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The Paint Colors and Brands On My Palette…

In the early days, pigments for painting were rare! The specific ingredients and recipes for making paints were closely guarded secrets. These paints were made by hand from soils, minerals, animal matter, and other materials. The paint did not keep well and had to be made frequently from scratch.

Modern pigments, although still using some of the same ingredients, are manufactured from a wide variety of substances, often through complicated chemical processes. Many more different pigments are available to painters today, with an incredibly wide range of color choices. Because we now have so many colors to choose from, it is necessary to narrow down the options and simplify.

A painter can’t possibly use every tube color out there, and there is such overlap between brands and ‘named colors’ offered that it wouldn’t make sense to try every one. Be aware that the name given on each tube can be very deceptive! For instance, some ‘raw siennas’ are not really raw sienna at all, but are made from the yellow ochre pigment. A ‘sap green’ in one brand looks different and is made from very different ingredients than ‘sap green’ from another company. The color you think you’re buying is not necessarily what you get! Further, some paints offered are unreliable and fade when exposed to sunlight.

What’s to be done? READ LABELS (just like at the grocery store) to know what you’re getting and to get the best products. On tubes of watercolor pigment, look for the pigment LETTERS and NUMBERS printed on each tube to tell you what the paint is actually made from – companies often include this information in small print on the tube. The letters indicate the pigment hue (color); for example, PB means ‘pigment blue,’ and PR stands for ‘pigment red.’ The numbers that follow the letters are those assigned internationally for that pigment material; for example, a true viridian paint contains PG18 (or ‘pigment green number 18), not something else that might look like viridian.

Using pigment letters and numbers instead of just color names will help you learn to be more aware of what paints you are using. Gordon MacKenzie, in his book The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes, goes into a lot of detail explaining which pigments to AVOID because of unreliability. Mr. MacKenzie also shares which brands have the BEST quality in which colors. (It is interesting that no one brand offers the best quality in every color they produce!)

In choosing colors for my palette, I tried to consider color characteristics. The FOUR characteristics  of color to think about are: 1. HUE is the name of the pure simple color, e.g. blue, yellow, red. (Hue describes the pigment’s location on the color wheel.) 2. VALUE is a pigment’s lightness or darkness. 3. INTENSITY is the brilliance or saturation of a color. (A pigment can be dulled by adding its complementary color – the color opposite it on the color wheel – which in the right amount produces gray.) 4. TEMPERATURE is warmth or coolness of a color. Reds, oranges, yellows are said to be warm, while greens, blues, or violets are thought of as cool. A color or hue can ‘lean’ toward either the warm side or the cool side, and the direction it leans affects how it behaves during color mixing with another hue. In order to be able to mix pigments into a wider range of colors, try to choose both a warm and a cool version of the primary hues.

Color Wheel.jpeg

On the color wheel, colors are placed in position on the circle to indicate their degree of warmth or coolness and their relationships to each other. Color placement on the wheel can therefore suggest the degree of borrowing or leaning toward another color – a ‘warm’ red (like cadmium red) is closer to the yellows and also contains more yellow than a ‘cool’ red (permanent alizarin red) which would be closer (on the color wheel) to and contain more blue. You can follow the colors around the color wheel to see how much borrowed color is in each pigment.

It becomes easier to combine colors when you can visualize your pigments on the color wheel. For this reason, I decided to try the Stephen Quiller palette, which has wells for pigments arranged in a circle (color wheel) for ease of color mixing. (The Richeson Stephen Quiller watercolor palette is available on jerrysartarama.com for $22.99.)

In many ways, choosing particular colors for your palette is a matter of personal preference. Yet, there are a few guidelines. Recently, I have been searching for more transparent watercolors to add to my palette. I find that having too many opaque colors in a painting can destroy the glow of light that I hope to get down on my paper. However, I wanted to keep a few opaque colors on the palette. Also, I tried to to include some brilliant, staining colors, as well as some fairly transparent earth pigments. Such a variety of colors allows for mixing a wider range of colors. My reevaluation of pigments seems to be an ongoing process, because just when I think I have finalized my color choices, I find another irresistible and useful hue!

