This is a bit of a different approach to my usual way of working. I’ll explain. I usually work with large brushes only using small rounds toward the end for detail. I rarely use any sort of masking agent and prefer to control the use of color by carefully dampening some areas of the paper and leaving other areas dry. The wet areas versus the dry areas is very logical since watercolor will not usually bleed into a dry area. A little practice and a LOT of patience plus some compulsion will pull you through!
This particular work has been completed after I have had some major health setbacks. Last summer, I was the victim of a rear end collision. Today I have to walk with the aid of a cane. It limits my mobility and the ability to carry a lot of gear. This piece was done in my backyard after a rainy spell.
In this piece I shifted my approach. Working on a 300lb. Lana cold press sheet (30″ x 22″) I used round brushes to set the under painting stage, large brushes for overall washes; then small Kolinsky rounds for detail. One additional item was maskoid or frisket. A bottle of liquid maskoid will last me for years. In fact they usually dry up before I can use up the bottle. One tip: If you purchase a medium to large bottle, open it up and put a marble inside. Decant a small amount into a tight fitted film can. Work out of the small airtight container. Replenish from the larger container. EVERYDAY when you come into your studio flip the larger container over on its head or base. The marble will help agitate the mixture and keep it fluid. Merely shaking the container with agitate the air in the partially full larger container. The shaking and infusion of air will cause your supply to dry up faster.
My brushes for this painting were :
- #8 Mary Whyte Kolinsky round. (It only comes in a size 8 from Art Express.)
- #4 Winsor & Newton Series 7
- Grumbacher size 20 “Gainsborough” bristle brush
- 1″ flat sable or sable blend brush
- Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon
- M.Graham Indian Yellow
- Holbein Marine Blue
- Holbein Yellow Green
- Winsor & Newton Emerald Green (Blue Shade)
- Winsor & Newton Permanent Sap Green
- Winsor & Newton Manganese Blue Hue
- I prefer a brand called White Mask
- In this case I wound up using a tinted Grumbacher variety
Prior to applying the first wash I made a number of preliminary sketches. I capitalized on a somewhat obscured “X” design in the basic concept. Watch of it as the work progresses. You will note that there are mixtures of Indian Yellow and Marine Blue predominating the page. Note some major leaf shapes, the branch and a few flowers have been left white with only the shadows being delineated.
After the limited under painting was dry I applied the maskoid. The pink areas denote the rubber masking fluid application. I can give you several reasons for not liking maskoid even though I use it once in a while. Primarily I find it blocks spontaneity and inhibits changing directions when “happy” accidents occur. The predominant yellow you see is the M.Graham Indian Yellow….good stuff!
The making on the flowers is straight forward. The masking of the lichens on the limb are another matter. The overall shape of the lichen mass was masked. As several layers of wash was applied I would modify the masking area. It is very simple. I would put down a wash, let it dry. Sometimes the wash was only on the lichens. After it dried I would use my fingers and rub the masked surface randomly disturbing the surface. Then I would apply another wash of another color. The final result is a random selection of colors that help create a natural texture. Experiment with it. It has many applications.
After a lot of time the painting is nearing completion. I love to get lost in the little minute areas of these sorts of studies. The colors blend and swirl over one another. I will elaborate on some of the steps when Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume II is published some time in the future.
Meanwhile Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I is available direct at
Also available at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff and other outlets.
Better said something weird happened to my post. Will fix on March 29. Sorry for any confusion. Half of the post just disappeared. Go figure!
Thankfully it is now resolved. Sorry for any inconvenience.
From time to time we all need to go back to the basics. This is especially true of watercolor. Aside from paper and pigments the brushes we use are of utmost importance. Even more importantly is the manner in which we use our brushes. All brushes speak their own language. You and I just need to learn to observe and/or listen. The best way to do this is via practice. I have photographed a series of brush exercises that I often use with beginning watercolor students. These exercises help me to explain and they help students to see the result.
Basically I will be working with two brushes one is the flat brush. In my photos the brush I used is a 1″ (one inch) flat brush. The round is a size 8 Mary Whyte red sable watercolor brush. Two distinct shapes. MANY different results.
In my paint gear I have a number of rounds of differing size as well as a number of square edged or flat brushes from 1/2″ up to 3 1/2″ wide. Regardless of size the marks or tracks they make are similar.
RULE 1: Often a novice will attempt to make a brush perform a task for which it is ill suited. That is very counter productive and can prove to be most frustrating. Start out playing with your brushes. What kind of marks will each kind of brush make?
RULE 2: Thoughtful play will reveal a number of brush secrets.
Here are some examples:
Sheet 1 shows a few examples of just getting acquainted with the brush.
Now let’s get specific. Look at your flat edged brush. Do you know its potential? It can make large passages of wash as well as fine lines. Very versatile. Look at the palm tree for an example.
