Posts Tagged ‘white’

A palette to my taste

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Palette setup

Although my paint drawer includes several tubes of both primary and secondary colors, I find that I tend to actually use far fewer for any given painting. My clutch of most often used tubes includes two of each of the primary colors, three greens, two browns, and a purple. For each of the primaries, I prefer to have one at each end of the warm-cool spectrum, and (especially for blues) some options in between. The greens also include both warm and cool versions, but sap green is the only green I ever use without mixing in some other color to modify it. I rarely incorporate either black or white except when it is premixed into a multi-pigment paint or I need the black to achieve an extremely dark blend.

Whether I start with a warm-slanted palette or a cool-slanted one depends on my anticipated approach to the subject matter.

Occasionally, I include some other color, such as sepia, but most of the time my working palette is limited to only about six colors. Mixtures of these basic hues can create any variation I might need for a given painting. Maintaining a limited palette helps me ensure a sense of color unity throughout the painting.

The palette illustrated above includes, beginning at the lower left and moving clockwise, sepia, burnt sienna, [an unfilled slot available for an additional brown, such as burnt umber or brown madder], alizarin crimson, permanent rose, yellow ochre, [another open slot available for a additional yellow, usually new gamboge], lemon yellow, emerald green [though I might change this on occasion to a Hooker’s green], sap green, Winsor green (blue shade), indigo, Winsor blue (green shade), cobalt blue, French ultramarine blue, Winsor violet, and ivory black [though this spot may be opened up, also, for a different spur-of-the-moment choice].

I have also illustrated my most-used brushes, which include three #8’s (2 rounds—one synthetic, one sable—and a flat synthetic, which I use as a scrubber), a natural-hair sumi-e brush, a #30 synthetic, a toothbrush (for spatter work), a hake (pronounced “hah’-kay”) brush, a #2 Lizard’s Lick, and a #3 liner. The hake brush is used only to apply washes.

I always keep a sponge in the corner of the palette tray, as shown here, where I can wick off excess moisture from my brushes as I work. The same sponge can be used to wipe out the mixing tray after a painting has been completed. I rinse it out carefully and return it, still moist, to the tray. This helps keep the remaining paint in the cups from drying out too badly before my next painting session.

Because I tend to travel frequently and leave this primary palette at home, I do not use it every day and the paints and sponge both tend to dry out in the interim. That is why I don’t fill the cups as many other painters do. I prefer to work with the creamier consistency of fresh-squeezed paint, so I tend to squeeze out only what I expect to use in the next day or so, though I often leave any residue from previous days’ work in the cup. The exception is if the remaining paint in the cup has become contaminated with other colors by my failing to rinse the brushes adequately between colors. At that point I wipe out the offending colors, leaving as much as I can of the unsullied remainder.

If you liked this article, you may be interested also in my upcoming articles “A Traveling Studio,” “Selecting Paints,” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”

Using frisket to reserve the paper’s white

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

In the March 15 entry, I wrote about various methods of reserving the white of watercolor paper.  One of those methods is the use of frisket, or masking fluid.

Arbor Gate, Spring (detail)

The tiny white blossoms at the corner of the fence in this detail from “Arbor Gate” (#090702) were reserved using liquid frisket.

If you want to try using frisket yourself, start with a throw-away brush and wet it thoroughly before dipping it into the frisket fluid, which will dry quickly and tend to glue the bristles together.  Redip the brush in water (or better yet, a solution of dish detergent and water) between dips into the frisket—no more than 20 seconds apart—to keep the bristles from sticking together.  Wash the brush thoroughly as soon as you are finished if you ever want to be able to use it again.

The frisket itself may or may not be tinted.  It’s easier to see its location on the paper if it has a tint, but even if it is not tinted, you will be able to identify areas of dried frisket on your paper because of the slight sheen those areas will have.

Especially if the frisket fluid is tinted and you see a layer of color lying at the bottom of the bottle, you may feel tempted to shake the bottle to mix it up.  Don’t do it! Shaking the frisket bottle will incorporate air into it, which will introduce bubbles into the “juice” your wet brush picks up.  If you spread bubbles onto your paper, the frisket will not go onto the paper smoothly, and the bubbles may pop as the frisket dries, leaving you with uncovered spots in the area you were trying to mask.

