I became an illustrator, when I mastered watercolors.
The “vehicle” for watercolors is obviously water. The color is delivered by the pigment, which is dissolved in the water. Although I am stating the obvious, there is a reason for this. I work in dyes, and the color is not delivered by pigment in that water-based medium.
I started out painting with Winsor-Newton watercolors. I had a lot of little tubes. I still have them. Even though they are as hard as a rock, I can break off little pieces of them and dissolve the pigment in water again!
Most people associate watercolors with boxes that have a tray of colors. The paint is dissolved on those squares by rubbing them, which isn’t very good for brushes. The tube paints are far superior in quality.
I remember that Winsor Newton had colors labeled with different “series” numbers. The higher series numbers indicated “rarer” pigments. In some cases, those little tubes became quite expensive. I remember purchasing a rare, cerulean color. That one tube cost me $35, and that was twenty-five years ago. It had some very interesting properties, though. There are even more expensive pigments than that one!
No matter which water-based medium I use, I consider every color “a friend.” By that, I mean that all colors have different qualities I can count on! The property I am most aware of is the staining one. Some colors leave their tone on the paper within an instant. Other colors require a lot of drying and layering in order to darken them.
When I used Winsor Newton watercolors, I was quite familiar with the typical “watercolor wash” result. By that, I mean leaving an area wet, causes the paint to dry from the outside in. It leaves a dark outline around the edges of the wash. This effect is visible on most traditional watercolor paintings.
However, I wanted to control this effect. I wouldn’t allow my watercolor washes to dry as a wet puddle. I would use a tissue to dab up the area and to smooth it. I knew exactly how it would look that way.
Watercolors are not that smooth. The powdered pigment, which is dissolved in the water sometimes is grainy on certain colors. When I wanted rough textures, that effect was fine. For smooth areas, it required a lot of rubbing.
The materials I used while learning made a huge difference in my ability to master my technique. Just as marker paper was key to markers, watercolor paper was key to my mastery of painting!
One day when I was in college, I asked my father to pick up some Arches watercolor paper for me. Instead of cold-press (semi-rough paper) he picked up a hot-press paper by mistake. I looked at the smooth paper and told him it was the wrong paper. I had to use it anyway. It worked perfectly!
I had not used watercolors for almost thirty years. A few months ago when I was teaching a private student, I demonstrated how to paint a pear. It felt different to use watercolors again after all the years of using the dye mediums. It was a lot “safer,” which I think is helpful when learning to master the medium.
I enjoyed seeing the paintings I did while I was learning.
I’m still learning!
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