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.


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.


Ruling Pen

March 06th, 2008 | Category: Painting techniques, Watercolours

When I was a young thing, before such things as computers, I worked on a drawing board as a draughtswoman. The only pen we used for drawing plans was called a “ruling pen”; it used ink and we filled the pens from a bottle with a dropper attached to the lid. So it was only natural for me to use a ruling pen as one of my tools for painting.

ovalrulingpen2.jpgA ruling pen has a small wheel on the side that you can either tighten for fine lines or loosen for much thicker lines. I mostly use it with masking fluid to give me fine lines that you simply can’t get with a brush. For instance, I use it for the veins in leaves or if I were to paint the long flowing hair of a fairy or even a child and I needed to bring some light on a few strands of hair.

To use the masking fluid, I just pour some of the masking fluid into a film container as I find it easier to handle. Then I dip the tip of the pen in, making sure that I don’t go as far as the mechanism - otherwise the rubber latex can wrap around it and I have found it almost impossible to remove. Paint can also be used in the pen as long as it’s the consistency of ink. When it comes to cleaning, try not to immerse the pen in water as it will rust.

I know that you can still buy ruling pens as separate items from The Art Scene as that is where I buy most of my supplies. Check at home before you buy one, as you may find that you already have one in an old drawing set from an old technical drawing class at school (there was nearly always a ruling pen amongst them).

If there is anything else you would like to know about them don’t hesitate to ask me questions in the comments.


Paints and colour

February 27th, 2008 | Category: Painting techniques, Watercolours, colour

This is a big subject to tackle. I could write pages and pages about it. But if you are anything like me, you can only take in a little information at a time. If I am faced with pages of information I don’t read it properly. I wonder if this means I only use the artistic side of my brain?

Anyway I have decided that I will write a little at a time as required for the projects we do together. There is a basic vocabulary used when talking about colour and when I first started to paint, I found it difficult to know one from the other. Every colour has three characteristics:

  • Hue
  • Value
  • Intensity

If you attend a class or a workshop you will hear your teacher speak of “hue” - this simply means it is the name of the colour. It allows us to distinguish one colour from another.

“Value” is the most important of the three. It simply means the lightness or darkness of a colour - however, if the value of the colour is wrong then the colour is wrong.

“Intensity” just means the brightness of the colour as it comes freshly from the tube; mix any other colour with it and you change it’s intensity. Brilliant Red has a high intensity value, for example, but if you were to add a touch of green to the red it would make it less intense. You can lighten the hue of watercolours by just adding water. I have tried to simplify it as much as I can but if at any stage you are unable to understand what I write, please don’t hesitate in asking me. If you’re wondering about something, it’s a safe bet others are too - and it will also be a help to me.

Colour may seem to be a difficult subject but I have found the more you paint and mix your own colours the more fun it can be. You will find the best thing about painting is playing and learning about it. I have reached the stage now after so many years of painting where I can look across a field and I feel confident enough to know I can mix any colour to suit the colours in the grasses, trees, or anything else needed for a painting. Of course, that only comes with experience and practice. I will go more in to colour as it is required.


Using masking fluid

February 21st, 2008 | Category: Painting techniques, Watercolours

I like to think that everyone can be successful when they start to paint with watercolours, so I introduce art masking fluid with the first painting. There is a school of thought that one should never use masking fluid - that you should be able to introduce light in to a painting with out it.

But you know what? If you are successful with your first painting you are likely to want to continue.

Art masking fluid is a rubber latex solution. It is used to mask out an area you do not wish to paint. For instance, if you would like to paint a rose you would either trace or sketch the rose, then you would carefully block it in with the masking fluid, making sure the paper is covered well. If you can see the paper through the masking fluid, then you will need to add another coat.

Allow it to dry before you apply the required washes over the paper for the background. Masking fluid can be used before any painting has been done - this will ensure that any highlights can be kept white. Masking Fluid is available in a clear or slightly yellow tint and I have even seen it in a blue colour. It can also be introduced at any stage of the painting - providing the surface is thoroughly dry before it is applied.

I like to use the brand Art Spectrum which has a yellow tint to it this makes it easier to see when applying it. Of course, you can buy other good brands of masking fluid at your favourite supplier.


  • Don’t use your good brushes when applying the masking fluid, but use a brush with a good point.
  • Continually condition your brush with liquid detergent before you dip it in the fluid as it is inclined to clog the brush.
  • Leave a small amount of liquid detergent in the brush before applying
  • Wash your brush frequently.

I like to paint over the sketch lines as I find the masking fluid will remove them. It is important that the masking fluid is dry before you remove it - even when it’s dry it will have a wet sticky look so touch it with the tip of your finger to check. Gently rub away the masking fluid with a clean fingertip or an eraser.

Masking fluid can also be used for textured effects and splattering - the list goes on and on there is just so much for you to learn, it is so exciting. I think I will leave that for when we are actually painting a project together.

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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.



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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Training a new brush

December 28th, 2007 | Category: Painting techniques

When you have a new brush, it may take some time to train it. It usually takes me about a week of solid painting. Do yourself a favour and buy a good brush to begin with - something like a Raphael. I always feel you’re only as good as the brush you’re painting with and if you use a pure sable brush, you don’t have to train it because it automatically does what it’s supposed to. The size of the painting will affect the size of the brush, obviously. I use a number 3 normally.

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