Interview with Kate Wade
Sketching In the Field
News for August
The Truth is Ugly
Watercolor WashesAsk an Artist
by Annie Rodrigue
This month, the lovely Ellen Million threw a question at me! She asked me how I did my watercolour washes so that they are even. Here are a few tips that might help you all with this particular technique.
It really starts with the paper. Iíve noticed that the paper quality can certainly be one of the reasons why you cannot get a nice wash. The thickness of the paper in particular will make a great deal of difference. Most watercolour paper comes in 3 different thicknesses: 90lbs, 140lbs and 300lbs. The most commonly used one is probably 140lbs, because itís affordable and takes the water pretty well. Iíve used that one in particular for years until I got annoyed. 140lbs is great, but it still wrinkles quite a lot. And the wrinkles are what will drive you crazy when you do washes. If the paper wrinkles, the water and watercolour will follow those wrinkles. Paint will build up at the bottom of the wrinkles.
And whatís the most annoying is that paper will wrinkle more if you put a lot of water, but you NEED a lot of water to do the washes! I was never a fan of stretching the paper, because when I tried it out, it didnít work all that well. So what will really do the trick?
The solution I have found was 300lbs paper. It is pricey: The Fabriano Artistico brand will go for something around 10$ a sheet and Arches will go for about 25$ a sheet. But you get a large 30x40 inches sheet, so if you work in small formats, you can do more than one painting with a single sheet. Whatís wonderful with 300lbs is that it might rise a little with water, but it will never wrinkle. (At least, it hasnít happened to me yet!) And so, you can really do large washes and not worry about the paint running around and drying unevenly.
The second key element for washes is water! I dilute my paint quite a lot at first. I want to start light and build up my wash. No use trying to do it in one shot, you can get the same colour out of many washes. So take your time, start light and build it up. This will also allow you to do nice gradients or even build your base wash with more than one colour. But it also allows you to keep control over your wash. You can see right away if something is wrong and correct it with the next layer of paint.
I especially like working that way if have a nice multicoloured sky gradient to do or when I want to create a glow. A glow will work the same way, you want to start light and build your gradient in a particular shape.
Here is an example of how I would do a gradient wash. It was done in 4 layers:
Another reason water is so important is for brush strokes. If you do not have enough water on your brush, chances are it will leave unwanted marks on your painting. To prevent this, you need to make sure your brush is loaded with enough water. Itís a bit hard to explain, but you can see while you are painting when you are close to being out of water. Before that happens, you have to quickly load your brush again and pick up where you left, before the paint dries on the paper. As long as the paint is wet on the paper, you can drag it around and it will do an even wash.
Drying is the last key element of washes. You want to make sure that each layer dries completely before starting the next one. Continuing without waiting will completely spoil your wash. Iíve found this especially true with blue paint. Watercolour lifts fairly easily when you put water on it. And this is even more true with paint that is not completely dry! I can hear all you impatient artists saying: ďBut I have a hard time waiting! This takes so much time!Ē It does. Itís true. But there is no trick around this - other than maybe using a fan or a hairdryer to help. Watercolour is often about patience more than it is about painting! Some watercolour artists will work their way around this by working different details at the same time: one at the top of the canvas, one at the bottom. If you have multiple washes to do, as long as they donít touch each other, you can skip from one to the other to save waiting time. If itís one big wash, you will have to wait every time.
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