So, what colors do I have on my palette today? These are the 24 colors that I placed around the circle (with some exceptions to the color wheel theory just because I liked the colors): Hansa Yellow Light PY3 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Gamboge Hue PY153PY3 (Daler Rowney or DaVinci), Indian Yellow PY153 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Raw Sienna PBr7 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Light Red PR101 (Holbein), Indian Red PR101 (Holbein or Winsor Newton), Cadmium Red PR108 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith), Pyrrol Red (Daniel Smith) OR Winsor Red (Winsor Newton) [both are pigment PR254], Quinacridone Red PR206 (Daniel Smith), Quinacridone Pink PV42 (Daniel Smith), Quinacridone Violet PV19 (Daniel Smith or M. Graham), Mineral Violet PV15 (Holbein), Mauve PV19PB29 (DaVinci), Payne’s Gray PB15PBk6PV19  (Winsor Newton or Maimeri), Ultramarine Blue PB29 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Cobalt Blue PB28 (DaVinci), Phthalo Blue RED SHADE PB15 (Daniel Smith, DaVinci, or M. Graham) OR Winsor Blue RED SHADE PB15 (Winsor Newton), Cerulean Blue PB36 (Holbein or Winsor Newton), Blue Apatite Genuine (Daniel Smith), Phthalo Green BLUE SHADE PG7 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith) or Winsor Green BLUE SHADE (Winsor Newton), Viridian PG18 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith), Sap Green PG7PY42 (DaVinci!!!), Shadow Green PBk31 (Holbein) OR Perylene Green (Winsor Newton), and Rich Green Gold PY129 (Daniel Smith) OR Azo Green (M. Graham). In the 8 corner wells, I added some fun, supplemental colors: Quinacridone Gold PO49 (Daniel Smith), Burnt Sienna PBr7 (Daniel Smith, Holbein, or Maimeri), Quinacridone Burnt Orange PO48 (Daniel Smith), Brown Madder Quinacridone PV19PR101 (DaVinci) OR Red Iron Oxide PR101 (M. Graham), Phthalo Blue GREEN SHADE PB15:3 (Daler Rowney or Daniel Smith), Manganese Blue Hue PB15PW5 (DaVinci or Holbein), Burnt Umber PBr7 (Daniel Smith or Holbein), and Bloodstone Genuine (Daniel Smith).

I don’t recommend that beginning painters have all of the above mentioned colors on their palettes. Having fewer colors will help you begin to learn the characteristics of your colors and how they behave when used alone or when mixed with others. A basic palette might include: Quinacridone red, Quinacridone Violet, Mauve, Indian Yellow, Hansa Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Viridian, Sap Green, Payne’s Gray, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna. When you become familiar with the basic colors, you can feel free to experiment and slowly add more colors. Enjoy! Color is fun!

I Have an Image I’d Like to Paint. Now Where Do I Start?

As you approach a painting, it is absolutely vital that you think hard about what you’re doing. You can avoid many problems if you plan ahead and think through the sequence of painting steps. Before you begin to paint, you must stop and analyze the subject to be painted.  Learn to ask yourself some basic questions.  First, determine what it is you want to show and what you want to say about your subject. Why did you choose to paint this picture? Why were you drawn to this image? Does your image remind you of a favorite place?  Does the picture make you feel calm? Do you feel like laughing when you look at your subject?

Think about your mood. How does the scene make you feel? Happy, sad, excited, nostalgic? Respond to your emotions – these feelings are what you will try to get down on paper and share with viewers of your art. People will connect to YOUR art with THEIR emotions! For instance, does your painting depict hay being baled and loaded onto a truck on a sweltering hot, hazy summer day?  Can you just imagine your clothes clinging to you and your skin itching where loose hay sticks to your sweaty skin? You would definitely be looking forward to a tall glass of cold iced tea later while sitting in the shade! The mood and setting of this kind of picture should suggest certain paint color choices and techniques to you. You might use rich, warm summer greens for trees, ochres to show for dried grasses, bright, warm blues in a sky full of billowing cumulous clouds. In the distance, details might be a bit soft, paler, and obscured by the haze and humidity.  Cloud formations and vegetation during sunny high summer have certain characteristics they do not usually show during other seasons or weather conditions.

Come up with a plan of attack. Remember that there is not just one way to paint a scene! What approach are you drawn to? Will you paint background first? Do you want to paint all your underlayers first? Have some idea of what you want to do, but be open to adapting your plans as you proceed. Feel free to rearrange objects to strengthen your composition. You can also change the atmosphere, season, time of day, or direction of the light source in your picture. Decide on a center of interest to anchor your painting; then in view of what you choose as your focus, pick what details you will emphasize and what elements you will remove. It is best to SIMPLIFY your image – learn to really look at your picture and see Shapes, Values, Edges, and Color Changes – instead of “clouds,” “trees,” “roads,”or “faces.”  Then, ELIMINATE some things. Sometimes less is more! Don’t copy every detail you see – filter the details through your own eyes. Wouldn’t a few details be more interesting than having everything in precise imitation of the reality? (If you detail everything, you have NOT created a center of interest to draw the eye of the viewer.)  Making such choices is one of the important steps in moving from being a painter to being an artist. Your painting should share your impression of and emotions about a scene. You should not be striving for a rote photographic copy that expresses no feeling.