2. The palm fronds are developed with a quick movement with the flat or broad edge of the brush. Very simple, yet effective.
3. Broad leaf trees can be developed by using the side of the brush. This gets a little more tricky but with a little practice it will become easy. The secret is to reduce the moisture in the brush and allow the ferrule of the brush to rest or tap onto the paper. The idea is to create a not so perfect shape of the tree you want to emulate. With practice you will be able to create very delicate trees or robust ones. 4. You can use the sweep of the brush to create sparkling effects like sunlight on water or to create larger passages of wash.
…or try creating grass and other textures via dry brush. (Dry brush is a bit of a misnomer, in fact the brush is damp. However, the ratio of water to pigment is different. The brush has more pigment than moisture.)
Round Sable Brushes:
This is probably the best known of all watercolor brushes. It is probably the most abused. I often see students fearfully using a small round brush in an attempt to paint large expanses of wash on paper. That is sort of like trying to dig a ditch with a teaspoon! Not entirely impossible but very nearly so. In the following examples I am going to attempt to break down a typical use of a round brush. Do keep in mind that rounds can be used for dry brushing as well.
FIRST: The finished exercise and then the segments. To many of you the results will be self explanatory.
A simple approach to a simple, yet lovely, subject. The green’s are a mixture of Hooker’s Green and Holbein Leaf Green. Some of the color variation is due to reloading the brush with fresh wash. Remember the round brush is extremely sensitive yet very versatile. This often makes it more frustrating in the beginning.
Let’s Look at the Sequence:
1. First Stroke. Better stated the end of the first stroke. Take a look at the next step to get a better understanding of the sequence.
2. In the beginning the loaded brush is pressed down to begin the broader portion of the leaf. As the brush progresses the pressure on the brush is relaxed and the point of the leaf begins to appear. With very long leaves or grasses and fine limbs it is often a good idea to SLOWLY twirl the handle of the brush between the thumb and the forefinger to get a very fine line. Practice! Practice!
4. Study nature and try to emulate the basic shapes. The examples I have used are very basic with little detail. However, the effects are profound. Oriental Masters have understood the power of the simple brushstroke for centuries. If this concept is new to you pick up a book on Oriental calligraphy. Take note of numbered exercises or brush sequences used in making basic Chinese and Japanese characters. Sumi-e technique will also help open doors for you that will empower your method of expression.
Take time to master these simple techniques. It will be a small investment of your time that will pay huge rewards in your painting results.
Want to know more about watercolor painting techniques? For more examples check out Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I at
Watercolor on site demonstration. 9″ x 12″ on 140lb. cold press. Blue Ridge Farm
There is a lot to be said for painting on location, especially when there is an abundance of magnificent subject matter. Wonderful views can be breath taking but even more importantly one should seek out the subjects that excite YOUR passion. In this series I will be exhibiting on-site watercolors that were done in the Blue Ridge Parkway area in North Carolina.
Blue Ridge Farm
This piece was done fairly quickly and has a spontaneous feeling to it. It was accomplished in under an hour, more like about 40 minutes. While there was no rush, the sunlight and the breeze speeded up the drying time. The palette was simple. I used thalo blue for the sky, Indian yellow and thalo blue for the green and a hint of violet for the distant mountain and the house. The stand of pine trees was added after the paper was dry. The initial wash for the sky was applied over a wet surface, taking care to avoid wetting the house. With a bit of practice you can paint right up to the edge of an area with a great deal of precision. The trick is that the watercolor wash will migrate freely over the dampened area but with care it will not venture onto the dried sheet.
When I use the word care I mean to say it is best to allow the wash to migrate on its own. If you have too much water it may be difficult to keep it from wandering into a dry portion of the paper. With a little practice you can take advantage of the dampened sheet without diluting the color too much.
Materials / Travel Light
I prefer to travel light leaving non-essentials at home. What is essential? Water, watercolor paper, pencils, brushes and paint. For paper I prefer to use a 140lb. coldpress watercolor block because it is convenient. In the studio I often staple my paper to a 5/8″ thick sheet of plywood. I have several that I have sealed with varnish and have been using them for years. Today a lot of my students choose Gator board. Since I still have good plywood boards I see no reason to change. However, this is a matter of preference. In the field the block lightens my load and allows me to work without having to worry about buckled paper. I always find a log , rock or some other support to rest the block without an easel.
I have a beautiful French easel but it is added weight. I started out using one outside but found the weight was a restriction in many of the places I was visiting. Try rappeling down the face of a cliff with a lot of added weight or jumping from rock to rock to get to the right vantage point. I do use an Army surplus ammunition can for my water storage and for a painting bucket. Yes, it is heavy but a good tight, no leak, water source is vital. That is why I suggest that you consider what you REALLY need and what you can do without.
