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Watercolor Techniques Using Acrylics!

Author: Ellen Leo, Matisse Derivan, Inc.

Watercolour painting is usually done on good quality, 100% rag, watercolour paper. Heavy paper (300 gsm or heavier) does not need stretching and is suitable for use with acrylics. To keep the paper flat and tight while the painting is in progress, attach it to a board (a few inches wider on each side) with masking tape overlapping the edges of the paper by about ½ an inch.

PAINTS: Traditional watercolour paints are finely ground pigments mixed with a binder of gum arabic, which is soluble in water and helps the paint bind to the paper when applied. Acrylic paints use the same pigments mixed with an acrylic binder, which acts in a similar way to the gum arabic. Acrylic paints are soluble in water when mixed straight from the tube, however they differ from traditional watercolours, in that when they dry, they are not re-soluble and are permanent. When working with acrylic paints, it is helpful to spray your palette occasionally with water to which a small quantity of Drying Retarder Medium is added. Cover the palette with a plastic tray or sheet of glass to prevent the paint drying out during extended breaks. Paint kept in this way can last several days. Layers of paint that have been applied to the paper become sealed and waterproof, so new layers can be added without disturbing those below.

COLOUR MIXING: With all types of paints, some colours are naturally transparent and other is opaque. The colours used in watercolour techniques should be the most transparent available. Begin colour mixing with water on the palette and add pigment to it. Mix and test the result on a scrap piece of watercolour paper. Always start mixing with the lightest colour and add tiny touches of stronger and darker colours until you get the one you want. If you aren’t satisfied with the result, wipe it up with a paper towel and start again. Vary the quantity of colour you are using to suit the area you wish to cover. Judging this comes with experience, but it is better to have too much than not enough. After all, it is mainly water.

(Note: As a general rule white paint is not used in watercolour painting. To mix pale colours, simply use more water).

This picture shows the effect of blending three cool colours (Matisse Acrylics: Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Paynes Grey) wet-in wet. The surface is wet first with clear water and the colour is applied by just touching the loaded brush lightly to the surface and allowing the colour to run and blend. Edges are characteristically soft and blurry. It is better to put the colour down and leave it; avoid puddling the paint or brushing the surface too much.

This sample shows the effect of mixing colours (Matisse Acrylics: Yellow Light Hansa, Yellow Mid Azo and Ultramarine Blue) on paper by laying one transparent colour over the others in a glaze. Colours made in this way are often fresher and richer than if they were mixed on the palette. Results will vary depending on the colour put down first and which is superimposed, and how much water is added (ie. The degree of transparency).