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beginner/basics

Part 1: The Basics of by

Watercolor Paints Christopher Willard

Knowing how watercolor paints are classified and


how the colors appear on paper and differ among
manufacturers is the critical first step for any
watercolor artist. Here’s what you need to know.

S
ome arrive at class with a set of prepackaged
watercolors provided by a paint manufacturer,” she
observes. “Others may hold a list provided by an
instructor, but they have no idea why certain colors are
included.” Still others, some teachers report, ask for the
names of the reddest red, the bluest blue, and the yel-
lowest yellow, with the goal of buying the fewest paints
possible. These newcomers to watercolor assume that
by adding black to three good primaries they can obtain
a full range of color—just like their color printers. Although
in theory this may make sense, in reality it can only lead
to disappointment and frustration. Here, Dressel explains
what every artist should know about watercolor paints.

O pa q u e , T r a n s pa r e n t, G r a n u l at i n g
Watercolor paints vary widely in their formulations, so it’s
important to experiment with different brands to find the
paints you prefer. Manufacturers generally classify the
paints as either transparent or opaque. Transparent paints
are created by mixing pigment with a transparent binder
and a wetting agent. When applied to paper, much of the
reflective white surface shines through. Opaque paints, on
the other hand, dry to various degrees of opacity because
of the addition of chalk. Some pigments, such as certain
earth colors, leave particles behind on the painting sur-
face and are therefore referred to as granulating pigments.
Although most of Dressel’s palette consists of transparent
paints, she notes the importance of having a few opaque
earth tones on the palette: “I sometimes play translucent

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beginner/basics

Four Steps to a by

Glowing Watercolor Barbara Fox

Following a four-step application of color washes, I


capture the glow of light, the richness of color, and
the realistic detail of my subjects.

I
paint watercolors very realistically, with an emphasis
on color and contrast, almost to an extreme. In fact,
many of my paintings are more about color and light
than they are about specific subjects. I arrived at this sys-
tem of painting after years of observation, reading, and
painting, and now I want to share my system with others.

A Q u i c k Loo k a t t h e St e p s
The four steps of my process can be summarized as follows:

Step 1. Glow. I lightly draw the major outlines of my subject


on watercolor paper with graphite and apply a light wet-
Opposite (detail) and above: in-wet wash of warm and cool colors over the entire stark
Five Macs in a Row, 2004, watercolor, 6 x 18. white sheet so it has a flow of light pigment.
Collection the artist.

Step 2. Base. After the glow is dry, I lay in flat, graded, and
wet-in-wet washes of color to establish a general descrip-
tion of the image.

Step 3. Contrast. I build up from two to five layers of a more


extensive palette of colors to create a sense of depth in the
values, and gradually build up contrast until the painting is
Below:
A homemade gray scale created by painting successively nearly complete.
darker squares and punching holes in the middle of each
square. I hold this up to a painting so that I can see the
painted color through the hole and am able to judge the
relative value. That’s especially helpful when gauging the
contrast between light and shadow.

5
Subjects will be more interesting to paint if they
are familiar places, prized possessions, or close friends.
Methods

The Constant Challenge by

of Watercolor M. Stephen Doherty

Sheila Stilin maintains an enthusiasm for watercolor by


exploring different techniques and subjects with each
new painting.

T
he joy Sheila Stilin experiences in creating water-
colors can be easily understood by anyone who
has given serious, hands-on time to the medium.
There is something exciting about using simple yet potent
materials to respond to what we see and feel, compose a
two-dimensional representation of the world, or explore a
set of ideas and expressions. Stilin has spent years explor-
ing the medium that demands only a brush, a few tubes
of paint, and a sheet of paper, yet presents continual chal-
lenges to the artist.

It is that constant exploration of new opportunities that


keeps Stilin excited about watercolor. While she is in the
midst of painting a picture, she tries new materials and
techniques, searches for innovative ways of handling a
Above: familiar subject, or simply works toward a higher standard of
Glass Apple 1, 2001, watercolor, 14 x 17. excellence. And once one painting is completed, she feels
Collection the artist.
a rush of new ideas that suggest a direction for her next
watercolor.

“At first, I thought I just didn’t have enough experience to


feel completely confident about everything I did in water-
color,” Stilin states. “Then I talked to other artists and discov-
ered that everyone is trying to learn and grow beyond their
current level of skill and understanding. Indeed, that sense
of wanting to get better and to explore new styles and sub-
jects is what keeps most watercolorists
motivated.”

Opposite:
Collectibles, 2003, watercolor, 11 x 16.
Collection the artist.

7
contents Brush up on your
Beginner/Basics:
Watercolor work!
A
• The Basics of Watercolor Paints
•T  hree Key Elements of a merican Artist Guide to Watercolors offers you a diverse group
Successful Painting: Focal Point, of masters sharing techniques, tips, and tricks for composing
Composition & Depth beautiful watercolor paintings.
• Four Steps to a Glowing
Watercolor
• 10 Tools for Better Watercolors You’ll discover the fundamentals of watercolors, including choosing paints,
• The New Face of Watercolor colors, and paper, as well as detailed information on the application of
color theory in the medium. American Artist Guide to Watercolor Painting
Methods:
also explores the techniques for good composition, capturing the glow
• The Constant Challenge of of light, and choosing the right surface. Top artists-instructors, such
Watercolor
• Methods & Materials: Innovative as Christopher Williard, Chatherine Hillis, and Nancy Collins, guide you
Watercolor Additives & through the process of envisioning and creating a painting from beginning
Techniques to end to achieve the desired effect.
• The Watercolor Page

American Artist magazine has been a widely read and well-respected


Subject Matter Techniques:
resource for over 70 years; an essential tool for artists, both professional
• Experience with Experimentation
•P  ainting the Impressionist
and beginner. Every issue is filled with step-by-step demonstrations,
Still Life technical Q&A, in-depth artist profiles, and more.
• Mature Models

Expert Advice:
• How to Create Your Best
Paintings Ever
• Achieving Optimal Effects
• Using Gum Arabic for Additional
Control

Paperback, 8½ x 10¼, 128 pages


ISBN 978-1-59668-269-6, $24.95
Available October 2010