I’m old school. When I paint on-site, I sketch and paint on-site. At times I will take photographs for later reference but my primary focus is the subject I am painting. This is why I believe PASSION is vital. If you are not aching to paint it, why bother? I don’t use Photoshop or other manipulations on photos. To each his own but I prefer to get caught up in a dialogue with the object that has sparked my desire. Later in the studio if I desire to delve deeper I will drag out the photos, if I have any, to take me back to the moment. I like to use photos like a sort of time machine. I hear the sounds, smell the smells and am transported back to the spot.
Mountain Pasture, Blue Ridge
Another simple on-site attempt. The palette is very limited. Indian Yellow, Thalo blue and Winsor Red. I quickly drew in a simple horizon line and roughly positioned the buildings before dampening the sky down to the horizon line taking care to avoid getting any water on the buildings. I took a moment to carefully introduce water around each of the building shapes. This is a critical moment, so be careful. A pale wash of dilute Thalo blue was washed into the sky and allowed to descend to the horizon line. While the paper was barely damp I put in another wash of pale blue with a touch of Indian Yellow to create the distant mountain range. If you consider the edge you can see that some dry areas produced a crisp edge while a couple of damp spots blurred, creating a hazy effect.
A careful examination of the horizon line will reveal a very thin white line. While the sky and distant range was drying completely I took my large 3″ brush and dampened the foreground. I was VERY careful to keep the area above the horizon line from bleeding into the damp foreground. While this is not quite like brain surgery you do want to be careful to keep the two damp areas from intermingling. That way you can prevent an uncontrolled bleed between the two areas from occurring. While the foreground was damp I brushed in a wash of Indian Yellow. I brushed it in a varying degrees of intensity but it was not a totally flat tone wash.
When the yellow was completely dry; a second wash of Thalo blue was washed over the area. After ti was dry a mixture of Thalo blue, Indian Yellow and Winsor Red was applied using a large 3″ flat brush. Some areas were dry brushed.
Once the major tone was set I began to develop the barns with dry brush strokes, using a mixture of Thalo Blue and Winsor Red. The white of the paper was allowed to shine through in critical areas to denote highlights. The darker detail lines, doors, etc. are merely stronger mixtures of Thalo Blue and Winsor Red. You will find it to be a very versatile mix. It can range from pale weathered grey to deep optical black. The cedar tree is dry brush Thalo Blue ans Winsor red as well.
North on the Blue Ridge Trail
A beautiful vista. I think the thing that really captured my attention was the sense of freedom. It was almost like one could just fly off toward the horizon. The wind was blowing gently with an occasional gust moving the grasses around in circular patterns. The distant haze of the mountains added to the power of the view. The palette is identical to the last painting, only the proportions are changed.
As you look you can see that almost the entire sheet was flooded with varying degrees of Indian Yellow. Once again the basic shape of the house and barn were avoided with the initial water wash. The entire sheet , except for the two buildings, was dampened. The yellow was not introduced into the sky. Look closely and you can see the effect. Due to the weather, the wash dried rapidly. After it was dry another clear water wash was applied down to the horizon line. Once again the buildings were avoided and left dry. A wash of Thalo blue was applied creating a misty effect. As the paper neared drying the darker portion of blue mountain on the right was put in.
A very pale wash of Indian Yellow was washed over the entire foreground that had just been dampened with clear water. Once the area was dry a pale wash of Thalo Blue was flooded over the same area creating a delicate green. As the large expanse began to dry I washed in a dry brush mode several washes of Thalo Blue, a bit of Indian Yellow and Winsor Red to create the shadow areas. The darker trees are Thalo Blue.
The language of the brush and a painting that was started outdoors and finished in the studio.
For more tips on watercolor technique you can purchase Don Rankin’s revised, updated edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I . Purchase direct at www.createspace.com/3657628
Watercolor; a great choice for plein aire
Perhaps no medium is more adaptable to outdoor on-site painting than watercolor. It is quick drying, very light, versatile and easy to carry. Many years ago I developed a travel pack that takes up very little room while offering me a great deal of flexibility in the tools and paints I can carry. I became accustomed to trekking into wilderness locations. Anyone who has enjoyed back packing knows that your gear can become very heavy. While french easels and the like are great, try carrying one along with your other necessities over rugged terrain. It won’t take long before you decide it is not worth it. My gear is very simple and light weight.
The travel pack consists of a clear plastic container that measures about 5″ x 9″ x 1.25″. It has a snap lid and will float and has a built in bracket where you can attach a lanyard if you like. The sketchbook is a 9″ x 12″ American Journey sketchbook. As for an easel or painting surface, I make use of what I can find in the wild. I may use my lap, a rock or log or the gunwale of the canoe; whatever works.
