Hello again, dearest virtual audience.
Today I want to ‘talk’ to you about watercolour, since it’s autumn now and aquarelle techniques are great for painting leaves which are still green but slightly turning brown; maybe with a touch of yellow and with a reddish undertone. This medium shines with its ability to easily blend colours seamlessly and its transparency, which gives endless possibilities for layering without losing what’s underneath.
So, first of all, make sure you purchase aquarelles. Paints labelled ‘opaque watercolour’ have a white base and are NOT the same, NOT transparent, and will act more like gouache.
Before sharing today’s fall tutorial, I’ll share a little background knowledge about watercolours, brushes, paper and techniques that you should know if you want to take your drawing to the next level. If you feel pro already, please feel free to skip to the tutorial by scrolling down! 🙂
Then, there are also different quality grades. If you can, skip the dollar store and the kids stuff. You’ll now have to chose between student grade and professional artist quality. Student grade watercolour usually contains the same pigment but more fillers and thus costs less, though some labels opt for a similar to (almost) identical but (for various reasons) cheaper pigment instead. However, they also tend to come in a smaller range of colours.
Some brands replace the original pigment in their cheaper student line with hues, which are usually just as pretty to look at but harder to mix as they already consist of more than one pigment. Some of them will simply turn everything muddy.
The professional paints do cost more but they also contain more pigment, meaning you need less to cover the same surface, so you’ll be the judge of whether or not one does truly safe any money there.
Right, once you’ve decided which watercolours to get, you pay your local or closest art shop a visit. You might already know how watercolour retails or maybe you’re like me when I started out and were to this exact moment completely oblivious to the fact that these paints are not only sold in half and full pans, but also in tubes and even as sticks. Personally, I found it easiest to purchase pans and later refill them with paint from tubes, (which are cheaper per millilitre) once they were empty. I have yet to buy watercolour sticks or even come across them (in Luxembourg), for that matter. These can be cut to serve as refills too.
Of course, you can also use the paint straight from the tubes without letting them dry. The sticks can be used to paint directly on paper and then be blended out with a wet brush.
You probably won’t need more than 24 colours, and if you’re only starting out, I’d even recommand getting a set of 12 since it’ll force you to learn a bit about mixing. And, obviously, it’s also less money, just in case you found out you don’t like aquarelle after all.
Next, you’ll also need paper and at least one brush.
Most watercolour sketchbooks and pads fall within the 200 to 300gsm range, but twice that weight exists, as well as 160 and 180gsm paper. Texture wise, you’ll have to decide between hot and cold pressed, NOT, and rough.
They go from smooth to, well, rough and do handle the paint and its application very differently. Evidently, a less textured surface will be more suited for paintings with delicate details. Still, whichever is preferable depends on what and how you paint, and your very personal preference, of course.
Careful: Watercolour paper is sized, meaning there is either gelatin added to the water and the pulp, or the sheet is soaked in a gelatin bath after being made. If you buy 200gsm paper that isn’t made for wet media, despite its weight, it won’t be able to hold up!
While paper prices can be as low as 8 cent per page, they can also rise up to 2€ and more. As with the paints as well as the brushes, you’ll have to try and see for yourself which one you like best. There are great quality products available, within a very reasonable, middle-ranged price class.
Finally, last but not least, the brushes. The hairy sticks that make the real magic happen by uniting the medium and the physical barer of our artistic adventures (aka the paper). There are the traditional brushes which can be made from either synthetic or animal hair. Some people say natural hair holds a lot more paint, while others find it makes no difference. Synthetic might also be your choice if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or simply against all kinds of animal hair and fur products. There are some really good synthetic brushes out there, and they usually are also less expensive than their natural hair counterpart. But, as with the paint, if you can, do invest in an artist brand brush. It does make a difference, beginning with the shedding.
Some of those extremely cheap brushes honestly lose more hair than our cat and went basically naked within a week or so. Not to mention that they may well ruin your hard work with their nudist tendencies.
The second option is a water (tank) brush. The body of these guys is a little water reservoir, which eliminates the need for a jar and makes them extremely practical on the go or for outdoor painting. You can simply apply a little pressure and activate your watercolours or wash the remaining paint out of the bristles. Without surprise, these also exist of different quality material and with varying price tags. They do have a learning curve though, so expect your fair share of frustration in the beginning and don’t give up too easily.
The biggest argument in favour of traditional brushes is without a doubt that they will leave you with far more brands, sizes, bristle types, and shapes to chose from, since the water brushes only come as rounds and flats so far.
Those are the basics in regards to material, let’s move on to the techniques. While there are dozens, it will always come down to these two: ‘wet on wet’ and ‘wet on dry’.
No matter what you do, you’ll always apply wet paint on either wet paper or paint, or wet paint onto a previously painted, already dry, layer or paper; even when you dry brush.
For the leaf painting below, I used three of these techniques, leaving out only the wet paint on wet paper which I commonly use to paint sunsets and gradient skies.
After lightly (or else your pencil might show through the watercolour) sketching out your motif, chose a colour palette. I went for yellow, orange, brown, and a dash of red. Try to stay within a colour family or to do no more than one outside of it. To start out, it might be easiest to only grab one shade per colour and mix them together to achieve a greater variation of different tones in your painting.
Lay down your base colour(-s). Make sure to begin with your lightest value(-s) as aquarelles do easily go from light to dark but not the other way around. (It’s possible to lift some colour depending on its staining properties but that’s commonly done to achieve various effects and textures within a piece, and not how you’re meant to use watercolour to paint highlights.)To lighten a colour, add water, NOT white paint. This will only make them cloudy and opaque.
While the paint is still wet, add little dots of your other colours. They’ll bloom and bleed into your base.
I know it can be hard but now you’ll have to try to be patient and wait for the paint to dry completely. Once this is the case, you can add little details like the veins of the leave. You can also define the outlines further by adding a darker colour along the edges, blending it out inward.
Play around with your painting, don’t be shy, and experiment until you’re happy with the result.
I added black outlines, which is entirely a creative choice. It’s just how I like it and how I paint.
And that’s it. An introduction to watercolour. Will you give it try, or maybe you already have?
Do you like it? Let me know, and if there are any more questions left unanswered, don’t hesitate to get in touch either. And if not and all is clear, have fun wielding your brushes!
Bonus tip: Always use two jars, one to clean your brush and another to load it with water to continue painting. This way you’ll avoid having to change your water frequently as well as dirty water rendering your colours muddy.
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