All About Watercolour
What is watercolour?
Watercolour is an form of paint that is created using a combination of dry pigments and a water-soluble binder, which is traditionally called gum arabic. It can also be made using honey as a binder. The pigment and binder are mixed together by grinding the pigment into the liquid base until it is fully emulsified and smooth.
If you've been looking to take on a new challenge, well, you're in luck! Wallack's carries some of the very best brands of watercolour at a wide range of prices. That way, you can grab a few colours, a pad of paper and a brush to get started!
You can find these highly-pigmented paints in a liquid form, which will be contained in a small tube, but it can also be found pre-dried, which are simply just dried watercolour that are set in pans or palettes.
Student level vs Artist level
Like most paints, watercolour can be mostly categorized into two quality levels. Student-level watercolours are made using a combination of pigments and a lower-quality binder, but they are less expensive and an excellent choice for beginners or those looking to explore a new medium.
Artist-level watercolours are a high-quality, highly pigmented paint that is often made with single pigments and a refined binder. These paints are extremely vibrant and it is only required to use a very small amount to complete a work.
The price of watercolours can vary quite a bit. They typically range from around $5-$17 per tube. Though it can be a big investment to start collecting watercolours, if used appropriately, then only a very small amount of paint is needed to create impactful works, and therefore a small tube of paint can last for years!
When deciding which watercolours to choose, we just suggest to get the best you can afford, and to start a small collection or to buy a set. You can gradually add more colours as you learn new skills. It's important to know that you can freely mix between brands and quality levels as well!
Beginner watercolour artists are usually not away that watercolour paint can also be reactivated with water once it's been dry. That means, if you see your palette is dried up after use, don’t fret! Keep your palette as is and simply add water to reactivate the paints again. Using dried versions of watercolour can actually be quite beneficial. When the paint is dried, it allows you to have a lot more control over how much pigment is added to your brush.
The Challenge of Watercolour
If you're looking to roll up your sleeves and really get your artist brain working, watercolour is the perfect way to push your limits and advance your skills. Watercolour can present a unique challenge to work with. With other types of paint, due to their opacity, layers can be applied on top of one another and cover up the previous layer.
There is one basic difference between transparent watercolour and all other heavy painting mediums—its transparency. As an example, an oil painter would apply white as a final layer as a highlight on top of other layers of colour, whereas a watercolour artist would leave the white of the paper as the highlight and work around those areas to apply colours in transparent layers. If a particularly dark area is needed, then you can add paint straight from the tube to achieve a super-pigmented and saturated area. Otherwise, a diluted version of paint can cover large areas of the surface with ease.
When artists first learn how to paint watercolor art, the fluidity of the medium is often challenging because it makes the paint quite unpredictable. Trained watercolor artists know how to control the fluidity and have a mix of haphazardness in their work. It's these effects that truly lend to the beauty and unique look of a watercolour painting.
To achieve the maximum effect of watercolour paints, it’s best to use them on watercolour paper. This type of paper is usually made from a high concentration of cotton and sizing and is pressed into sheets of varying textures and thicknesses. Sizing is a medium that is added to the cotton sheets to aid the paper in absorbing moisture evenly, and allows the pigment to sit up on the surface where it refracts color more brightly, instead of soaking in and giving a “dull” appearance. The color then can easily be reworked due to the accessibility of the pigment remaining on the surface.
There are two main ways of making watercolour papers. When a sheet of watercolour paper is created, it is pressed and condensed. When a hot press is applied, the paper will come out extremely smooth with very little “Toothiness” or texture to it. Conversely, when a cold press is used, the paper will have more texture and grit on the surface that allows the paint to pool and collect in unique ways. Most artists will prefer to use a cold press paper as it is seen as more organic and traditional in the watercolour world. The raised texture allows the liquified paint to settle into the crevasses and will ultimately leave a beautiful and organic pattern when the paint is dry. However, hot press paper is gaining popularity recently with the size of artists experimenting with animation-style painting that requires precise lines.
A lot of water is used to create watercolour paintings. When water is added to any type of paper, it is absorbed into the paper and will cause the paper to warp. Depending on the quality of the paper, the warping can be minimal or quite dramatic. Regardless, some artists will mount their paper onto a board to prevent it from warping too much.
Blocks vs pads vs sheets
Alternatively, you can buy watercolour paper that comes in the form of a “block” which is mounted on all sides. After the work is completed and dry, you cut the paper away from the remaining block using a precision knife.
Watercolour paper also comes in the form of pads as well. These will just be attached at one side of the paper and can be easily torn away once the work is completed. Pads can be excellent for quick sketches or for working plein-air or on-the-go as you can easily flip between multiple sheets. However, if you’re concerned about bulking in the pages as you work, just keep a roll of masking tape around so that you can fasten the edges to a surface while you work.
There are specific brushes that are ideal to use when working with watercolour paints. Because so much water is required to activate the paints, it’s best to use a brush that can hold a lot of liquid.
The types of brushes that are best for this are real-hair brushes that have a fine bristle that grip onto water. The most traditional brushes are made from sable hair and have naturally occurring micro-ridges that are very efficient at holding onto a lot of water. Alternatively, some technology has come far enough to replicate these bristles in the form of a synthetic brush as well, but it’s important to choose something that is high-quality and truly intended for the use of watercolour, like these options from Princeton. As animal-consciousness has risen in recent years, a lot of artists have been making the switch to synthetic brushes from their traditional real-hair brushes, and the advancement in bristle technology has made this switch a lot easier.
Painting with watercolour can have a steep learning curve and many challenges along the way, but using the right tools and proper technique, you'll be able to open up a creative world of possibility.