Make sure you have some sort of water container. Years ago I would carry an Army surplus ammo can. However, if you carry it full of water it can be rather heavy. The most important thing is to make sure that you are using a reliable water source. Contaminated water can adversely affect your painting. You can filter drinking water or take a little from your canteen. In the sketches I will display I took my water directly out of the lakes.
Boundary Waters Trek
These days one would wisely think twice about drinking directly from a lake or stream. Years ago I had the joy of canoeing the Boundary Waters just northeast of Ely, Minnesota. We canoed from there up into Canada. The following sketches chronicle some of the moments of that trip. These are watercolor sketches that were produced during my down time between paddling sessions. Most of them are quick pieces that I completed while “deadheading”, that is sitting in the middle of the canoe while my partners paddled. There was a small cup tied to a lanyard. That was our drinking cup. We would drink directly from the lake when we were not near beaver dams. We were in an area where no internal combustion engines were allowed and the water was clean.
Imagine , if you will, reclining in a canoe in late summer in the north woods completely out of range of any telephone, TV or radio. Nothing but you, the dark water, billions of stars and a magnificent display of northern lights. Sadly, my sketch doesn’t even begin to approach the beauty of the moment. However, this simple sketch does help me to recall the experience. Will I ever be able to do it justice? We shall see.
Imagine acres of ripe blueberries. For me it was like heaven since I dearly love blueberries. One caution, the bears love them too. You have to be very respectful and mindful of your furry neighbors if you decided to feast.
A fleeting scene of the landscape as we made our way toward Le Grande Portage and into Canada.
Le Grande Portage
The lakes are interconnected. When one lake ends you get out and carry your canoe overland to the next lake. At times the lakes are at a much higher elevation. In this case were were jumping from boulder to boulder on our way into Canada. I had the privilege of scaling a cliff with a canoe. It really helped me get in touch with my ancestors who used this path on a regular basis.
In the Mist
A wonderful way to paint wet into wet is in the rain. Never say never. Finally the mist gave way to full rain and I had to close my gear.
At times I find painters who are reluctant to show some of their sketchbooks. I do this because I have students who are often confused about plein aire work and why it is important. I think it is important for many reasons. It helps sharpen our observation skills. Working on the spot is an never ending challenge. It is also a wonderful lesson in humility. We win some, we lose some. We keep on trying.
These are quick fleeting sketches. By no means do they approach a finished state. Yet, in their simplicity I wanted to use my brush to capture moments for me. The world may not hold them in high regard but this is a part of my working method. I’m not sure why but there are times when I will mull over sketches for years before I paint the subject. No explanation for it. It is just my way. Perhaps that way I filter out the unnecessary. When I come back and do the final pieces I’ll get more involved.
Too often students and the general public will think of the glazing technique as a long boring labor intensive chore. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Glazing can be what you want or need it to be. Get out in your own neighborhood, select a spot and paint. Try to focus your attention on a simple subject and don’t try to paint the entire world in one sitting. Focus, focus. Be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to dive in. Good Painting!
You may order Don’s book, Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I direct at : www.createspace.com/3657628
Looks Like Snow
Watercolor (22″ x 30″) 300 lb. Lana
Hopefully the color looks very rich and lively as you examine this painting example. Creating vibrant color that is almost as intense when it is dry as when it is wet led me to explore glazing for effect. The real story began with a man by the name of Rex Brandt. Neither he nor I were the first to adopt this approach to watercolor but he planted the seed that enticed me.
As I have stated before glazing doesn’t have to be tedious nor extremely laborious. It can be, if that is what your vision requires or it can have spontaneous effects as well. If you look closely you will see wet ‘n wet techniques coupled with some dry brush and some careful detailing. Each technique is orchestrated to create a special effect for a specific purpose. Once again the main rule is to allow previous washes to be completely dry before the next wash is applied. In this attempt there are no opaque paints, no masking agents; just simple layers of one color over another.
The list of paints used is very basic. The yellows are M.Graham’s, Gamboge, and American Journey, Indian Yellow. The blues are American Journey, Joe’s Blue and Holbein Marine Blue. The reds are American Journey Fire Engine Red and Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon. The portions that appear to be black are an optical black created with almost equal mixtures of the maroon and Joe’s blue. The bottom line is you don’t really need a boat load of colors to get strong effects.
The Foundation, choosing complements
The genesis for this painting was a sort of remembrance. I was in the Cumberland Gap a number of years ago walking the old trail to the Gap with a number of my relatives. The sleet was beginning to sting a bit and the air was cold and crisp making it easy to imagine what it was like for my ancestors as they trekked through this area. The chief was standing gazing at the sky with his blanket folded over his hands and arms. It was a natural. I began the painting with an under painting of red and blue.
