Painting with Carol

Techniques, tips and tricks for watercolours and acrylics

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Top 5 watercolour questions

I often find the same questions crop up again and again during my classes so I thought I’d create a quick list of the most common things my students ask. They’re in no particular order and if you have your own questions, feel free to add them to the end.

QUESTION 1: What side of the watercolour paper should I be using?

It is hard to keep this answer short. I could write so much about paper as every artist has a favourite kind of paper. There are three main textures:

  • Rough
  • Cold-pressed
  • Hot-pressed

Each is used for different types of painting. Rough paper has the most “tooth” (kind of like goosebumps on the paper) and is used mostly for landscapes. It’s good if you are painting water - if you run your brush over the surface of the paper you can see the paint adhere to the elevations and it will leave the depressions sparkling white as if the sun is hitting the top of the water. I use hot-pressed paper if I am doing any fine detail work, such as lace work which is done with a liner brush. I have found it is not so good if you intend to apply many washes. My favourite kind of paper is Arches cold-pressed, 300G/M. I find it an ideal all-purpose paper. I mostly choose to paint on the smooth side of the paper but it doesn’t matter which side you choose, either side is equally suitable for paint. Some manufacturers place their watermark on the paper and I always tell my students that if the watermark is raised, it is the right side to use.

QUESTION 2: When taping the paper to the board, should I tape all the way around?

Yes, you should tape on all four sides.┬áWhen I paint I am inclined do repeated washes, I find that wet watercolour paper tends to buckle, especially if you use a lightweight paper. It’s one of the reasons I use 300G/M - you will find it will only buckle slightly when it is wet but it will settle when dry. If, by chance, the tape does lift a little with the water, don’t be tempted to take it off until you have finished with the washes as it will leave a mark on your painting that cannot be removed.

QUESTION 3: What sort of palette should I use?

These days a watercolour palette is not such an expensive item to buy and can easily be picked up at any art store, or even the cheap $2 shops that are around. Do, however, pick a palette that has many wells in it. If the colours you mix run in to each other they become contaminated and can create “mud”. Personally, I like a palette that has a lid. They are of course a little more expensive but I think it is worth it as it stops the paint from drying out completely. I have many palettes as I never wash away the paint - I clean the palette often with a damp cloth or even a paper towel and this way I can use the left over paint months later.

QUESTION 4: What brushes should I buy?

Good watercolour brushes are expensive but the old saying “you are only as good as the tools you use” is exactly right. For many years I struggled with inferior brushes, so I do know.┬áCheap brushes will not hold a point because the hairs will separate and they won’t hold enough water or paint. They also break down quickly, which can be very frustrating indeed. If you care for your brushes properly, they will last for many years, so I think buying good brushes is a good investment. Try asking for a new watercolour brush for your birthday or Christmas. I would rather have a new brush than a new bra, or a bottle of perfume any day. I will list the brushes I use - for washes I use a number 12 Squirrel mix oval brush, or a number 7 Raphael 803. For general work, I use I use a number 6 Raphael, although I have been using a cheaper version called Rekab 900E Sable-Ester Israel. I also use a number 4 Sable-Ester Israel. For very fine work I use No 3 Raphael 8404. If you are on a budget, however, try a Large Fan brush or a Japanese Hake brush for your washes and the Japanese bamboo brushes also work quite well.

QUESTION 5: How do I care for my brushes?

I would am asked this question every time I teach. After I’ve made the case for buying good brushes I can understand why you would like to know how to care for them. I suggest you use your watercolour brushes only for watercolours. Rinse them in clean water after each painting cession, and shape them to their shape, a “round brush with a point” or “flat or oval brush to a flat or oval”. Make sure they dry to the shape - I usually put them upside down in a glass to dry. Never leave brushes standing in water. If you still have some stubborn pigment left in the brush after rinsing, it can be removed with a little warm water and soap. I also use an amazing brush cleaner that is put out by Chroma Australia that is simply called “Incredible Brush Cleaner”. I swear by it. When carrying your brushes I have found it better to roll them - if you don’t have a paint roll, you can just roll them in a hand towel or, better still, add a paint roll to your present list.

So there you have it. Have I missed anything out? Let me know and I’ll see what I can do to answer your questions.


Workshop at Batemans Bay

October 31st, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Workshops

I do so like having a post, it is like therapy, but finding the time to update it is difficult, I don’t know how some people can update daily. I admire the discipline they must have.