As soon as you are finished using the frisket, replace the lid tightly to inhibit evaporation.  You may have to periodically remove long, rubbery strands and globs from both the mouth of the bottle and the bottle cap to be sure they don’t interfere with a secure seal.

Allow the applied frisket to dry completely before painting over it.  When all your paint layers have been applied and the surrounding paint is thoroughly dry—no longer cool when you touch it with the back of your hand—use a “pickup” or white eraser to lightly roll or pluck the frisket off the paper.  (I recommend testing the dryness of the paper only with the back of your hand because your palms and fingertips are more inclined to leave oily deposits on the paper.  Your natural body oils will interfere with any subsequent paint you may wish to lay down onto the surface of the paper.)

Fooling with flowers

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

A white flower can fool you!

I’ve always been intrigued by the form of flowers.  I remember, as a child, studying a daffodil and being awed to discover that the golden trumpet and the crowning petals were all of a single piece, blending seamlessly from one to the other.  But wholly aside from form, color can also provide an interesting study.

Plant forms and colors still fascinate me:  the almost endless array of greens in the early spring; the golds and purples of autumn; petals of diaphanous fragility or succulent solidity; the innumerable textures of deciduous bark and the intricate woven appearance of a palm trunk; leaf shapes—round to bladelike; stems—woody to fibrous; and seed pods of too many shapes, colors, and sizes to list.  I continue to be attracted to textures revealed by light rippling across a surface, delicacy disclosed when light glows through a leaf or petal, and unfurling layers differentiated by color, texture, and shape.

100302 Mega Magnolia

Mega Magnolia

It still surprises me that an apparently monochromatic flower can harbor so many variations of tone, reflect so many different hues from its surroundings, and still be seen by some viewers as simply “white.”  Don’t be fooled.  I used both blue and yellow ochre, as well as a touch of orange at the petal tips, to model the “Mega Magnolia” (#100302) shown here.

You might want to compare it with the various other white flowers shown in the Botanicals Gallery to see the range of colors found in the “white” blossoms represented there.

“Painting” white

Monday, March 15th, 2010

One of the challenges of using watercolor is that, unlike the opaque white paints that oil and acrylic painters use, white in a transparent-watercolor painting is not applied as paint at all. Any white that appears in a transparent-watercolor painting is the white of the paper itself. It is that same underlying white that makes transparent watercolors seem so lustrous.

Once any paint is applied, the paper is stained to some degree and the color can never be entirely removed from it, however carefully the artist may attempt to lift it out. So the purest whites must be reserved from any application of paint.

Reserving the white of the paper can be done in any of several ways. The first, most basic method is to simply paint around the area that is to be left white. The artist must be able to visualize the finished painting before it has even begun in order to know where the whites must be preserved. This visualization must be maintained through the entire painting process to avoid misplacing a brushstroke. Color and shadow are added sparingly, allowing the reserved white to act as highlights or to represent the local color.


Variegated Ginger

The white of my “Variegated Ginger” (#100301) was reserved using this method. I only used light pencil outlines to remind me where to reserve the white paper.

Another method is to cover the area to be reserved. A paper or adhesive mask, called frisket, is used to protect most of a large area from unintentional paint application. But with this method there can be leakage and wicking of the paint, especially around the edges and anywhere the covering may be torn or not tightly pressed against the watercolor paper.

I sometimes use liquid frisket, a third method, to preserve the paper’s white in very small areas. Liquid frisket is similar, in both behavior and odor, to rubber cement. The fluid, also called masking fluid, or masque, is applied something like a paint, typically in a very limited area, to keep paint pigments off the paper. It can be lifted or gently rubbed or rolled off and brushed away after the surrounding paint is thoroughly dry.

This last method does have some drawbacks of its own, however. The fluid can have a slight yellowing effect on the underlying paper, and erasure (to lift the dried frisket) can lighten the surrounding application of paint when the frisket is removed. The surrounding paint also tends to collect as it dries, to form a fine, dark line at the edge of the frisket, which leaves a hard appearance when the frisket is removed. This edge can be softened by gently lifting some of the concentrated color with a damp brush, but the softening process tends to carry some of the color over the edge into the formerly reserved area of white, thus compromising the purity of part of the white space.

Another problem with using frisket is that the larger the area over which the frisket is applied, the more likely it becomes that the underlying paper will be damaged when the frisket is removed.  In an upcoming entry, I’ll give some hints about using liquid frisket.