Once you determine the mood of your painting and think about what paint colors and techniques would give your painting the desired feeling, you can progress to make a light pencil sketch of a few IMPORTANT details of the image. Consider whether you intend to save the white of the paper with masking fluid before you begin painting. With masking complete, decide which parts of your painting you will paint first and with what techniques. Every picture is different, so in a way you will need to be a bit of a detective. If you enjoy puzzles, as I do, figuring out how you proceed through a painting can be an enjoyable challenge. The goal is to have a plan, with the construction of your painting broken down into small, manageable steps from the start to the finish of the process.

Often I begin a painting by painting the sky. If there is no sky to paint, I tend to start with the background and work gradually toward the foreground, painting light colors prior to darker colors, building up layers to create shape and form. Watercolor is seldom painted as one layer. I like to have light colors surrounded by dark, or vice versa, to create emphasis and impact, and to attract a viewer’s interest.  I also consider adjusting the colors in a painting to suit my own taste or to set the mood that I want to create. Fine details in the foreground or at the center of interest I often paint last.

As you gain experience as a painter, you will find it easier to rearrange objects, adjust colors, or simplify in your art. Try to be BOLD! You are a unique individual unlike anyone else.  Get your OWN feelings down on the paper. Dare to be yourself, and work to master your techniques of painting, and you will develop your own style and be likely to have success as a painter. And remember: the more you paint, the faster you grow!

Why Did I Change My Palette Colors?

For many years, I used the colors and brands of watercolor paint that my instructors used. (Interestingly, each instructor had different preferences.) There were so many different colors to choose from I was unsure why they used some colors and not others. I didn’t worry too much about their color choices when I was just starting to paint, being more focused on learning technique, but as I gained experience, I wanted to understand why we used those particular colors. Was it just a matter of personal preference, or were certain colors better for some reason?

‘Color’ became more and more interesting to me. I became fascinated by how many different ways there were to mix colors from the paint that was already on my palette. There was such variety! At some point, I began to feel some dissatisfaction with certain black, gray, and green paints straight from the tube, and began to prefer my own mixtures. Unlike blends that I created from mixtures of often primary colors, some of these tube paints began to appear dull, flat, uninteresting, and lifeless to me. Other tube paints looked stark, strident, and out of place in certain pictures. What a revelation! I began to notice details that I had not been aware of before. And I was starting to feel unhappy with a few of the colors on my palette.

Why did some paints, like some of the reds, greens, and browns, look so flat and dull?  Everyone talks about ‘Transparent Watercolor,’ but what is it exactly? Are all watercolors transparent? And why is transparency important? How are opaque colors different from transparent colors? Where does the elusive ‘glow’ or luminescence of watercolor come from? Is it in certain pigments, or does it result from how the paint is applied? I decided to try to make my paintings glow!

As I studied and experimented, I learned more about the characteristics of pigments and how they behave. The issues were confusing! Some paints worked well in certain situations but not in others. Some colors mixed cleanly with others, but similar-appearing colors, when mixed with others, turned into mud! Ugh! I realized that all watercolor pigments are NOT transparent or equal in intensity. All blues are not interchangeable. In fact, sometimes tubes of paint with the same name do not even contain the same pigments! How could one expect them to behave the same? And, further, some tube paints are not made from a single pigment but are mixtures of a number of pigments, each of which  has its own characteristics.

Jeanne Dobie, in Making Color Sing, describes how she makes vibrant, glowing color. She recommends transparent and pure color pigments as a base for your palette colors. To capture the ‘effect of light’ in watercolor, use transparent pigments! Jeanne says, “Because transparent colors permit the greatest amount of light to pass through to the paper, reflecting back to the viewer, they impart luminosity. Moreover, they remain transparent when mixed together – so there’s no mud!.. If you begin a watercolor with opaque pigments, you’ll lose the effect of light. Opaque pigments are denser and heavier, which greatly reduces the amount of light transmitted through to the paper. Because of this ‘thickness,’ an opaque pigment does not mix well with another opaque color. It only becomes thicker! If you mix two opaque pigments together, you are flirting with a muddy mixture. Should you mix three opaque pigments together, the result may be too lifeless to call a watercolor.”

Watercolor pigments are composed of several different types of materials. First, some pigments are made of ground minerals or earth. These have a tendency to float on the surface of the paper, whether transparent or not, and so may NOT be very good for mixing. (I think it is interesting that some mineral pigments are quite transparent — for example, genuine ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, cobalt blue, viridian, and manganese blue.) Second, some pigments are organic dyes. Third, other pigments are synthetic dyes. The dye pigments are NOT all transparent as one might expect, because some are combined with various fillers.

Gradually, I have added more transparent primary colors (red, yellow, blue) to my palette and reduced the number of opaque pigments. I have tried to find transparent colors made from a single pigment (i.e. pure, as Jeanne Dobie describes). I now have a wide variety of  transparent red, yellow, and blue primaries which can be mixed into numerous clear variations. I chose each paint for a particular quality; while some are very similar, no two are exactly alike.

On my palette, I continue to keep some additional “occasional use” colors that are opaque, such as cerulean blue, cadmium red, Winsor Newton Payne’s gray, and burnt umber. Many greens I mix from primary colors, but I have a few transparent greens on my palette. I removed any ochres and use burnt umber with care, as they are opaque. I like the siennas because they are transparent or semi-transparent, depending on how diluted the mixed wash is. While the above earth colors look beautiful when wet, they do seem to lose their richness as they dry, appearing flat and somewhat dull. (I plan to discuss the specific colors that I have on my palette in a later blog. Stay tuned!)

Jeanne Dobie also maintains that selecting pure transparent pigments is just the start. An artist needs to learn about color relationships to use the colors successfully – color mixing could be the subject of yet another, later blog post, perhaps. And, yet, there is also a place for the opaque colors on your palette. “To complement the pretty (transparent) colors” and to enhance their jewel-like tones, you need to use more subtle, “non-brilliant mixtures.”  Thus, my first discovery in the search for “GLOW” was that the glow begins with the use of transparent colors.

The second part of creating glow in a painting seems to be related to a technique called GLAZING. Most watercolor painters are aware that it is possible to paint one wash over another, a process called glazing. (The secret is to apply each wash, usually the lightest color first, to a THOROUGHLY DRY sheet of paper.) Now why would a painter want to do this? It seems like a lot of trouble!

Nevertheless, properly applied, layers of washes are what actually produce the characteristic glow of watercolor and a stained-glass effect that cannot be achieved by any other means. To achieve the much sought after GLOW FROM WITHIN in watercolor, an artist glazes layers of mostly transparent pigments. Pigments applied in glazes have MORE luminosity than the same colors mixed and applied in a single wash!

Once you have practiced your wash techniques and feel you are a bit proficient at them, here is the procedure for glazing:     1. Develop your glazes from transparent watercolors (eg. Indian yellow or Hansa yellow light, Winsor blue or Phthalo blue, Winsor red or pyrrol red).     2. Begin with your lightest pigment, usually a yellow.     3. Keep your washes DILUTED and transparent.     4. Make sure, VERY SURE, that all previous washes are COMPLETELY dry before a new wash or glaze is applied.     5. Use the most opaque paints toward the final stages of your painting. Using them in the initial stages runs the risk of creating mud or chalky washes. (I must give credit here to Don Rankin, who, in his book Mastering Glazing Techniques In Watercolor, gives these clear and simple ground rules for glazing.)

I now have more transparent pigments in my palette, fewer of the opaques. I try to employ the glazing technique with transparent color more often than I previously did. I like the effect! If you too are a painter who strives to find a way to have your work ‘glow from within,’ try what I have described above. See what you think, and let me know.

How do I start an art collection?

Where and how do I begin an art collection?  Do I need a lot of money? Should I collect what is popular? How do I know what good art looks like? What is the ‘best’ style of painting to collect? Who can I trust in my search for art? Where do I find art for sale?

First of all, start small. There are no rules – there is, in fact, little regulation in the art market. Also, don’t expect to make money. Art is not made to be an object of speculation. The reward of collecting should come from your enjoyment of the art.

Markets can change.  What was popular and pricey a few years ago may not be now, so collect what excites you, whether portraits, landscapes, contemporary paintings, Old Masters, or lithographs. Look for what appeals to you. Big collectors go for big names and prestige. But that is certainly not the only way to collect!  Many less well-known works are just as charming and skillfully painted. One collector recommends collecting as many diverse pieces by an artist as possible so that these seemingly incongruous works, by the time your collection is mature, will provide depth and breadth.

The trick is knowing where to look. Plenty of great paintings, prints, and other pieces are out there! Art sales once revolved mainly around high-profile auctions and blue-chip gallery sales (many of which have been shrouded in secrecy and price manipulation). It can be helpful in your search if you can get to know several good gallerists who represent the artists you are trying to collect. Many galleries are prepared to negotiate terms of a sale, even agreeing to payment in installments.

Online sources of art for sale, however, are far more numerous! The website architecturaldigest.com recommends several sites for finding affordable art online: Artfinder (200,000+ pieces of original art signed by the artist), Saatchi Art (original works, including sculpture, also prints), Minted (art from independent makers/emerging artists worldwide), Tappan Collective (various emerging artists), 20X200 (provide documentation about each work and write-ups of  new artists), also AHA, Paper Collective, Society 6, Lumas. And in addition, you could search on Google to find your style of art or to locate individual artists with work for sale. Search Facebook, Ebay, even Amazon.