Pair of Galahs
Image via Wikipedia

Last weekend’s workshop was at my dear friend Judy’s in Batemans Bay. I drove down on the Friday - it takes five hours to drive  from my place to her place. The workshop was on the Saturday and it was a great success, I just loved it. It was so nice being with the girls again they made me feel very welcome. Often when people retire and move away, you loose touch, however Judy will never allow that to happen. In order for us to see one another at least once a year she organises a workshop. Thank you Judy for a wonderful week-end! We painted ’Pink and Grey Galahs‘ and whilst we were painting the wild Galahs were feeding from the bird feeders Judy has in her garden. I say ‘wild’ only because they are not caged (I would hate to think anyone would consider the galahs to be that wild that they would attack). Not many painters are lucky enough to have the birds to actually join them; they are such clowns, hanging upside down and playing around like naughty kids would. Real show-offs.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to go on a painting tour around Europe. I met an American girl on the tour named Arlene and we immediately became friends and had lot of fun together. When Arlene came to Australia the first time, she stayed with me and, as I had a workshop in Parkes organized for the week-end she was to arrive, I thought it would be great for her to come along as she would be able see a little of our country that most tourists wouldn’t get a chance to see. Parkes is a country town in NSW. ‘Why am I telling you this story,’ you might ask? Well as I was writing about the Galahs I was reminded of Arlene’s reaction when she saw her first pink and grey galah: she was amazed at their bright colours and that there was so many of them.

But anyway, back to the workshop. I somehow managed to leave all my good watercolour brushes at home but luckily I had other brushes with me that I could make do with. It made me realise, however, how much easier it is to paint if you do have the right equipment.

Some tips:

  • Tip 1: As Christmas is nearly upon us why don’t you put a good watercolour brush on your wish list? If I could only have one brush, it would be a No.7 Raphail 803. This brush can be used for everything from washes to fine line work. I have an addiction for brushes, I just love them, if I have any spare cash I will always buy a new brush over a new bra any time.
  • Tip 2: Another thing I was once again made aware of. Clean water is essential and you must remember to change your water often - otherwise you end up with a muddy painting. I have a double sided water container; I wash out my dirty brush on one side and use the other side for my painting.
  • Tip 3: When signing your painting, always be aware that you will have a mount as well as a frame so you will need to put your signature a little higher in to the painting.

I have more to tell, but no time to write more. So I will tell you about my new addiction - Card making - that Judy started me on next time.

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How to use a ruling pen

April 25th, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Painting techniques

There has been a great deal of interest on how to use the ruling pen. Maybe I should try and explain a little better how I use it. Many years ago, I was an apprentice draughtswoman. In those days you were allowed to say draughtswoman, these days it is called draughtsperson. I know it has nothing to do with how to use a ruling pen but I thought a little background may help you to understand. The Engineer would pass his sketches on to the draughtsperson and the plans were then drawn to scale in pencil. Once they had been passed by the Engineer the plans were then drawn up in ink - and this is where the ruling pen comes in.

You can buy different quality pens - I use a good quality pen such as “WILD” Heerbrugg made in Switzerland, but another very good brand is “STAEDTLER”. There are ruling pens that are not as expensive to buy. I have found that cheaper ruling pens take a lot longer to run in; you will find that it is inclined to scratch the surface of whatever you are working on, be it wood, canvas or paper. You can use a very fine sand paper such as 000 and gently sand the tip of the pen to help overcome this problem. I have also found that everyone is quite different with the amount of pressure they use, so treat your pen like a feather, gently does it. Providing the pen is filled properly it should work for you.

To fill the pen, I mix the paint on my pallet to the consistency of ink. You can use an eye-dropper to fill the pen or you can just pick up the paint with your brush - whatever you are comfortable with. I find it’s best to hold the pen upright in order to use it properly. My daughter has told me that she could make a little movie of me using a ruling pen, if that would help. Please let me know.


Watercolour paints

March 11th, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Watercolours, colour

There is an incredible range of watercolours out there, which can be quite daunting to a beginner. When I first started I wasn’t sure what colours I should buy first or what brand of paint to buy. It is very easy and very expensive to buy 25-35 colours but I personally think it is simpler to work with a limited palette of about 12-15 colours.

You must be able to mix your own colours to become a good painter. You will find it fun - this way you will also discover hundreds of hues. I think one of the most important things to remember is:

only buy artist quality paint.

I am going to give you some of the colours that I mostly use in my paintings and that you will also need if we are going to paint together. You will find that once you get started you will want to learn more and more about colour; I still go to other artists’ workshops to learn new techniques. You will find every artist has different colours that they love and use. I encourage everyone to do the same.

The colours I use most are: 

  • BLUES: French Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue
  • GREENS: Sap Green Permanent, Olive Green Permanent, Australian Leaf Green Dark
  • YELLOWS: Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Aureolin, Yellow Ochre
  • REDS: Pilbara Red, Spectrum Crimson, Rose Madder, Cadmium Red
  • EARTH TONES: Warm Sepia, Burnt Sienna, Payne’s Grey.

As far as the BRAND of paint to buy: I use Art Spectrum. Of course, there are many other wonderful brands of paint but as I live in Australia I like to think I am doing my bit towards our economy, be it ever so small. I also like the the vibrancy of the Art Spectrum colours which suits my style of painting.

I think we are almost ready to start a painting together.

