Sunday, November 15, 2009

Watercolor Tips & Techniques

I took a watercolor class at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston about 7 years ago. At the time I was comfortable painting with acrylics and oils but I had no clue where to start with watercolor.  For me, it is the most difficult of all the painting methods because the color must be applied very quickly. At the same time, it also requires a lot of patience to STOP and WAIT before your page gets too wet. Otherwise, you end up with a muted mess of brown and black (see photo of me at age 3).


Here I will demonstrate some of the tips that I learned in my class.

1. Start by transposing your artwork onto your watercolor paper.

Teacher's note: The reason you don't want to use a pencil directly on your watercolor paper is because you do not want any indentations on the paper. Indentations form wells for the color to sit in. Another reason is that if you mess up your watercolor painting, you can simply transpose a new image on a new piece of watercolor paper. You will save yourself the time of drawing the image all over again. 

Trace your image using a soft pencil. (note: I do not condone the tracing of photographs. But sometimes I do it. It's a huge time saver and when the end result is a lovely framed piece for your dad on his birthday -- shhh don't tell him - it's Dec. 5-- who really cares how the perfect dimensions and perspectives were achieved.) But anyway, to the point: you will need tracing paper for this first step, no matter if you have a drawing that you have done by hand or a photograph that you want to replicate.


2. Take the tracing paper and flip it over so that the traced image is face down (on another piece of paper so you don't get pencil marks on your work surface). Now, trace the back of the traced image with your soft pencil.

3. Flip the tracing paper over again, this time laying it on your watercolor paper. You may also want to tape it to the watercolor paper with a small piece of masking tape.


4. With the back of a plastic spoon, rub the pencil lines from the tracing paper onto the watercolor paper.

5. After the image is completely rubbed onto the watercolor paper (or enough for you to use the lines as a guide in your painting), remove the tracing paper from the watercolor paper. On the watercolor paper, apply a border of masking tape around the frame of the image. This will give you a nice clean border when you are finished with the painting.

6. My teacher frowned on the use of masking fluid. It is a gummy substance that sticks to the paper like rubber cement. It allows the painter to leave white detail areas while working on larger areas (like the sky, in my example). Based on the fact that I have already cheated once, you can guess that I do not frown on the use of this little aid. In my example, after I finished painting the sky area, I waited for the paint to dry and then slowly rubbed the masking fluid off with a rubber eraser.


6. From there, the last little trick is to paint light to dark. You can add to light areas, but you cannot take away from dark areas. Although it takes some patience, it is worth the end result of seeing different highlights and shadows created by layering very subtle washes of color.


7. You will note that the tower is mostly white. I didn't want to leave it bare so I used a white guauche (opaque water color) to fill in parts of the tower.

I am taking this to get framed today so I have it in time for my dad's birthday! Those of you from the Farmington Valley region of Connecticut will recognize this as the Hublein Tower on top of Talcott Mountain in Simsbury.

1 comment:

  1. Love this article! You make it look so easy that makes me wanna try to paint with watercolors. I am sure your dad would love his present.

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