No matter whether you’re a digital or physical media artist, watercolor techniques are a must. Even digitally, the watercolor effect can be a critical one to replicate - for logo concepts; tattoos; paintings - and if you don’t have a firm understanding of how the style works, you will come up short. Naturally, if you usually design in physical media, watercolor can be a critical technique to understand.
Why Use Watercolor?
Watercolor has long been considered a flexible and versatile medium, especially when put alongside oil paint techniques. It’s also open to a lot of experimentation. At its core, watercolor techniques are applying pigment to the canvas with water as a substrate. It allows for degrees more luminosity than other media, as light reflects off of the paper through the colours.
So, How Do I Start?
Firstly, know that you will need a large library of brush sizes as well as shapes. This needn’t be expensive, although every artist knows that good brushes are worth their weight in gold. Depending on your art style, you may need fine, broad or a mixture from the head of the brush, and some experimentation may be essential. If you want to err on the side of caution, opt for a few brushes finer than you think you might need - close work always occurs and is not always anticipated.
Just as with brushes, a good quality paint will make your life easier. Not only will it last longer without adverse side effects like yellowing, but it will be easier to manipulate too. There’s a host of different brands, so you can play around. Remember colours can be mixed fairly easily, so you can start out with a smaller colour library.
What Techniques Do I Need To Know?
For starters, realize a drier pigment will behave differently on the canvas then a wetter one. You can create quite different effects simply by manipulating the moisture content. Some artists prefer to work from the drier to the wetter end of their painting’s requirements. Likewise, many want to work from ‘light’ areas to ‘dark’ ones. This does take an awful lot of planning and will not work for a more spontaneous artist. You will have to experiment a little to see what works for you. Remember that art should always express your creativity.
What Else Do I Need To Know?
Anyone with experience of various watercolor techniques knows that paper towels or another form of absorbent towelling will be critical to the process too. Not only will it help with unexpected spills, but you can create a host of effects by laying down paint and soaking some up by blotting it. This will also allow for gradual layers. Layering in different colours will create other colours still where they overlap. This can be used incredibly effectively for things like skin tone. Paper towel will also be used if you need to lift away an error, or create a light patch with lifting. Paint water over the dry paint to be manipulated, let penetrate a moment, then lift away by blotting with the towel. You can use sponges very effectively in water colour painting too. It can be used on very wet as well as drier paint to create a range of interesting texture effects.
What Are Some Specific Watercolor Techniques To Try?
If you need a splatter technique, work delicately and use a gentler finger like the index finger to direct the bristles. It’s difficult to predict, but can have a great effect. Another manipulative technique is commonly called ‘blooming’, and allows colours to bleed together convincingly on a gradient. Use a wet pigment layer, adding the other colour to it while still wet, and manipulate the bleed area. You can make a more defined ‘pull’ of colour by adding only water to a dry stroke and firmly pushing outward. This is a great way to handle light within your painting, as well as creating strong fade effects.
How Do I Create Texture, Light And Shade?
Texture can be tricky to achieve with watercolor, and that’s the reason many artists work with textured paper. Make sure you put a little effort into texturing the image convincingly. Some painters use salt. Sprinkle over the wet paint, allow it to dry and brush away. It creates a good rough texture for things like bark due to the different rates of absorption and random pattern in which it strikes the surface of the paint.
Scumbling is a technical artistic term, and the method is used in oil painting too. It’s a method of indirect layering. With watercolor, you will use semi wet strokes to start with, and use water to ensure the blend continues as you swap colours. Use sparingly, as you don’t want colours to become muddy. If you’re struggling to understand the concept, look at some google images of the technique.
What About Negative Space?
Don’t be afraid to use negative space in a watercolor design. It adds interest and dimension. If you want very defined areas of negative space, you can use tape to mask out the areas you definitely need to keep paint free, paint over and around them, and gently peel them back when the paint is dry. Pulling the tape off when the paint is still wet enough to absorb may result in some bleed. This can create an interesting effect in itself, but will be frustrating if you wanted precise lines. It’s important you don’t use too thick a layer of paint if you’re going to tape - you don’t want to pull away caked on paint as you remove the tape either.
How Do I Begin A Watercolor Painting?
One of the most important aspects of watercolor painting is planning. Many artists will create the first outline with pencil, and may even pencil in heavy lines. Pencil lead on the paper will also make the watercolor slightly less likely to bleed on the page. Then start by identifying your light and working form there. Remember that thinner layers that are lighter are the best place to start, working slowly towards the darker colours. Apply it in thin layers, beginning with the very wet, very dilute paints and slowly building towards darker, thicker paints. Layering creates a convincing look to the page as well as allowing for effective colour manipulation. Finish with your dry strokes to create detail and clarity.
Using a few simple watercolor techniques, it’s more than possible to create beautiful watercolor effects that lend depth, dimension and realism to your watercolor work.
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