In summary, trust your instincts in collecting art. Choose what you are immediately drawn to – art is personal! It’s okay to mix different styles or mediums, adding photos to original paintings or prints. Don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid to be different from everyone else. Feel free to do some research and learn more about what interests you. As you study, you will become more confident. The more you know about artists and their backgrounds, the more connected you’ll feel to their art. Consider purchasing art from someone whose interests and values align with yours. Have fun!

Help! I Don’t Know What Art Supplies To Buy!

So many different watercolor art supplies are available that choosing supplies can be overwhelming when a student is just starting out. So much to choose from! Some artists suggest that you need to buy this brand and never that one.  Some teachers hand out a materials list with 25 different brushes, 30 other pieces of equipment, and dozens of paint colors. Nobody seems to agree. And the costs can be astronomical! What can you do?

First, be assured that you DON’T have to buy everything at once.

Second, however, don’t buy inferior equipment, whether brushes, paper, or paint, to try to save money! You need the right tools to have success in your painting. If you buy the cheapest brush you can find, for instance, because you don’t know whether you’ll like watercolor, I guarantee you will struggle with painting. Even an experienced artist will have trouble painting well with a cheap brush. It is so much easier to paint with the right tools for the job! Therefore, instead of buying lots of inexpensive materials, buy FEWER items that are BETTER quality. (You need not buy the most expensive equipment, either, as you can work up to the best quality as you go along.)

But how do you know what is ‘good’ quality? You probably can’t afford to try everything or experiment.

Below are my suggestions. I offer the ‘Bare Bones’ and ‘Extras.’ The lists are not written in stone; often I will tell you several good choices  you can try. It’s fine to pick and choose – if you try something and it doesn’t work for you, try another option. After all, your goal is to make watercolors work for you. Don’t, however, give up prematurely or without giving yourself the chance to practice with these materials.

But wait! Where do you find art supplies to buy? While you can pick up some materials at local art supply stores, I LOVE to buy my supplies online! The variety offered is amazing! My favorite site is jerrysartarama.com.  Order online, or call in an order if you prefer (800-827-8478). Other excellent online sources include dickblick.com or cheapjoes.com, and sometimes amazon.com; the different sources often carry a slightly different selection of items, although there is a lot of overlap. (Hint: If you think you might like to continue buying art supplies, make sure to sign up to receive emails from the first three – they offer REGULAR sales!)

‘BARE BONES’:

Paint and palette – The easiest and quickest option is a travel palette already filled with pans of paint. (I would recommend a Winsor-Newton Sketcher’s Pocket Box with 14 half pans for $12.98 fulfilled by Amazon from Supplier Central, or $16.97 from amazon.com.)                                               You can buy palette and paint separately also. The John Pike palette is a great option – it is very sturdy and has a cover, in case you want to paint outdoors or take your supplies to a class or workshop! (It is available from all of the above-mentioned online art suppliers. Today at jerrysartarama.com the price is $15.48; Amazon’s price is $37.20.)                                                                                                                          Paint in tubes to fill your palette could be limited to five colors to start out, especially if you are willing to begin learning the fun of mixing your own colors. You DO NOT ever need any white or black! As you progress, you can add more varied colors. (Available from jerrysartarama.com in 5ml. tubes, I recommend either Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Hansa Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow, Payne’s Gray, and Quinacridone Pink costing $32.71, OR Winsor-Newton Professional Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow Deep, Payne’s Gray, and Permanent Rose costing $32.23.)

Brushes – You don’t need to purchase a lot of brushes. Start with these four brushes: size #4 and #10 Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7020 Ultra-round brushes ($5.69 and $8.89, respectively, at jerrysartarama.com). Also purchase a 1″ Flat Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7550 wash brush ($11.79 at jerrysartarama.com). Finally, round out your first brush collection with a Creative Mark Original Scrubber #6 (today for $2.59 at jerrysartarama.com).

Brush easel – If you can afford it, get a brush easel to protect your investment in brushes. I like the Creative Mark Folding Long Handle Brush Easel (today $5.24 at jerrysartarama.com, usually $8.49).

Watercolor paper – Paper could be one of your more expensive purchases. But remember not to buy inferior quality! If you do, you invite unnecessary frustration in your painting and dissatisfaction with your final product. For my classes, I ALWAYS use Arches 300 lb. Bright White Rough watercolor paper, which is sturdy enough NOT to buckle when wet and can withstand rough scrubbing and lifting without damage. (Arches 300lb. paper costs $64.51 for 5 sheets – or $3.23 for each 11X14″ picture – on jerrysartarama.com.)                                                                Yet another good paper option would be an Arches Bright White Rough 140 lb. Block of 20 sheets. 140 lb. paper is thinner and less sturdy than 300 lb., but since it is a block, the sheets are held together until you separate them after painting, so they do not buckle. (Cost would be $37.25 for a 20-sheet 140 lb. Arches Bright White Rough watercolor block sized 11X14″ at jerrysartarama.com. – or $1.87 for each 11X14″ picture.)

