Watercolours: Just add water
The pigments used in watercolour look thick and solid when sold in a tube or pan but, of course, the addition of water thins the substance and transforms it into a transparent medium. This transparency allows light to reflect off the painted surface and gives it a luminous quality that is the hallmark of great watercolour paintings. On a more practical level, watercolour brushes can be easily washed with water so harsh chemicals can be avoided.
Watercolours are affordable
Watercolours are great for beginners thanks to their affordability. A basic paint set, brushes and papers are relatively inexpensive compared to oil paints for example. This is particularly beneficial early in an artist’s career when trial and error is part and parcel of the learning curve. Thanks to their affordability, watercolours take much of the pain out of those inevitable errors.
Watercolours and white space
To paint a watercolour in the traditional style means you paint without white paint. The white look on your artwork is achieved by leaving space on the paper and covering with a very pale wash to give the effect of natural light. This must be factored in before you start painting and should be top of mind throughout your painting session. Modern watercolour sets do contain white paints but if you’re a stickler for tradition, you may feel white paint is a shortcut to creating a true watercolour.
A simple hint for mixing watercolours
Don’t be too clever when mixing watercolours. Always mix a maximum of two colours at a time. Once you achieve the desired result, add another colour. Mixing too many colours at once and hoping to achieve the right hue is a big gamble and, almost inevitably, an even bigger waste of paint.
Choosing the right paper for watercolours
Watercolour paper is not created equal. Different manufacturers create different shades, including many shades of white! Depending on the subject you’re trying to paint, it pays to take the time to compare the different shades especially if you’re painting in the traditional ‘white space’ method. The thickness of the paper might dictate how much paint you apply, and again there are many different thicknesses (weights) to choose from. Finally, if you want your painting to be handed down through generations, choose acid-free paper as this will age without too much yellowing.
Buying brushes for your watercolours
As with most art supplies, there is a huge range of brushes you can choose from. As a general rule, natural hair brushes are best, even if they cost a little more than synthetic brushes. The main advantages of natural hair brushes are their ability to hold more paint and they retain their shape much better than artificial fibres. As with anything to do with art supplies, false economy is a major factor when choosing watercolour brushes. The more you invest now, the longer your brushes will last.