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Old 09-30-2017, 09:57 AM
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Grotius Grotius is offline
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Technique questions

I've painted in oils for years but only dabbled in watercolors. Now I'm taking my first class in watercolor, a plein air class. It's great, but I always have so many questions, and there's so little time. Plus we're off now for a couple weeks. So here are some of my questions.

1. In general, I assume one works from big shapes to small, as in drawing or oil painting. But is this always true? Yesterday I was trying to paint some bright yellow flowers in the foreground -- big groups of flowers in a pot, for example. Since they were light in value, it seemed to make sense to paint them before the darker supporting greens beneath them. But I wasn't sure whether to paint a large blob yellow shape/wash and later add darker yellows to suggest differing shades of petals, or instead to begin by painting individual petals.

2. I tend to prefer using tube paint to pans. With a softer paint blob in the well, it's easier to pick out the amount of pigment I need for either a thin wash or a thicker, more viscous solution. But if I leave the soft blobs in the palette for a few days, they get hard and crusty, like pans. Yes, I can activate them by wetting them, but now it's harder to get a concentrated amount of pigment for a higher paint-to-water ratio, which sometimes you want. I get watery washes only. Should I not be letting bobs crustify in the wells of my palette? Should I toss them when they get like that? How to keep them fresh? Should I simply be squeezing out smaller blobs?

3. Inevitably my wells get contaminated as I mix colors. (Watercolorists don't use palette knives to mix, as far as I can tell.) This happens constantly. Should I be blotting the wells with paper towels to clean them? Cleaning my brush before ever dipping it in a second well?

Many thanks in advance.
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Old 09-30-2017, 10:42 AM
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virgil carter virgil carter is offline
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Re: Technique questions

Geoff, welcome to the wild and whacky world of watercolor, where every painter paints differently! You will soon see why I mention this.

Here's my thoughts about your questions:

1. Shapes: When color is important, it's often a good idea to get the saturated and intense hues down first. Working in watercolor from light to dark is a traditional approach, as is working from large to small shapes. But there are no rules about what "must" be done, so whatever works for you is a good strategy. One of the special qualities of watercolor is mixing hues (and values) wet in wet on the paper, rather than mixing and applying from one's palette. In watercolor, gravity can be your friend!

2. Tubes: Don't worry about paint drying in the wells of the palette. If one paints regularly, they don't truly dry. Spritzing the paint in the wells, and allowing them to re-hydrate for 5-10 minutes before painting is the technique most of us use. Some folks also freshen the paint in the wells by adding fresh paint after spritzing. Again, whatever works...

3. Contamination: It happens! It can be minimized by always cleaning the brush in a water bucket before reaching for new paint from the palette. But...it happens! I take a small stiff flat brush and/or a paper towel and lift out the contaminating color when it happens.

Hope this helps--happy painting!

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Old 09-30-2017, 11:49 AM
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Re: Technique questions

I keep two wells of Ultramarine blue, one is kept clean and the other is used for mixing. It is inevitable that light colours become contaminated unless you are very disciplined and clean your brush between colours.

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Old 09-30-2017, 12:11 PM
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Re: Technique questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Grotius
I've painted in oils for years but only dabbled in watercolors. Now I'm taking my first class in watercolor, a plein air class. It's great, but I always have so many questions, and there's so little time. Plus we're off now for a couple weeks. So here are some of my questions.

1. In general, I assume one works from big shapes to small, as in drawing or oil painting. But is this always true? Yesterday I was trying to paint some bright yellow flowers in the foreground -- big groups of flowers in a pot, for example. Since they were light in value, it seemed to make sense to paint them before the darker supporting greens beneath them. But I wasn't sure whether to paint a large blob yellow shape/wash and later add darker yellows to suggest differing shades of petals, or instead to begin by painting individual petals.

Depends on what you want to paint and how many details has the flower you want to paint. If you go for a floral painting you can painted as loose as you like, or paint it with negative painting technique.
But if you go for a more realistic and detailed floral or a botanical, then you is better to work in the following order:
Work on each petal separately by plot with a middle tone wash the darks taking care to preserve the highlights. Then go for middle tones ( taking care to preserve the highlights) then add the lighter colours ( preserve the highlights) then accentuate the darker darks and then apply a very light wash over the whole flower in order to unify the different washes. You can add as many details as you want on each tone group and you wait the paper to dry completely between the different stages
Quote:
2. I tend to prefer using tube paint to pans. With a softer paint blob in the well, it's easier to pick out the amount of pigment I need for either a thin wash or a thicker, more viscous solution. But if I leave the soft blobs in the palette for a few days, they get hard and crusty, like pans. Yes, I can activate them by wetting them, but now it's harder to get a concentrated amount of pigment for a higher paint-to-water ratio, which sometimes you want. I get watery washes only. Should I not be letting bobs crustify in the wells of my palette? Should I toss them when they get like that? How to keep them fresh? Should I simply be squeezing out smaller blobs?

Fill some pans with your paints and when you need thick colour washes pre wet the pans with a spray bottle. They will not need more than 3-4 minutes to become juicy again and release loads of colour.
Tube paints are more convenient when you work in really large size paintings where is needed to have large amounts of colour for washes. In smaller sizes blobs are more messy and you spent too much colour for tiny amounts of paint that you could pick easier from a pan.

Quote:
3. Inevitably my wells get contaminated as I mix colors. (Watercolorists don't use palette knives to mix, as far as I can tell.) This happens constantly. Should I be blotting the wells with paper towels to clean them? Cleaning my brush before ever dipping it in a second well?