You will also need a pencil (#2 or 2H) for sketching lightly before painting. Along the same lines, get a good eraser that will not scratch your paper (e.g., Factis ES20 Artists’ eraser at jerrysartarama.com for $.89). You may already have similar items.

Some type of water container is a must, but you needn’t buy one unless you want to. Use a jam jar or any plastic container you have on hand.

You also need paper towels, tissues, or rags to use when blotting extra paint or wetness.

To start with, these ‘Bare Bones’ supplies would cost you about $80, or a bit more depending on which choices you decide on.

‘EXTRAS’:

The first extra I would recommend is masking fluid, used to preserve whites before you paint or to protect a painted area when adding darker color. I use Pebeo brand Drawing Gum ($6.85 for 45 ml. on jerrysartarama.com). You could also purchase Winsor-Newton Masking Fluid ($9.47 for 75 ml. on dickblick.com). When you use masking fluid, do not leave it on your watercolor paper for more than a couple of weeks. As time goes by, it gets harder to remove; eventually it will not leave the paper without damaging it.

Clear Scotch tape #810 (not original Scotch tape) is also a very effective way to mask or protect a portion of your watercolor painting. It should be applied when your paper is dry and can be burnished to prevent any paint from leaking under the tape. It can be carefully cut to the desired shape with an X-acto knife. Remove with a palette knife.

To lift off your dried masking fluid, you will need a mask pick-up, also called a rubber cement pick-up ($1.99 at jerrysartarama.com).

To apply the masking fluid to your watercolor paper, DO NOT use a brush. Even if you apply soap to your brush beforehand as some recommend, your brush becomes ruined; the mask dries on your brush, and you end up with globs of mask and little control in applying the masking fluid to paper. What a mess! Instead, apply your masking fluid with a ruling pen, which is easily cleaned. A ruling pen is available on jerrysartarama.com for $9.89, or try to find an Alvin 5.5″ #959 ruling pen. Ebay is an excellent place to find a vintage or new ruling pen. (Some of the best ruling pens were made in Germany.)

A Creative Mark Painter’s Edge 15T palette knife from jerrysartarama.com ($2.49 today, usual price $4.49) has many uses.

A cork-backed ruler is an aid to your sketching and, with the cork back, is elevated slightly off your paper to prevent smears and smudges from paint or ink. A 12″ stainless cork-backed ruler is available on jerrysartarama.com for $4.99. On amazon.com a 6″ metal cork-backed ruler costs $4.37.

Spray bottles come in handy to soften paint in your palette or moisten watercolor paper. Small spray bottles can be found in the travel sections in drug stores. At jerysartarama.com a Holbein spray bottle sells for $2.49. One of the best sprayers I have found, however, is an empty Windex bottle.

An X-acto knife (with cover, or retractable) is a desirable tool for use in watercolor painting. The cheaper #1 X-acto version with cover can be found on jerrysartarama.com for $3.64. My favorite  version is the retractable X-acto #9, available from dickbkick.com for $12.68.

At some point, you will want to have a bag to help you organize your materials. I like a large carrying bag to corral everything, including my palette, AND a pencil box to keep my smaller items (pencil, eraser, tape, masking fluid, mask pick-up, 6″ ruler, X-acto, etc.) within easy reach. I got my pencil box at Walmart for $.99. You could use any large tote bag that you already have or get a bag that is designed to hold ALL your equipment and keep your John Pike (or similar sized) covered palette upright to avoid messy spills, such as the Pittman Field Bag (14X18X11″). Get the Pittman bag at jerrysartarama.com today for $19.99, or from amazon.com for $40.96.

Finally, I recommend getting yourself a simple, sturdy portfolio for storage or transport of your art or watercolor paper. Amazon.com carries a weather-resistant Prestige portfolio (23X31X1.5″) for $33.22. An similar alternative, with shoulder strap, is available on jerrysartarama.com – ArtOne portfolio (23X31X1″) for $46.19.

While there are many other FUN tools, like sponges, toothbrushes, combs, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, erasing shields, metal screens, canned air, watercolor mediums, etc., the above-mentioned items are a wonderful place to start your watercolor adventures! Remember to start slowly and enjoy the process.

What I wish I’d known when I began to learn watercolor painting!

