Watercolor Artist and Instructor Susie Short replies to questions about watercolor painting, watercolor paints, watercolor papers, watercolor brushes, palettes, etc. Discussion includes basic to advanced watercolor techniques, terminology, color theory and color mixing. If you have a watercolor question - Ask Susie!
In the last few weeks I ordered your DVD's Beyond the
Sunset and Texas Bluebonnets and Live Oaks.
They are great videos. Would you
let me know what kind of paper you are using?
My paper will not get as pliable as yours does when it is wet. I am using 140 pound, Strathmore cold press paper. Thanks, Marie
Thanks, I'm pleased your are enjoying the DVD's.
I use and recommend Arches 140# CP paper. It is strong and durable and it works best for my style of painting. And it is a good choice for beginners who are just learning the watercolor techniques.
There are several good watercolor papers, sometimes it is fun and beneficial to experiment to see what other papers will do and how they will perform with your personal style of painting. Online art suppliers offer sampler packets to "test the waters" so to speak at a reasonable price.
Of all my watercolor supplies I believe the most important is my paper.
Hi Susie, I’m curious about something. Is it considered
cheating to start off watercolor with watercolor pencils? I’ve been considering doing it that way first to
teach myself the brush strokes I’d be most comfortable with by following the pencil lines. Although I’m
not sure if that would hinder using actual watercolors. Can you help me with this? Thank you for your time, Courtney
Personally, I don’t like pencil lines in my work so using a
watercolor pencil to “save” an area as I paint in my shapes is a good choice
for me. Drawing with watercolor pencils is one of my favorite ways to
create a guideline that assists with accurate placement when you want to paint
Keep in mind the watercolor pencil lines will dissolve when
water is added.
Cheating? Certainly not!
Use them if they help you as you learn. You never know, you may
outgrow their usefulness.
P.S. Use similar colors that you will use when painting i.e. Use a pink wc pencil to draw a pink rose and a green wc pencil to draw the leaves. A watercolor pencil can also be used to sign a painting. A lighter color or metallic wc pencil is very effective over dark paint.
QUESTION: Why is photo-grade gum arabic less expensive than gum arabic sold for watercolors? Can photo-grade gum arabic be used with watercolor? Thank you :-)
SUSIE"S REPLY: I did some investigating and I've learned that gum arabic is used in several forms for several purposes from food stabilizers to inks and textiles. It can be obtained in a powder, syrup, chunk solids, or pellets. Some of its non food uses include traditional lithography, when used in paints, inks, glues, and printing. As you mentioned it is also used in photography as well as cosmetics. Another interesting thing I learned was it is used on the postage stamps we once licked to stick on our mail. My guess would be the photo grade gum arabic's chemical components are different than the gummy syrup used in manufacturing watercolor paints.
Can you use photo-grade gum arabic with watercolor? If you are mixing your own tube paints it seems to me the thicker syrup type would make a more stable base for the paint. Since I don't mix my own paint thats just my guess. Let me know if you discover any thing different! Thanks for your question, SUSIE
QUESTION: Hi, Susie. I use tube paints and I'm wondering the differences between a metal palette and a plastic palette? Which one is best? I would like to keep my paints in the palette
and mist them to re-use the colors. Any suggestions? Debby
SUSIE'S REPLY: Debby-- Using the metal enameled butcher type trays for a watercolor palette is a very popular choice. When I began painting in the 60's I had several I used and I loved the extra large mixing areas. I can see how they would be ideal for mixing and pouring paint if you are into that technique. The metal palettes usually don't come with lids to protect the paint between uses. The plastic palettes come in several shapes and sizes and many do have lids to help keep paints moist between painting sessions. These plastic palettes are lighter for taking with you when traveling back and forth to classes or for painting outside.
Which is best? I think it's a personal choice and it should be based on what works best for you.
My current palettes are the Richeson 22 well plastic palette (with lid) and the 32 well Jones Palette with lid. Both have flat bottom wells and large mixing areas without speedbumps. But those are my personal choices based on my painting style.
:-) Hi Susie Happened upon your site as I was looking for sea scapes/waves breaking, I,m a beginner In art, I was enthralled by your easy demo of waves, may I ask you the gram weight of the water colour paper you use, as well as to ask if I follow your patterns and instructions and do a painting, I see it is copy right, does that mean I am not allowed to show the finished article at a art gallery, and put my name on the finished painting? obviously I will change as much as I can to make it look different, I would not like to do anything illegal, waiting in anticipation for your answer. YVONNE
Thanks for writing. I like to use Arches brand watercolor paper for most of my work and for the waves I use 140# Cold Pressed paper or 140# Rough watercolor paper. The copyright applies to my rights concerning the instructional content, protecting my instructions from being used my another for monetary gain. As with most patterns and reference material used for instructions you are welcome to paint from it and sign it with your name. Some instructors recommend if you work from their patterns or painting examples you sign the your painting as a study. Example: Your Signature, Study of Making Waves by Susie Short. I’m not that strict. Understand that many other students will be painting from the same resources so your painting will not be as unique as it would if you were working from your own resources.