At this stage the colors are Holbein Marine Blue, dilute Fire Engine Red and a touch of Perylene Maroon. Reds can be tricky so at this stage they need to be dilute lest they bleed and sully the colors that come later. The Marine blue is lively and helps boost some of the later applications of color. By necessity, the under painting is pale. However, primary features are established as well as major folds and shadows. Keep in mind all of these elements are still fluid. By that, I mean to say that stronger washes can over ride or modify any of these preliminary strokes.
At this stage several layers of yellow washes have been carefully applied and the figure is now defined by the additional surrounding colors. No additional work has been done to the red/blue under painting on the figure. The effect is heightened by the use of complements to help set the stage for the final work to come.
A Clear Path
If you take the time to study the beginning under painting, then the color addition, as well as the final piece you should see the path. Everything is rather simple when you look at the layers. Allowing colors to blend wet into wet and then polishing some areas with careful, deliberate brush strokes helped to create a unity. For some individuals winter is drab. For me, it is invigorating and full of rich yet subdued colors. The range of greens, oranges as well as rich reds all sprang from the selection of a few colors.
When you have an idea or inspiration; make a plan. Without a concept or destination your journey is futile. Allow YOUR senses to direct you. As you follow, remember the basic rules of color.
I have been under a very demanding schedule and recovering from the adverse effects of an auto accident. The weather man says our temperatures will drop in the next few days. There is a stand of beautiful old gnarled trees not far from my studio that beckon me. Hopefully, I’ll be out doors for some plein aire work. I hope to post that in the near future.
watercolor 11″ x 15″ (27.94 x 38.10cm)
I get a lot of comments about glazing techniques in watercolor. From time to time I run across people who are confused or don’t really understand that glazing isn’t a straitjacket. You don’t have to commit yourself to layers and layers of tedious drudge work. You can, if that is what you think your concept needs. However, there is no law somewhere that says you have to do it a certain way. There is ONE rule. It is very simple, MAKE SURE the previous wash is dry before you apply another layer. Even that rule has flexibility. You can charge another color into a wet passage if you desire a particular effect. As a general rule, however, make sure the paper is dry. In that way you can be assured of a clean sparkling wash.
Let the white paper work for you
In this little watercolor I made use of the pure white paper to satisfy some highlight areas. My subject was in strong sunlight and with her fair skin the reserving of the white paper was a natural solution. The execution was straight forward using a limited range of colors.
Paper : 140 lb. cold press …D’Arches
Paints: M. Graham Indian Yellow, Winsor Blue and Winsor Red
This painting was done before I discovered the virtue of Perylene Maroon. If I were painting it today I might find myself using it in conjunction with or instead of Winsor Red. As it stands however, I modified the red with blue in order to achieve the maroon effect.
The actual painting was executed fairly rapidly. A pale under wash of Indian Yellow was applied to the shadow side of the nose and cheek with the strongest mixture in the hair. Since I wanted the effect of sunlight to dominate the painting I made sure that key areas of light were left in the form of shapes. As you look at the piece you should be able to see the shapes, not only in the face but in the hair.
In my opinion it is the linkage between those shapes that help form the structure of the image and contribute to the idea that sunlight is beaming down, burning out the color. We see these effects every sunny day. Why not attempt to capture the effect?
The washes in the face are simple, just an under layer of Indian Yellow followed by a wash of Winsor Red and blue.
The skin is fair and smooth and soft washes help to convey that feeling. The hair is silky and dry brush helps to create the sense of hair. The yellow under wash helps to provide warmth and light in key areas of highlight. If you study the hair closely you should be able to see the areas on the crown of the head where blue helps to convey a sense of reflected light. The dry brushing started at the top of the head and follows a natural path to the tips of the hair. If you are not familiar with dry brush think of it as more paint than moisture in your brush. Practice, at first, on scrap paper. Squeeze out the excess water from your brush, then swirl the brush onto your palette. With a little practice you will get the hang of it.
It is easy to get caught up in detail and often lose the sense of the subject. Hopefully, the hair is believable as you view it. However, it may not necessarily be a perfect rendition of the actual hair. The color is very close, almost perfect in fact. However, the arrangement of the hair has been ordered or simplified into major shapes so that the effect is achieved. One could say that a symbol has been created. Very often this is what we do in the quest to convey a concept.
I’ve been painting for a lot of years and I have used a lot of different brands of materials. Many are still old favorites. Every once and a while something special comes along. In the area of brushes I have spent a LOT of money and still have brushes I purchased over 30 years ago! I really never thought I would ever find a brush that would surpass my Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky sables. Well, I still love my Winsor & Newton brushes but Mary Whyte has developed a brush that is really spectacular. You have to use it to believe it. It has a longer handle and a different balance. It carries more water but will snap down to a needle point in an instant. You can buy it at ArtExpress. I bought one and I am delighted that I did.
One very important point; I have no monetary interest in promoting Mary’s brushes, book or videos. However, if you have not seen her work, treat yourself to some magnificent watercolors.
You can find more tutorials of Don Rankin’s work in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I, by Dr. Don Rankin at www.createspace.com/3657628
The array of neutrals is infinite. There are so many options. For many painters this can be frustrating while for others it presents wonderful possibilities. As you observe nature you should become keenly aware of the vast number of neutral colors that pervade the landscape. All too often we are busy looking at the brighter, contrasting colors while ignoring those other colors that help promote the vibrant reds, yellows and violets etc.
The nature of texture
In this session I want to talk about how we can use neutrals to create convincing textures. Ideally you will try these tips out for yourself to see how they can be used. Basically we can confine texture to one of two categories. Texture is either real..that is you can feel it or implied. If it is implied then it is an illusion. As an illusion it has the appearance of texture without the feel. Most textures are created by the use of repetition. In watercolor, we can make use of splatter, sponges, brush work and other creative approaches. Neutrals can play a powerful role in the creation of powerful harmonious watercolors. As you examine Creek Village take note of the neutral colors and how they react with the surrounding colors.
Creating texture with brush stroke
One of the first methods of texture is the use of brush stroke. In this case focus on the tree trunk. I am often drawn to these beech trees for the smooth yet distinct texture of the trunk. As they age and the sunlight strikes their surface they often remind me of concrete pillars. Too much brush work will spoil the illusion here so every stroke counts.
Compare the base of the trunk with the upper portion. Then examine the roots themselves. As you look can you see the different techniques that have been employed to convey a sense of texture?
1. Can you identify splatter techniques?
2. How about sponge work?
3. Is all of the brushwork identical?
Hint: If you want to enlarge the image; just click on it
You can find more techniques in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin
ORDER DIRECT at www.createspace.com/3657628
Making use of neutrals can give your watercolors a powerful boost.
Take a look at the two color charts. The combination is simple. A red, a blue and a yellow is all that is involved. Choosing the best red, blue and yellow will depend upon your experience. How do you know which combination to use? Experiment!
What is in the charts?
The chart on the left is made up of Winsor & Newton Permanent Alizarin, Holbein Marine Blue and M.Graham Gamboge.
The chart at the top consists of American Journey Joe’s Blue, Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon and M.Graham Gamboge.
While all of the paints are in the red, blue or yellow category you should be able to see that there are differences in the results. Compare the pale wash examples to the stronger wash examples. Also note the change in effect between the combinations. Take time to explore your paints on a piece of paper not when you are actually painting. When you are painting you should have some sort of concept in mind. However, it makes good sense to keep a separate piece of watercolor paper close by. It can come in handy when you are trying to make sure of a color passage BEFORE you apply it in a critical area.
Get a grip on color
I am accustomed to lecturing on color theory for several hours in my classroom. It is a vast subject. However, on this page I’ll stick to essentials. If you study the concept of subtractive color you will realize that as painters who work with pigments we have certain boundaries. In pure theory our red is known as magenta, blue is called cyan and yellow is called yellow. Simple enough. However, not every paint named yellow is close to process yellow, not every blue is process blue and pure magenta really doesn’t look like the reds most of us are accustomed to seeing.
What is the solution?
If you have not done so, take the time to look at these process colors. Every printed color page you view is based upon subtractive color theory. Be aware that it is different than additive color, the color of light, such as the color you see on this screen. Take time to learn the difference. If necessary, memorize what the colors look like. If you will do that you will find your color mixing frustration level greatly reduced.
As you examine the charts you will note that the swatches in the center look different from the other examples. The center swatches were produced by charging. Charging is the act of loading another color into a wet or moist field. It is very much like wet into wet painting. You will note it produces a soft effect while the other swatches that are glazes have hard edges. Both techniques have their place.
The watercolor at the top is a small painting measuring about 10″ x 14″ (25.40 x 35.56cm). It was produced using Grumbacher Thalo Blue, Grumbacher Indian Yellow, and Winsor Red. Every neutral was created by manipulating the ratio of color in each wash. The painting contains combinations of glazing, charging and dry brush. Basic flat washes were applied first. Selective areas were charged with color while still moist. Can you see where? Hint: the sky was washed in and while it was drying the foreground and middle ground of a pale yellow/red wash was applied. The sky was not allowed to touch the foreground and middle ground lest they bleed together. That was the plan. However, if you look on the left side you should be able to see that some of the blue sky seeped into the middle ground while on the right past the barn you can see almost pure white paper. After all of this dried, the entire sky was dampened with clean water (this was done to prevent any inadvertent streaks). At this point a darker combination of thalo blue and red was used for treeline. As it was drying more of the mixture was added to the trees to enhance the dark value. The charging was done with the tip of the brush and the color was allowed to bleed into the wash. The barn roof is another combination of blue and red. In the final stages a dry brush technique was used in the grassy area.