Some painting teachers start students at the beginning and show them how to mix a paint puddle and how to paint a simple flat wash. Other teachers show how to do all the techniques without explaining anything. Still other teachers just set up a still life and leave students on their own, not even knowing what questions to ask. As a student, I have known ALL of these types of teachers. And I have to say, I have learned a number of things on my own that I truly wish I had been taught earlier in my painting adventures. I would like to share some of these tips with you here, in the hopes that you find them helpful.

1. Watercolor painting almost always involves layers of paint. When I began to learn, I assumed as a painter you put down everything at once, and if you didn’t get it right, you were in trouble. Not true. Often, in watercolor, painters will put down a layer of color, let it dry, and apply another layer or partial layer of color. Gradually they build up part after part of the painting, for example, varying shades of color to add interest or emphasis. Shadows would be added to a painting in this way. It is important to let layers DRY before applying the next layer – this new layer over the dry layer would be one example of glazing.

2. With watercolor, you usually paint from light to dark, leaving the white of the paper as the lightest light.That means you really have to plan ahead – you need a very clear idea in advance where those light areas will be so you can either paint around them, tape, or mask (with masking fluid) over these areas to preserve them. It does not work very well to make up a picture as you go along or to change your mind in the midst of a painting (unless your intention is to create an abstract or a picture with little realism).

3. You can fix almost any mistake in watercolor! If paint is still wet when you notice a mistake, simply blot it up with a paper towel or tissue. If paint has dried, you can carefully re-wet and with a damp “scrubber” brush gently tickle the area and blot straight up and down (never rub or you will damage your paper) with a paper towel to lift the mistake. If paint has begun to dry (it’s damp), then letting it finish drying is best before proceeding to correct a mistake (in order to avoid creating “cauliflowers” or blooms).  Another correction technique that can dramatically change an area of your painting is applying another wash of color to your picture.

4. Always try to mix A LOT more of the desired color of paint than you think you need. I would encourage you to double or triple the amount that you think you need. Don’t be stingy!! There’s nothing good that happens when you need to stop in the middle of a wash to try to mix more paint of a similar concentration or color.

5. Always have “test” paper at hand to try out your mixed color and the technique you plan to use on your painting BEFORE you apply it to your painting. The color may look perfect on your palette but may look quite different when applied to watercolor paper. It’s better to check BEFORE a mistake happens.

6. There are several ways to add color to your painting – each technique creates a different effect. You can     A. Mix two colors (sometimes more) on your palette before you  paint,     B. Mix on the paper or charge one color into another on the paper itself, or     C. Glaze a second layer of color (or more) over thoroughly dried watercolor paint.

7. When mixing colors on your palette:                                                                         If you intend to mix a LIGHT color, it is quicker and easier to begin by putting some water on your palette first, then gradually adding pigment to it until you reach the desired color.                                           If, however, you wish to mix a DARK color, dip into your pigment first, only adding enough water to make your puddle of paint the desired consistency.

8. Many beginning watercolor students have quite a bit of trouble understanding how to judge wetness and its effects in watercolor painting. While experience helps you to learn how to control wetness,  even experienced painters need to follow the laws of physics. If painters try to fight the law of hydrodynamics and force the water to do their bidding, they will struggle! This rule is fairly straightforward, but it is not to be ignored. Simply put, greater wetness ALWAYS flows into lesser wetness. Use this knowledge, and you become a more successful painter. Use this knowledge, and your skies will be fluid and smooth, you will avoid “cauliflowers” or blooms, and your washes and glazes will not have hard edges.

9. Some paint pigments stain your paper. Mistakes made using staining colors are NOT easily corrected or lifted off. Staining colors are often transparent, bright and strong, so they are very useful. It is probably best to take the time to learn which of the colors on your palette are staining and which are not, so that you know what the characteristics of your colors are. Common staining colors include permanent alizarin crimson, permanent rose, phthalo blue or winsor blue, phthalo green or winsor green, winsor orange, quinacridone gold, winsor red or pyrrol red, Indian yellow, and gamboge hue.

10. If an edge in a painting is sharp or well-defined, it is called a HARD edge; it attracts the eye, which will follow along its length. If an edge is fuzzy or indistinct, it is a SOFT edge; a viewer’s eye is not drawn to a soft edge. Painters tend to use hard-edged details for the center of interest in a painting – painters do NOT want detail in every part of their picture. Thus, knowing how to create soft edges when you paint is invaluable! I use this technique in almost every watercolor that I paint. The technique is called “softening an edge” or pulling out or fading out color. When softening an edge, you are not actually moving any paint. You are using water to encourage the paint to move on its own. Painters try to put just the right amount of wetness (not too much or too little) in the right spot at the right time to allow the paint to ‘sigh’ into the wetness. This approach works best if the paint area is very wet (just painted) and the brush is less wet (just damp). With the clean damp brush, try to lay a line of dampness down just barely touching the edge of the paint. Don’t go too far into the paint, or your brush will act like a sponge, soaking up and spreading the paint around – not your intention. You want to produce a smooth, graded effect – so instead, with a clean damp brush make additional damp strokes farther and farther from your initial stroke. The dampness makes a path for the paint to soften into.

