Posts Tagged ‘pigment’

Staying Out of the Mud

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

One of the banes of novice watercolorists is that old bugaboo “mud.” It took me a long time to realize what caused mud to develop both on my palette and in my paintings. Part of it, I knew, came from overworking the paint, combining too many colors to create the hue I wanted. Yet I wasn’t sure how many blended colors equaled too many.

I began working on the theory that cool-slanted colors shouldn’t be mixed with warm-slanted colors. But that theory didn’t prove true in every case. At last I realized that when opaque or semi-opaque pigments were mixed with transparent ones, the transparency was sacrificed, and the result became a muddied concoction.

The question then became, “How can I tell which pigments are transparent enough to work well with my palette, and which will I need to be careful using?” I eventually found the answer to that in the color charts most paint manufacturers provide. One of the paints that had been a staple for me from the beginning was yellow ochre, which I discovered was considered either opaque or semi-opaque (depending on the manufacturer). That pigment proved to have been the culprit in many of my muddy blends. Another popular color that caused problems for me was cerulean blue, which is often actually a mixture containing white, and is also semi-opaque.

I still use opaque colors, but with considerably more discretion than before.

There is definitely a place for opaque and semi-opaque pigments in watercolor work. And there simply seems to be little option for some hues. But I’ve learned that it’s usually more effective to use the opaque pigments in the base layer of a glazed painting or for detail on the top layer, rather than to blend on the palette with transparent paints for a widespread wash over the paper.

Unless you understand the components of the paint you use, it’s difficult to know what to expect of it. When a single-pigment paint is available for a certain hue, I try to use that rather than a blended version so it is easier to predict how it will react with other paints, how transparent it will be, and how stable the hue will remain over time.

Most paint manufacturers provide a chart that reveals most of this information for their own paints. To see comprehensive comparison charts, including transparency, opacity, and permanence of a wide range of colors and manufacturers, I’d recommend that you refer to Hilary Page’s book Guide to Watercolor Paints. Because the information changes continually, the author also provides free updated information online at www.Hilary Page.com.

If you like this discussion of paints, you might also be interested in reading “A Palette to My Taste” (December 1, 2010) and “A Limited Palette” and “Selecting Paints” (both to appear later this year).

A traveling studio

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Traveling-Studio Supplies

As I mentioned in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” I normally prefer to work with moist paints, fresh from the tube. I forego that luxury, however, when I travel. Instead I use a small “piggy back” palette, with a lid of its own, which serves as my mixing tray. This entire tray can snap into the lid of a larger palette, which I leave at home. Squeezing a limited quantity of creamy paint into the tray’s palette cups, I intentionally allow them to dry for several days, uncovered. Each cup is labeled with the color and manufacturer’s name so I can restock it with the same color when I get back home. After the paints have dried in the tray, they are no longer subject to airlines’ “liquids” regulation so can be packed into either my suitcase or a carry-on bag.

My other traveling-studio necessities include a soft drawing pencil, eraser, and a fistful of brushes—a #30 round synthetic (my workhorse), #8 round synthetic, a natural-hair brush somewhere between those two in size, a #0 round or liner for detail, a small scrubber, and (if I intend to use frisket) a small disposable round. An old toothbrush or typewriter eraser brush works fine for spattering paint or water.

I like to tuck in a compressed cellulose sponge or scrap of terrycloth (such as an old washcloth) with which to sop excess water from my brushes and to wipe up spills, in lieu of relying on paper towels or fast-food napkins, which aren’t always absorbent enough for my needs. A quart-sized collapsible water bucket is handy, too, but in a pinch, a jar, can, or even a small disposable cup can be used. (I avoid employing reusable food or serving containers when using any potentially toxic pigments, such as cobalts or cadmiums.)

Watercolor “blocks” of paper, up to quarter-sheet size (about 12 x 18), can be packed in a carry-on suitcase. These have the advantage of providing their own backing and do not require stretching. (I save any covers or backing boards to use as stiffeners for finished paintings to be repacked for my return.) Or a small watercolor journal can easily be slipped into even a mid-sized purse. Paper larger than quarter-sheet size poses more of a problem, since it must be bought at my destination and shipped back separately. I don’t use an easel. Since I prefer to work on a horizontal surface, and watercolor blocks include their own stiff backing, a table, flat rock, or even a lap can suffice when I’m traveling.

Other items are optional, depending on whether I anticipate needing them. Liquid frisket can be bought in small containers, either for packing or as an on-location purchase. Spray bottles (to be carried empty) are available in travel sizes. And drawing pads and graphite paper can also be easily packed if I expect to want them.

But whenever I’m traveling, the most crucial “studio” element of all is my camera, supplemented, of course, with extra batteries and memory cards. I don’t always have time to execute a painting on location, but I can almost always manage to snatch a moment to whip out my camera to record a scene, a mood, or a detail for future reference.

If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested also in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” and the upcoming articles, “Selecting Paints” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”

Just my style, Part 2

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

In Part 1, two weeks ago, we recognized that one aspect of artistic style depends on the artist’s personality and way of viewing the world, selecting subject matter, and applying an intellectual and emotional approach suited to his or her nature.

Pink Hibiscus with Bud

Another aspect of style depends on mechanics of the craft—the way an artist typically uses both skill and available materials.  Each artist will resolve certain issues inherent in the painting process in a unique way by applying his or her understanding of the mechanics involved and the materials at hand.  For a painter, mastery of materials includes knowing what can be expected of the various types, sizes, and shapes of brushes; pigment characteristics and typical interactions; characteristics of various painting surfaces; supplemental materials such as frisket, screens, sponges, drawing implements and mediums, and so much more).

An artist’s style will reflect her level of mastery of technique and her understanding of the medium.  Understanding and control of those mechanics and the characteristics of the materials being used will influence her decisions when it comes to problem solving.  If she typically wields her brush a certain way, or uses a characteristic selection of colors, or consistently applies certain techniques to her work, these elements will eventually become a trademark of her style.

In Part 3 we will look at the importance of the artist’s personal aesthetic.

Beginner’s luck

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Watercolor paint of any quality tends to lighten somewhat as it dries.  But the high proportion of water to paint in many of my early paintings caused the color to pale out markedly as the water evaporated.  I didn’t realize that I wasn’t using enough pigment to sufficiently coat the paper.

Seamstresses

In rare instances, it proved serendipitous, actually working to my advantage.  In “Seamstresses” (#070601), I wanted to show the silhouetted figures sitting in a dark castle room and backlit by the bright window.  The high water content of the paint left a wonderful effect of light reverberating around a dark and dusty room, catching on dust motes as they hung in the air.  Notice how the upper part of the wall over the central figure is grayed out, along with the women’s skirts and the hassock beneath the game board.

The colors in the lit portions of the figures are considerably stronger.   Because they were painted with greater detail, the pigments in the focal area are more concentrated.  The wide dispersion of pigment occurred in areas where I used a broader stroke and less detail.

Despite its technical flaws, “Seamstresses” still remains one of my favorite paintings.