Watercolor has proven itself to be very unpredictable and will always produce an endless variety of results. The medium is very flexible to work with, there aren’t any absolute standard ways to handle it. As a water colorist myself, I’m constantly amazed at the effects the medium ends up producing. Its truly one of the less tame of mediums. Here are five tips for water coloring that may become some of your personal staples to modify.
Opposite colors attract (attention). If you were to place two colors next to each other with opposite qualities — purity, temperature or value — they automatically emphasize each other. This technique can be used to guide the eye to focus on certain areas, it also has a reputation for pleasing the eyes (oh, you naughty colors hahaha). On a color wheel, colors facing opposite from each other are considered complimentary colors and basically heightens both of the colors’ effects. The high contrast between two colors can be very attractive too. “Temperature” defines the feeling of “warmth” or “coldness” a color emulates. As a general rule of thumb, red, orange, and yellow are considered warm colors while green, blue, indigo and purple are considered “cool” colors. Colors have warmer and cooler versions. For example: while mixing a purple shade, adding more red than blue can make it warmer and vice versa.
Have a paper towel in arm’s reach. Keeping a paper towel or even toilet paper around can is great for soaking up excess water on your paper. Try to use ones without texture patterns. It’s not the greatest feeling to find that after using hefty to blot your area it left imprints of countless flowers on your portrait’s face. Keep in mind it also tends to pick up some of the color along with the water. This effect is more beneficial than annoying actually. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I laid down a darker hue than I intended which forced me to run like a madman for a paper towel to hopefully save the piece.
Salt can be a second medium. Adding salt to a wet color on the paper can keep the water from evaporating for an extended amount of time which allows me to add more color to the wet areas to move the pigment around without all of the haste. The uses for salt can be quite endless. I use it frequently to create texture in my paintings. One of the best things to do with salt to create textures is to experiment with it, but it can still produce quite pleasant results. I’ve personally found sprinkling salt over wet color tends to produce lighter spots where the salt absorbs the color.After it drys you can easily brush the salt off. On another note, its a common technique to produce “fish eye” effects by splattering or dripping rubbing alcohol in the wet paint.
Use masking materials to preserve white areas. It can begin to feel very mundane to manually paint around areas time and time again to preserve white areas. Masking tape, or sometimes called “painter’s tape” can be used to reserve the borders around the painting or help to quickly create straight lines. The tape doesn’t rip the paper on removal. I also recommend using liquid latex that is off-white so it easily stands out from your paper. I was using candle wax very arbitrarily before I discovered liquid latex. Dripping the wax tends to make semi-random shapes which isn’t very reliable.
It’s best to take some precautions when using masking fluid. Stir it prior to use instead of shaking it, as shaking can produce air bubbles which makes it susceptible for the paint to get through to the paper. Remove and apply when the paint is completely dry to prevent it from bonding to your paper or from smearing your colors around. Most importantly, test it on an inconspicuous area of the paper to ensure it will work on the specific type of paper.
Erase pencil lines before painting. This one may seem obvious to many people, but many times I’ve seen really nice pieces lose value because of pencil lines. I recommend erasing before tackling the paper with paint especially if transparent watercolor is the medium of choice. It’s good to give your audience the impression that you were so skilled that you didn’t need a pencil to map out your piece. I have to reluctantly admit that an eraser is my inanimate best friend since I sometimes end up using a pencil religiously to make sure none of the details will be missed when I lay down the paint afterwards. Although almost all gouache paints have a consistency that doesn’t allow for the transparent quality, so you won’t have to worry about your pencil lines showing through.