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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Watercolor - a Challenging Yet Rewarding Medium

I have a dark secret. I actually like to draw and paint. Those are not very programmery things to do. But there, I said it. You have to find your fun somewhere. :)

Painting is something I picked up just recently. Before that I've spent some time doodling every once in a while. I've spend some time on studying constructive anatomy (Bridgman) and have some idea of how to compose pictures. I suppose this is something that might help in web design.

During the last Winter/Spring I enrolled to a painting course. There was some charcoal work involved. Charcoal is interesting as it's a medium that allows you to both draw and paint. It is a very flexible yet demanding medium. And a very affordable one. Anyhow, it's good preparation for real painting.

The last time I touched watercolors before that was on the last millennia. I recall the results were not that great but I think it might have had something to do with the quality of the equipment. You don't need that much equipment but be sure not to skimp there too much. You can get a decent kit for around 50 dollars/euros with some starting papers and all.

Watercolor as a Medium

My toolkit
Watercolor is a challenging yet affordable medium. You can get started with two good brushes (small and big), a set of colors (a cheap Yarka one will do), a sponge (borrow a makeup sponge) and a water container (you can cut a milk carton).

Brushes come in many flavors. It's a good idea to spend a bit on quality to make the process less frustrating. That biggest one on the picture is actually a cheap but interesting brush known as hake. It's a brush popularized by Ron Ranson. I've yet to master it.

Besides these basic tools you'll need some paper and tape. Be sure to pick heavy enough paper (at least 180 gsm). That's another way to avoid frustration as it allows you wipe some of the color off using a sponge and overall allows you to be rougher while working. There are also techniques such as "wet on wet" that may be implemented on heavier papers.

If you want to end up with an even end result, you might want to consider using a specific kind of watercolor tape rather than regular one. It takes some extra effort to set up but it's worth it especially if you wish to frame your painting.

Watercolor + ??? = Awesomeness

Pencil study (~5 mins)
What makes watercolor interesting as a medium is the fact that you can combine it with some others. You could for instance create an underdrawing using pencils or waterproof markers. There are also specific kind of pencils which dissolve when touched with water.

You can also work on the painting while it's still wet and draw on it. Stabbing is also allowed (knife is useful!) and may lead to interesting effects. Or you could sprinkle some salt on it. There are no limits.

Painting Process

Before I start to paint, I usually prepare a preliminary drawing in which I examine basic shapes and their relations. Somehow it makes it easier to focus on the difficult parts, like color, while painting. In order to make it easier to deal with color, I like to paint a small color study on a card.
Color study

It's a good idea to paint a few paintings from the same subject in a row. You can even work on them simultaneously while waiting some parts to dry. Watercolors are not for the impatient.

If you manage to botch some, it's alright. Sometimes accidents can actually be a good thing and add a great deal of interest to your painting. And if it's really horrid, well, that's why rubbish cans were invented. But before scrapping the work, consider painting on the other side first. :)

The painting you can see below was from a series of four I painted within an hour or so. In this case I was in too much of a hurry to spend time on underdrawings. Sometimes it's just better to do than to think too much.

I recall spending around 15 minutes on this piece using mainly my big, sharp-edged brush. I like particularly how the bottle turned out. Interestingly each painting had a character of its own even though the subject was the same.

Framed result


I know reading this post didn't make you an instant master of watercolors. But I hope it at least provided some inspiration. I have a great deal to learn myself. As you learn one thing adequately, you'll find challenges elsewhere.

WetCanvas, a popular art forum, has a nice thread that might be worth looking into. You'll find some beginner and even advanced resources there. The following blogs might provide some ideas as well although their scope is way wider: