Have you ever noticed that some watercolors by the same artist have a different look or impact? While there are many possible variables there is one element that can have a profound impact on the effect. All else being equal, that is the same quality paint and brushes, the choice of paper can really change the dynamic. Most painters paint upon either cold press or rough watercolor paper. A few adventurous souls work on hot press and/or plate surface paper. What is the difference? Basically, one is more absorbent than the other. Hot press and especially plate surface or finish paper is slick. The moisture and the paint have a tendency to crawl and creep across the paper rather than blooming or blossoming across the paper in the usual expected way. A slick surface brings on a whole new series of effect. Some of it can be quite magical while for some painters the whole thing becomes a nightmare.
My first encounter with the idea of painting watercolor on a less absorbent paper surface came about while learning to paint with egg tempera. While the gesso ground for traditional egg tempera is absorbent to a degree; it can be modified by the degree of polish one produces on the surface during the layering of the gesso. By the way this is NOT the canned gesso you buy in most art supply stores. Traditional gesso is a mixture of hide glue and and ground chalk with or without pigment and requires a rigid support to prevent cracking. Very often beginning painters develop their painting skills on plate finish papers using watercolor washes. After a few maddening hours, if the student is willing, they began to see some intriguing results.
I would encourage any watercolor painter to work with hot press and plate finish papers and boards for the effect that can be achieved. Yes, it is different. I’m going to share a few examples of watercolor on hot press boards. I keep a decent supply of the paper in my studio for those times when I want to get a different feel to a subject. Often the color is brighter and more vibrant. The reason is that the color dries mainly on the surface and has less tendency to sink into the sheet. One word of caution. Since the paint is on the surface it can easily be disturbed and create mud. Melting Off , 16″ x 7″ (40.64 x 17.78 cm ) Watercolor on High Surface/ Plate Finish paper board. From the Collection of Sonat, Inc.
The palette was simple combination of vermilion, thalo blue with some gamboge and a dose of black India ink in the foreground, with much of the tree line poured onto the dampened surface and allowed to blend and puddle.
Compare that with the following effect on a traditional sheet of watercolor paper with a coldpress surface.
March, 18.5″ x 32.5″ (48 x 38 cm) Watercolor on 140lb. D’Arches paper. Private Collection
While the palettes are similar the dark passages are softer, the blending is more subtle, creating a quieter image. The basic message is that the paper surface can contribute to making a big difference in the presentation and the feeling in a work.
The Quarry, 10.5″ x 21.25″ (27 x 54 cm) Strathmore hot press rag illustration board. Artist Collection
The mood and the palette are different. But note the sharp edges in defining the rocks on the edge of the waterline. If you look carefully you can see hints of Gamboge in the upper edges of the treeline and in the limestone rock of the quarry’s edge. The colors in this work are Thalo Blue, Gamboge and Winsor red blended in with blue to create the darker passages.
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Level II is a full (real time) demo in the artist’s studio. The only editing is the omission of the drying time between some of the washes. See the progression from beginning to end.
2017 recipient of Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achiever Award in Art and Education
From time to time I get questions about the strength of color in my paintings. Some want to know how I get such powerful luminous washes in watercolor. While the glazing technique plays a large role in the creation; there is another component. This is something that perhaps I have neglected to mention.
Old Hackberry Lane approx 8″ x 6″ watercolor*
FRESH PAINT: In order to fully explain I must digress to 1983. I was writing one of my first books on watercolor. Since I was writing I felt that I should get some technical data from the manufacturers that made what I considered to be the best watercolor paints. While there are a number of excellent paints these days; in 1980 there were two very popular brands in the USA. I made contact. Winsor & Newton was very open to discussing their paints with me. Wendell Upchurch was my contact. When we first began to talk, I asked him what was his job. His reply shocked me. He stated that his primary job was traveling around the country correcting all of the erroneous information that was found in so many of the watercolor books that were being written! He was delighted to spend time with me explaining the processes and the actual facts concerning producing and using quality watercolor paints. Needless to say we spent many hours discussing watercolor paints.
Two Choices: Most watercolor painters in America tend to use watercolor that comes in a tube. Many painters in the UK and parts of Europe prefer to use tub colors. What is the difference ? Aside from the consistency the most important aspect is the degree of binder and preservative found in the paints. The colors that are packaged in tubs are a bit more tacky and they allow for constant re-wetting in daily use. Tube colors have less preservative and binder and it is suggested that one should only put out as much color as will be used in a day’s session. Many are accustomed to putting the tube colors on the palette and wetting and re-wetting the color until it is used up. Then more color is applied to the palette and the cycle resumes. In my early years I followed this pattern myself.
Everybody Does it or Do They? Be honest, most people follow this pattern. However, a lot of painters have found a better way. You can test this yourself. Put out a little fresh paint, dampen your brush and apply a wash to a piece of paper. Rise out your brush and moisten a portion of the same color that has dried on your palette. Look at the results. Surprised?
Old Hackberry Lane is a memory painting. Years ago it was one of the routes that would bring you to the eastern edge of Shades Mountain. The narrow two lane chert road made several switchbacks up the side of the mountain. At times you would feel hemmed in as the orchard tree branches would scrape across the fender or roof of your car. Luckily, I never encountered an oncoming car. There were no street lights and often in the fall and winter as the night began to fall the bare branches would be cloaked in the gathering gloom of mist and the settling of smoke from the numerous fireplaces. Painting luminous darks can often be a challenge. I prefer to create the dark using a wet into wet technique, layering fresh dark colors over a vibrant under painting. The fresh color is more powerful and luminous. Simple to apply yet profound in effect. If you are new to this the power of the color can be scary. However, it is a good idea to practice and see what it can do. *Original on view at Andrew Wyeth Gallery, Chadds Ford, PA
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques ? Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin is available.
Watercolor Classes online: Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor with Dr. Don Rankin. Lifetime access of beginning principles at http://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/
LEVEL II: an in studio demonstration of the watercolor glazing technique. Preview at: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor-level-II/