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All The Extras

February 26th, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Watercolours

If you take up a hobby of any description you will need extra “stuff”. I just love that word “stuff” - I have so much of it much to the disgust of my family. Here’s a quick list of some of the stuff you’ll need for watercolours:

  • Razor blades for scratching highlights which of course we will go in to when we paint together.
  • A fine mist water spray. Chroma has the best one I have found so far. You’ll need it to quickly wet the paper down.
  • Don’t through away your old toothbrush as you can use that for splattering.
  • A synthetic sponge and a natural sea sponge. I often use sponges for different effects.
  • Paper towels and tissues are very much apart of a watercolour artists list of things to have, I couldn’t live without tissues for different effects and blotting up mistakes.
  • A ruling pen. I use this all the time and often I am asked what it is. It can be bought at The Art Scene. My camera has died but I will take a photo of the “Ruling Pen” for all to see when I get it back; I think you will find it self explanatory.
  • An eye dropper for measuring out water when I mix my paints.
  • A soft and hard pencil for quick sketching.
  • Along with a pencil of course goes a pencil sharpener.

I am sure there is so much more. I will enter them in as I think of them.

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Stretching paper and backing board

February 21st, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Painting techniques

I always use a backing board when I am painting. A backing board is a board to which you will tape the watercolour paper so it will need to be larger all the way round than the paper.

The size of the board will depend on the size of your painting - it can be made from hardboard, masonite, plywood or any such wood. When I paint I tend to use quite a lot of water, for my washes, which is a technique called wet-into-wet. Watercolour paper tends to buckle, especially if you use a light weight paper and this is why I recommend using 300 gsm (the grammage or weight of the paper is now universally measured in grams per square metre).

If you are using a light weight paper, however, you will need stretch the paper. The best way to do this is to soak the paper overnight in a bath of water, hold the paper upright to let most of the water run off, then tape or even staple to the board. The paper will shrink; but when dries it will pull tight, which will make it durable and workable.


Caring for your brushes

February 19th, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment

Caring for your brushes is so important. I am still using brushes that I bought ten years ago simply because I look after them.

It is important that you only ever use your watercolour brushes for watercolours. Make sure that your brushes are cleaned properly after you have finished painting. Rinse them in clean water, preferably under a running tap. If you are washing them in a container of clean water, make sure that you are gentle and don’t hit the ferrule (the metal ring at the end of the brush) or you are likely to break off the hairs. Squeeze the water from the brush, making sure you shape the hairs back into a point. If you find the paint is difficult to remove, try using Jo Sonja’s Brush Soap and Conditioner. I find it the best but you could also use a cake of soap. When carrying brushes from place to place, roll them carefully in a tea towel or something similar. I have a paint brush roll that I bought from The Art Scene but you can buy similar products from other art supply stores.

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February 16th, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Painting techniques

Whether you subscribe to the thinking “you are only as good as your tools” or “a good workman never blames his tools” one thing is certain: a good quality brush will make your life sooo much easier.

Unfortunately, good brushes cost a lot. I mostly use Raphael, a large round sable brush that can cost hundreds of dollars. When I teach at workshops, as I have done for many years, I am asked for a list of requirements for the students to buy, and I often don’t include it in the list as I know, for first time painters, the cost of brushes would be just too expensive. But cheap brushes just won’t hold the paint and you will also find it is difficult for a cheap brush to also hold its ‘point’. So why not ask a loved one for a brush for a birthday present?

The brushes I most often use are:

  • Raphael round brushes - No.7, No.4, No.3
  • I also use a squirrel mix oval wash brush for my washes

…all of which I buy from Art Basics.

If you are on a budget as most of us are, you could try Rekab - a specially designed blend of pure sable hair and synthetic. The blend ensures a strong tip which is ideal for detail work. There are also many other cheaper watercolour brushes around, choices include brushes that are made from other animal hair or synthetic. Most art suppliers will recommend watercolour brushes for you to use.

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Water Containers

February 14th, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Watercolours

When painting with watercolours it is so important to use clean water at all times. I think the reason is obvious, as any colour at all in the water will stain the paper or even change the intended colour.

I mostly use a double sided container that I bought in the days when I was painting Folk Art. I use one side for washing out my brush and the other side for painting. But you don’t even need a special container. Two containers will do - one for washing your brushes, the other to dip clean brushes into as you paint.

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Watercolour palette - stop the mudslide

February 14th, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment

It is important to choose the right sort of palette - the paints should be separated from each other this will then stop the contamination of the colours mixing together in that grey-brown goop that’s often (quite rightly) called “mud”.

Nobody wants a muddy mess so a well-designed palette is a must - one with a series of wells and a flat area for mixing the paint. There are many available these days and you don’t have to spend a fortune - they can often be bought in two dollar shops! I suggest that you have more than one palette, though, as watercolours can be used over and over by just adding water. It seems a shame to me, to wash expensive paint away.


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