Please feel free to contact me.
Similar pieces and more involved tutorials are available in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I at www.createspace.com/3657628
While preparing for this segment I took a moment to get out my basket of watercolor paints. As I began to separate my red colors into groups it suddenly came to me that some of the tubes in my basket are older than many of you reading this blog! My wife is constantly reminding me of the fact that the vast majority of my students are 40-50 years younger than me. So be it. At times like this I reflect on the blessings I have had to have been exposed to some of the finest teachers in American Art. The sad part is that I often did not appreciate it until many years later. What is my point? Today most painters are bombarded with information regarding such topics as lightfastness, toxicity, etc. While these are important issues I can’t help but smile as I recall that as young students we often trained and peaked our sable brushes by putting them into our mouths. The saliva helped train and keep the point on those treasured series 7 Kolinsky sable brushes. At one point the manufacturer of the brushes and the paints sent out pamphlets with disclaimers warning all of us that they would not be responsible for any sickness or death resulting from anyone insisting on continuing the saliva bath practice.
So now to the present and the question of reds. What constitutes a good red? I think it all depends upon how you plan to use it.
1. Are you painting florals or exotic birds?
2.Perhaps you are painting landscapes or portraits.
In each case a proper red may differ. Thankfully there is a variety of reds from which to choose. Like any other color I think it is best for you to acquaint yourself with the color index.
3. I am speaking of designations such as PB,PR, PY, etc.
These index numbers will help identify the chemical composition of the paint you choose. If you cannot find an index number on the tube or chart choose a manufacturer that is willing to divulge the information. Take some time and go online with the search engine of your choice. Pull up your favorite paint manufacturer and navigate or cruise to the color chart. Examine the chart rather closely and you will most likely find a key or legend that will explain a number of things about the property and handling characteristics of each color. You should be able to discern not only the lightfastness rating but the relative transparency /opacity of each color as well as the primary ingredients. Various sites may be more informative than others.
Is fading the only issue?
No, a good watercolor paint has many considerations. How does the paint behave when you use it? Does it just sit on your paper like an inert lump or does it blossom and bloom on a moist field? As it dries does it retain its color or does it fade away? While the loss of a bit of color or dry back is considered to be normal, too much is definitely not good. So paint manufacturers have a number of challenges when they are seeking to develop the best choice at a reasonable price. The bottom line is that there are pigments that will probably last for a thousand years but may not be suitable for our palettes for a variety of reasons. Thankfully today the painter has a much broader choice of suitable colors.
Not all pigments are created equal
Remember the old adage, “There is no free lunch”. You could apply that philosophy to pigments and paints. Buy the best you can afford. When you are beginning that may be a bit daunting. That is one reason I urge you to experiment with various brands.
* Buy a smaller tube at first if you are not sure about a particular color or brand.
*Avoid discount store brands.
*Some student grade paints are pretty good, others are miserable.
Be careful when you purchase. The color red can be particularly testy. Forgive me for bringing up the good old days but I want to make a point. Many years ago as a beginning watercolor painter I fell in love with Alizarin Crimson. I had used it for years in oil painting so it was only natural to transfer that love to watercolor. I had painted a snow scene that had found its way to a friend that lived on the New Jersey shore. One summer, while visiting, I got to see the piece proudly displayed on the landing of the stairwell of this old Victorian home. The setting was perfect and the light was wonderful. However, there was one major flaw; in a very short time the pale hints of Alizarin I had used had completely disappeared! It didn’t seem that anyone else noticed but I did. The moral of the story is to be sure you know something about the colors you choose. Always remember that colors that are lightfast in oils may not necessarily behave in the same way in watercolor.
Know your PRs
The preceding story is intended to reinforce the need to be aware of the nature of pigments. For hundreds of years certain ingredients have been used to make red paint.
* Vermilion, made from cinnabar, a mercury derivative, has been prized and very expensive. Not only is it expensive, it is toxic.
*The same is true for cadmium colors.
In today’s market we find a number of mixtures that are designed to perform like many of the old colors without the expense and the risk associated with them. This is not to say that you cannot find many of the old standards but in many cases you will be using a well crafted substitute. If you study you will find that some of the old compounds suffer from exposure to air borne contaminates or pollutants. This is an involved subject that I will not expound upon here. Feel free to research the subject. There are excellent sources as well as guides written by various individuals concerning pigments and the story of color. However, if you research do pay attention to the date on the material. There are new updates that render a lot of technical information obsolete.
Chart of Reds
Down below you will see a chart of red colors. Do understand that I DO NOT use all of these colors at once or all of the time. I have them and will use them if and when needed.
In most cases I work with a fairly limited palette; usually no more than three or four colors. I make use of analogous as well as complementary color schemes. It all depends upon the effect I am trying to achieve.