Rub your dried paints with a wet brush in order to remove any contaminating colours. If you want to work with wet paint straight from the tubes, then pick a little of the lighter colour with your brush, in the middle of your mixing tray, and then pick the darker colour and then mix these two.
Don't attempt to touch with a brush full of dark and staining paint your lighter colousr because you will contaminate them. Especially your yellows.
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Old 09-30-2017, 01:39 PM
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Re: Technique questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Grotius
2. I tend to prefer using tube paint to pans. With a softer paint blob in the well, it's easier to pick out the amount of pigment I need for either a thin wash or a thicker, more viscous solution. But if I leave the soft blobs in the palette for a few days, they get hard and crusty, like pans. Yes, I can activate them by wetting them, but now it's harder to get a concentrated amount of pigment for a higher paint-to-water ratio, which sometimes you want. I get watery washes only. Should I not be letting bobs crustify in the wells of my palette? Should I toss them when they get like that? How to keep them fresh? Should I simply be squeezing out smaller blobs?

I like to have pallets that seal, which slows the drying time considerably, but sealable pallets have their own compromises. I used a large porcelain pallet for a while, so when I was done I would drop a small piece of wet sponge in the mixing tray and cover with plastic wrap. It works very well.
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Old 09-30-2017, 02:12 PM
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provenceaquarelle provenceaquarelle is offline
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Re: Technique questions

Some watercolourists put a wet sponge inside their palette, when they want their paint blobs to stay wet for several days.
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Old 09-30-2017, 02:28 PM
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Triduana Triduana is online now
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Re: Technique questions

I have an eye dropper in my paint box:

I use this to add water to the paints in my palette - I use tube paints and doing this a couple of minutes before I start painting means they are soft enough to use when I need them

I also use it to add water to my mixing areas. This, as well as cleaning my brush every time I go between colours, means my paints don't get contaminated.
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Old 09-30-2017, 03:09 PM
janinep7 janinep7 is offline
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Re: Technique questions

Watercolorist Shari Blaukopf is amazing at painting florals and pretty much everything else. On her blog she has some step by step demos you might enjoy:

www.shariblaukopf.com

You can also try some of the honey-based paints which never really dry out completely and rehydrate to out of tube consistency. M. Graham and/or Sennelier are two of the top brands. M. Graham is better IMO than Sennelier but both are very good.

When a color gets very contaminated from mixing, I use a wet brush to clean it off or sometimes a piece of damp paper towel to soak up the dirty part. You can also just squeeze some more of that color on top to clean it up or keep two blobs or pans of the same color like Yorky suggests.
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Old 09-30-2017, 04:21 PM
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hblenkle hblenkle is offline
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Re: Technique questions

To avoid contaminated wells, bring a blob of pure color from a well into the mixing area and then clean the brush before getting the next color. Use the blob in the mixing area for mixture getting the color from the side of the blob of color.
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Old 09-30-2017, 04:32 PM
CarolinaPal CarolinaPal is offline
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Re: Technique questions

I used a sealed palette once and left it closed for about a week - returned to find everything had molded! As a result, I allow my pans to dry out. I rehydrate them easily enough with a little squeeze bottle. I washed out a used up Germ-X hand sanitizer bottle and repurposed it. It's full of water, ready to go in a moment's notice.

One thing about painting from a tube, be careful about painting too thickly with the paint that comes out - which might be tempting for an oil painter. I've heard an artist or two say they paint straight from the tube, but I don't know how well that would work long term because I've heard that watercolor paints applied too thickly will crack.
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Old 09-30-2017, 04:53 PM
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Re: Technique questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarolinaPal
I used a sealed palette once and left it closed for about a week - returned to find everything had molded!

I have heard this many times, so there is no doubt for me that it is true, but it has never happened to me. I actually took a 3-4 year hiatus from painting, and while my paints (and the originally damp sponge) had completely dried out, there was no mold, and I managed to get a couple of paintings out of them before I started with fresh.
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Old 09-30-2017, 05:16 PM
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Re: Technique questions

To have soft paint for class, you might spritz or add drops of water and let sit for a while so the paint absorbs the water before you leave for class. If the palette is not transported horizontally like in the bottom of a carrier, I would not add too much water that might spill when palette is tilted. I wet my paints when I get to class and get a cup of coffee from the library room. The paints are ready to use when I return.
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Old 09-30-2017, 09:16 PM
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Grotius Grotius is offline
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Re: Technique questions

Thanks for all the wonderful replies. It sounds like I need to be a bit more patient when re-wetting my blobs. Usually my instructor does a 30-minute demo at the start of class, so that sounds like a good time to activate my dry paint. Glad to hear the comments on large-to-small and light-to-dark. I will practice minimizing contamination of my wells.

Janinep7, Shari Blaukopf's blog is fantastic! Inspiring. But I didn't find any step-by-step demos. I do see two instructional videos by her at craftsy, for a reasonable price. Is that what you meant?
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Old 09-30-2017, 10:39 PM
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Re: Technique questions

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp4MZFsW-D8

A Youtube video of Shari Blaukopf's demo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6DcB4rVAiE

Shari Blaukopf making a value sketch.

Last edited by hblenkle : 09-30-2017 at 10:50 PM.
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Old 09-30-2017, 11:14 PM
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Re: Technique questions

Hblenkle, thanks. That value sketch video was great. Just the sort of thing I was looking for. I haven't made it through the other one yet, but it looks promising too.
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