ART Smart: Watercolor Paintings

No one is born understanding all the different types of paintings and art that artists are creating. In this series we will be taking a look at the basics of each type of art so that you can feel confident and art smart! Wondering how I got to be ART Smart ? I apprenticed in an art shop for three years and while I was there it was my job to play with everything and teach people how each medium works.

What are Watercolor Paints?

To make watercolors the pigment (colored powder) is mixed with a binder called gum arabic which is basically hardened sap. What separates watercolor from other mediums is its’ transparency. The way the pigments react with the gum creates  brilliant washes of color. 

How Should I Care for a Watercolor Painting?

Watercolors are beautiful, but they are also somewhat delicate  so I’d definitely recommend that you frame it with a mat. Not only is a mat a nice enhancement to your painting, it also protects your painting by keeping the glass from touching the paint. Changes in humidity can cause paintings that are next to glass to stick to the glass.

It is especially important to keep your watercolors away from sources of humidity. Watercolor paint can be reactivated at any time if it gets wet, unlike acrylics or oils which are much more permanent when dry and are also water resistant.  So keep it out of the kitchen and out of the bathroom if you can.

More About Watercolor Paintings

Like many artists, watercolors were the first paints I started experimenting with and I learned quickly that leaving white spots (places where the paper has no paint) is key to successful watercoloring. I also learned that those white spots required forethought – removing watercolor paint from the paper is really difficult (but not impossible) partly because many of the colors I liked stain the paper and partly because if I rubbed to hard with a brush trying to get a color out I often damaged the paper by making it pill or putting holes in it.

Masking fluid is a nice help to artists wanting to preserve the white spots – it is basically like a thin rubber liquid that you paint on the paper and allow to dry. Then you can apply the watercolor with abandon and still know that your precious “whites” are safe. When the paint is dry, remove the masking fluid with a rubber cement pick up or your finger and voila – crisp white spaces with crisp edges.

Watercolor is not a forgiving medium, but it can be a very fun, experimental and spontaneous one. It’s great in journals as long as you have heavy weight papers, and I often use it in my sketchbooks for capturing the color of a scene or creating thumbnails for larger acrylic paintings.

PS – for a little more control, especially if you like to sketch – try out the watercolor pencils! They are watercolor paint in pencil form. Apply it in the same way you would use a colored pencil, then grab a brush, dip it in some water and brush the water over your sketches to get fun watercolor effects.

Just a few things to try with watercolor:

  • Mix up some paint and water and put it in a spray bottle to create texture
  •  Mix up a bunch into little bowls and pour over your paper
  • Throw some salt into your wet watercolors to get a beautiful “frost” effect
  • Use it with collage papers
  • Make a small puddle of water on your paper and shave some pigment from a watercolor pencil into the puddle

Have fun!


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