Like every painter I have my favorites. One favorite that I am having to reconsider is Grumbacher Red. If you check the ingredients you will see a combination of PR170 and PR188. According to some individuals who have devoted much time to the study of the relative permanence of color; PR170 is not considered to be lightfast. However, Grumbacher gives it a Class II designation which suggests that it has durability.
One point to consider, some manufacturers will place conditions upon their lightfast designations.
For example, Rembrandt will state that their ratings for durability are based upon the paint being displayed under museum conditions. So what does this mean?
Where and how your work is displayed will play a role in its longevity.
Certain types of florescent lighting as well as direct sunlight can bleach out a lot of color. My personal observation is that I have been using Grumbacher Red since 1962. At this time I have not had an incidence of the color fading or dulling. There are those who speculate that when ingredients are combined such as PR170 (Napthol red) and PR188 that the mix is stabilized. However, as you examine the chart you will see that there are other colors that come close to matching it.
Grumbacher Red has been a proprietary color for many years. I often contrast it against Winsor Red since in my experience it is a little cooler than the warmer Grumbacher color. I often use them full strength and that may account for the lack of dulling. A lot of people swear by M. Graham’s cadmium red while others prefer Sennelier Red. So try them all and settle on your favorites.
About the chart
OK.there are a few things that need to be said about the chart. As stated earlier, this chart is no indication that these are the best or only colors one should choose. These colors just happen to be in my basket at this time. Daniel Smith makes excellent color as does M.Graham, Holbein and others. So just because they are not included should not be considered a negative indictment.
Starting from the top and working clockwise I am going to list 18 colors by brand and index number. After that I’ll make some general comments. Top center : American Journey Fire Engine Red (PR108/PR19), Sennelier French Vermilion (PR242), Winsor & Newton Permanent Alizarin (PR206), Winsor & Newton Quinacridone Magenta (PR122), Grumbacher Thalo Crimson (PV19), Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon (PR179), Sennelier Rose Magenta (PV19), Sennelier Permanent Magenta (PV19), Winsor & Newton Rose Dore’ (PV19/PY197), American Journey Pomegranate (PV19), Winsor & Newton Permanent Rose (PV19), Rembrandt Red Deep (PR108), Rembrandt Red Light (PR255/PY154), Rembrandt Vermilion (PR255/PY154), Stephen Quiller Quinacridone Red (PR202), Sennelier Red (PR254) and Grumbacher Red (PR170/PR188).
As you look at the color chart keep at least two things in mind. As with other charts I am attempting to demonstrate the relative transparency of each color. The top band was painted pretty much full strength while the second band was diluted with water to produce an approximate 50% value. This is not a scientific rendition. It is a painting attempt. The swatches could probably be a little more uniform in places but that is not the primary issue. Gaining some understanding of each paint is a part of the process and objective. I use the circles, even though they area bit of a pain, because they fit well on a page. Look at the colors. Please keep in mind that you are viewing an electronic rendition. Your results will vary depending upon the paper you use and how fully you load your brush. You need to test the colors for yourself so that you can see with your eyes the results you get.
Analyzing the chart
As you look at the colors how many seem to be very similar if not almost identical?
Caution: remind yourself that you are looking at a computer screen. Real life observation may reveal very subtle differences. Now with those suggestions in mind how many colors can you see crossing the thick black india ink band? Count them.
Would you say that almost half of them reveal some degree of opacity? Since we are working with reds that should be no surprise.
However, take note that almost as many are quite transparent even at full strength. This makes them likely candidates for beginning washes that need to be a bit transparent. Be careful with reds they do like to bleed into other colors so you need to use them prudently.
Next: check out the ingredients. Do you see similar ingredients being repeated in various areas of the circle? At least five of the colors list PV19 as the main ingredient. Do you also notice other ingredients being listed in several locations. For example PR108 has been rated as an excellent pigment for lightfast qualities. Do you think it might be a good idea to research these ingredients since they currently appear so often?
Now that you have looked at the chart you can make choices from the display and /or hopefully seek out other reds. There are many out there. You will soon find that even though many may list the same ingredients the color and the handling characteristics may be different.
For example, I love to use Winsor & Newton’s Perylene Maroon. It is such a regal color and it blends well with other colors on my palette. ( My next installment will introduce a few examples.) Sennelier Red is very smooth handling and provides vibrant color while American Journey colors provide a lot of powerful pigmentation.
In my next installment I’ll be introducing some neutral color combinations utilizing glazing as well as charging. Meanwhile, now that you have studied the red chart think about how you can mix various reds with a differing yellow and blue in order to get a wide range of values. I’ve have often used the term expanded primary system working off the basic premise of mixing red,blue and yellow. There is a study of mixing various neutrals in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I available direct at www.createspace.com/3657628.