11. Watercolor paint needs water in order to flow – paint will not move without the water. You can use this knowledge when painting to stop the flow of paint on your paper. In other words, dry paper creates a dam where paint stops moving (and simultaneously forms a hard edge). If you pre-wet part of your paper then apply paint to the wet area, the color will stop flowing as soon as it touches the dry paper.

12. The most realistic and interesting watercolors are not taken directly from a tube or pan! They are MIXED from a combination of other colors! Don’t try to buy every color you think you need! Many beginning painters don’t want to bother learning how to mix colors themselves. They prefer to buy already mixed colors because they don’t know where to begin to create different colors or why they should bother. That’s okay in the beginning, but as painters become more experienced, they notice how hard it is to find a tube of green paint that is not gaudy or is the right shade for their grass or tree. They start to notice how a black straight out of the tube is dead, flat, and lifeless. They come to understand that since everyone’s skin is a different color, they can’t use the same flesh tone for every person they paint. In the end, they also realize that making combinations of colors is FUN!

“I’ve always wanted to paint watercolors but don’t have the talent.”

While watercolor painting has a reputation for being unforgiving and difficult, I believe anyone can learn to paint using watercolors. It’s NOT a matter of having some inborn “talent.” Painting well is a skill that is learned step by step, and it must be pursued with attention and effort. Skills improve naturally with practice. It takes time, and, yes, you may struggle in the beginning and be unsatisfied with your first attempts. However, keep practicing, and at some point, all that you have been learning will come together into a gorgeous painting.

I find that the attitude of each of my watercolor students makes a huge difference in their success in class. Students who become successful painters begin with a more open attitude. They try to relax, are willing to try new techniques, and accept that they have a lot to learn. These students understand that they are beginners. They don’t expect themselves to be perfect. In fact, they expect that they will make mistakes, that mistakes are inevitable. They are much more likely to ask, “What can I learn here today?” than state, “This picture is awful.” They keep trying, ask questions, and do not give up. No matter what, they keep painting. They understand that the more they paint, the better they will get. Successful learners are willing to try, take a chance, and not take themselves too seriously.

Believe me, nobody starts off as an expert; everyone begins as a learner. I can still remember one of the first paintings that I did on my own. I set up a still life that included a pair of old work gloves arranged on an antique redware milk pan. I had high hopes. I mixed my colors, and they were spot-on, but when I was finished and stepped back, what I saw looked like dead bananas on a huge pretzel bun! Very frustrating and disappointing! But, after all, it was not the end of the world.

What do new students tend to get impatient with? Many difficulties arise involving students’ ability to judge and control the amount of water used in mixing paint or applying paint to their pictures. Even executing a smooth and even flat wash can be tricky. Softening or fading an edge well can also be challenging. Understanding how to avoid blossoms or cauliflowers also depends on controlling wetness.

Further, beginning painters often are disappointed when their paintings don’t look exactly like their reference photo or the objects that they have painted. But keep in mind: we don’t want a photograph! Painters with some experience strive to create an impression to express how they feel about their chosen subject. They simplify, often eliminating some details while focusing on what they feel are the salient ones. They may emphasize lighting or specific colors or soften some edges to help focus a viewer’s attention on what they wish to have noticed in their picture.

I always encourage students to use quality materials when they paint, as doing so makes success much easier to achieve. While many teachers recommend starting with student-grade materials, I think that is a mistake. Don’t buy the cheapest brushes, paper, or paint to try to save money. You will instead frustrate yourself. (Look for my post about what materials a beginner should look for.)  On the other hand, just because materials are the most expensive does not necessarily mean they are the best.

Becoming a skillful watercolor painter does not happen overnight. When students make learning to paint a priority, they commit themselves to the effort even when it seems that for every two steps ahead, they take one step backwards. They organize their lives to meet their goal of becoming skilled painters. They try to stop making excuses not to go to class or not to do the painting. They may at times feel unsure or afraid or discouraged, but they are determined to keep going. They promise themselves to finish what they start! And as time goes on, these painters produce better and better pictures. Their work becomes consistently amazing!

I really do believe anyone who has desire and the willingness to put in the necessary practice can learn to paint well. Give it a try! You can do it – one step at a time. Take a watercolor class, and you’ll get support and help all the way, AND you’ll have fun doing it. If you want to learn to paint, you can!