot of paint, when in reality you are getting little pigment and weak colors.
It is easy to confuse student with artist quality paints; many companies make both.For example, above are Winsor & Newton's Cotman student paints, and below are the company's professional grade watercolors.
about color names
The names of some colors may be labeled as "hue" or "extra." This indicates the color is not the true pigment named (such as cerulean blue), but is composed of a mixture of less expensive pigments intended to mimic the named color (for example: cerulean blue hue). Genuine colors usually perform better than hues, but hues made with permanent pigments are acceptable.
ABOUT WATERCOLOR BRUSHES
Water media artists use soft brushes almost exclusively. Since they aren’t subjected to the degree of abuse that oil and acrylic brushes routinely are, watercolor brushes last an extraordinary length of time - frequently for the entire life of the artist and often through several generations. Because their brushes survive so long, serious watercolor painters may be willing to invest large sums in at least a few outstanding brushes.
Watercolor brushes are made of either natural animal hair or synthetic filaments. Although they are more expensive than synthetics, brushes of natural hair are preferred because they are able to load large amounts of watercolor paint (meaning it has to be recharged less frequently), the paint flows better, and they have a springy responsiveness.
Brushes of kolinsky sable are the Rolls Royces of fine watercolor brushes. They are hand made, can be groomed to a precise shape, are highly durable, responsive, and pick up a large quantity of paint.
A less costly alternative to kolinsky, red sable assumes a defined shape and performs nearly as well.
Mongoose is not as soft as sable, is a little less expensive, but keeps a good shape.
Dyed to imitate red sable, sabeline is made of ox hair which is more blunt than sable but loads a generous amount of paint.
Some makeup brushes are made of squirrel or goat hair. Artists' mop brushes of these materials are very soft and soak up a lot of watercolor.
Coarse horse hair is found in broad wash brushes.
Synthetic brushes of many different qualities and prices are available. None are capable of assuming the fine point or edge that a sable can, not do they load as much paint as a natural hair brush.
There is a wide assortment of brush types and shapes for watercolor painting, some with specialized purposes.
The most common watercolor brush shape is the round, which may have a full or slim belly. It is a versatile tool and in the hands of a skilled artist it is often all that is needed to complete a painting. A good quality round can be brought to a fine point for details.
Traditionally for drawing ships' rigging in nautical pictures, it makes fine lines and calligraphic marks.
Well named, it was originally developed for use by model builders. Its bent handle makes it easy to paint details.
Illustrated from left to right: tight spot, flat, bright, egbert, angle, filbert, rake, filbert, and fan.
Long haired with a square tip, flats make broad marks and washes.
Brights resemble flats, but their shorter hairs make them firmer for producing better defined marks.
Essentially a very long haired filbert.
Resembling a flat or bright, the wide end can paint broad strokes while the pointy tip allows for details such as the sharp corners of rectangular shapes.
Its split head renders textures like animal fur.
A fan-shaped brush produces grasslike or twiglike lines, it is also used for hatching, texturing, and drybrush.
The name describes its purpose.
Broad wash brushes appear in the photograph on the left. At right are several mop brushes of different natural hairs.
Soaks up a lot of water for wetting large areas of a painting or for painting broad areas loosely. It can create soft, out-of-focus effects like clouds.
Made with goat hair, it is capable of laying in wide, even washes as well as sweeping drybrush strokes.
The wide brush in the center of the left photograph is a hake flanked by bamboo handled goat hair calligraphy brushes. On the right is a photo of a trio of fine quality sumi brushes.
Bamboo handled brushes with goat hair heads allow calligraphic effects. Available in inexpensive sets at Asian gift shops.
A step up from bamboo handled goat hair brushes, they are also intended for calligraphy.
Protect brush tips by storing and transporting them in an appropriate manner. To prevent soiling of colors as you work, rinse them under running water from time-to-time. Rinse and clean brushes thoroughly with soap and warm water when done painting. Pay special attention the area around the metal ferrule.
To prevent damage during shipping, manufacturers coat brush heads with a weak glue that must be removed in order to test a them (ask the clerk for water for this purpose). When moist, it should be possible to groom a sable brush to a sharp point or edge; it should also spring back to its original position after being bent in the palm of your hand. All types of brushes should be free of loose hairs, splits, and other anomalies.
ABOUT WATERCOLOR PAPERS
Watercolor papers are white or bleached to a “natural” buff tone.
Papers are labeled for weight. Heavier papers are less prone to buckle or warp than lighter ones, take more abuse, and often require no stretching. Anything less than 140-lbs. (300 gsm) should be avoided by the serious painter, and the use of 300-lb. (640 gsm) or even 500-lb. (1050 gsm) papers is not unusual.
To minimize buckling, paper should be stretched by immersing the it in a pan of clean water (a few minutes for 140-lb. or less, up to 30 minutes for heavier papers), or sponge it to get both sides wet. Lay the paper over a smooth and sturdy board and spread it out with a damp sponge to flatten it. Attach the paper around its edges to the board with butcher’s tape or staples. The paper may be used while still wet, or after it has dried.
Watercolor paper is hand or machine produced from cotton and linen rags. Handmade papers have deckle (irregular) edges, and machined papers have more mechanical textures. Paper is offered in books, blocks, sheets, and rolls.
Many sizes, but only in lighter weights (90- to 140-lb.).
Composed of a stack of lightweight sheets mounted to a stiff backing and glued along all edges. Expensive, but the paper doesn't require stretching.
Available in a full range of weights, finishes, grades, and prices. The usual size of a full-sheet is 22" X 30".
A limited selection of watercolor paper in rolls 10 yards and longer for very large paintings is made.
There are three surface textures:
Pronounced texture appropriate to a bold style.
A moderate amount of tooth and the most popular surface.
Little tooth for highly detailed paintings.
WATERCOLOR TOOLS AND ACCESSORIES
- Brush Brands
- Paper Brands
- Mediums & Retarders
Of the many brands available, here are a few I am familiar with.
Bath hot-pressed and cold-pressed blocks from Arches are quite good.
Mediums & Retarders
Nothing is needed for watercolor but water. Nonetheless, some artists find certain additives helpful.
To increase the paint's luster and transparency, gum arabic may be added in a small amount to the water being painted with. To counter the gum's brittleness, also add a little syrup, crystalized sugar, or honey.
Ox gall or glycerin may be added to the water to make the paint "wetter".
To speed drying of the paint, put a few drops of alcohol in the water.
Some artists have reported that drying retarders made for acrylic paint are also effective with watercolor.
WATERCOLOR PRICES & QUALITY
Many companies make more than one line of paints. In addition to a high-grade professional paint, a company may also offer a hobby or student quality product. When shopping, be aware of which grade you are purchasing.
Tube watercolors only are listed and are arranged from the least expensive ($) at top to most costly ($$$$$) at bottom.
A recommended (!) or highly recommended (!!!) designation applies to the price bracket within which a paint brand falls.
$ Student grade of
Poor to Acceptable Quality
$$ Student grade of
$$$ Hobby grade of
$$$$ Professional grade of Excellent Quality
$$$$$ Professional grade of Exceptional Quality