Painting with Carol

Techniques, tips and tricks for watercolours and acrylics

Mar 5

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.

2 Comments so far

  1. Ginny Zanger February 10th, 2010 12:31 pm

    I too have fallen for the rekab 900E brush, but I only borrowed it and am trying to locate one to buy. Do you have a source? Thanks - Ginny Zanger

  2. John McAllister December 5th, 2011 2:38 pm

    When I introduce paint to a wash, I get speckling instead of smooth running. I have good paper and paint. I painted a few years ago and this never happened. The paint radiates out from the point of contact and leaves a speckly finish. I used to be so proud of my skies - now they are a mess.

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