As for showing or displaying the study…Let your conscience be your guide. You will know how much is “copied” and how much is original or adjusted by you to make it your own work.
Displaying the study in a group or personal show is acceptable as long as it is identified as a study.
I do not think a study qualifies as an entry in a juried competition.
It is ok to give a study as a gift.
It is not against any “rules” to sell a study as long as you are not misrepresenting it as an original work. Art work for sale in most art galleries is presumed to be original work created by the signing artist. It’s not worth the risk of ruining your reputation or relationship with a gallery to display a work that might be questioned at a later date.
It is not ok to make reproductions of a study for personal profit.
I hope this information is useful and answers some of your questions. I’m not a lawyer so please do not consider my opinions to be legal advice.
QUESTION: I left my watercolors in the palette over the summer to garden. From time to time I put a damp cloth over them & sprayed them with water. Several have grown mold. I'm able to scrape off the mold. may I use them w/out trouble. How do you store watercolors in a palette for up to 2-3 months? Judy, Olympia, WA
Susie's Reply: Hi Judy, I have several suggestions for you. Let's start with the mold issue. Scraping the mold off is a good start. A solution of vinegar and water will also neutralize any mold spores that remain. If the paint is a professional grade watercolor it should be OK.
Let's talk about storing watercolor paint in a palette. Allowing the paint to dry between painting sessions is not going to harm the paint especially if its professional grade. Many artists prefer to paint with freshly squeezed paint straight from the tube. Some watercolor paints are made with emollients or additives (such as honey) that aide in keeping the paint moist. Many believe that the paint must be kept moist to maintain the paint's integrity. For many years I was included in this group of believers. And I can't tell you how much paint I washed down the drain at the end of each painting session. It wasn't until 1990 when I was fortunate to take a workshop with Zoltan Szabo that I learned dry paint was just as vibrant when reactivated as it was straight from the tube.
Some watercolor pigments and the formulas the manufacturers use are better suited for using dry than are others.
So here are my suggestions: If you feel you must use moist paint don't squeeze out more than you can use in a few days or maybe even up to a week. Use a palette with a snug lid and consider putting a moist sponge in the mixing area when the lid is on the palette.
If you will not be using the paint again in a few days, remove the lid and allow the paint to dry naturally. When you are ready to paint again add some fresh paint on top of the dried paint and replace the lid. The moisture will sink down into the dried paint. I hope this helps answer your questions. SUSIE
Comment: I have 2 large palettes with paint in them....when I go to class they are too large to transport conventiently...I have since bought a smaller palette....is it okay to take the old paint out of one of the larger palettes and use it in the smaller palette? Is there an easy way to do this? Thanks Dee Cee
Yes! It is fairly easy to transfer paint from one watercolor palette to another. When the paint is dry its almost like a rubber block that will "pop" out of the well with some gentle prodding. Secure the dry paint block in the new palette well by squeezing some fresh paint of the same color into the well to act as a glue. Let it dry to cure and setup before using it.
Clean the paint block with a damp brush if there is renegade paint dried on it. Try it! Susie
QUESTION: Could I spray my watercolor background with an acrylic then paint on top with acrylic paints? Alicia
SUSIE'S REPLY: Thanks for writing!
Acrylics and watercolor are both water soluble and considered water based mediums.
Once an acrylic dries it becomes a type of plastic and is no longer water soluble.
You can paint acrylics over a watercolor base or background without any problems. There is no need to spray the background first. However, you can not paint watercolor over an acrylic background without creating some issues. These issues may or may not be a problem. Usually watercolor, being vulnerable to moisture needs to be protected from exposure. A clear acrylic fixative would be recommended to protect watercolor over acrylics.
Having said that, I need to add that the more watered down the acrylic is the more acceptable it is to a watercolor glaze over it. On the other hand, if the acrylic under painting is thick and not porous it will be difficult for watercolor to stick to it.
There are several outstanding artists who do combine acrylics and watercolor very successfully.
QUESTION: Hi Susie, could I use Gum Arabic as a retarder for Acrylic Painting. I do like to work wet with my acrylics so that I can get better blending in my painting. I do have a retarder but i would like to try another form of keeping my paints wet. I am not into watercolours yet as I am still in the learning stages. Thank you for your advice Vera S
SUSIE'S REPLY: Hi Vera, I'm not a chemist but I don't think gum arabic would make a suitable retardant for acrylics. It's used as a binder in watercolors because it dissolves with water. I'm sure if it worked well with acrylics it would be promoted and sold by the acrylic manufacturers.
Keep painting and learning! Practicing and painting every chance you get helps you learn from experience. Thanks for writing!
QUESTION: Susie, I have a problem. Almost a year ago I bought 140 lb, cold pressed, 16"X10" 'The Langton' block by Daler & Rowney. I stored it well for 11 months. yesterday when I tried to paint on it the paper buckled up also it dries very fast and is almost like bloating paper. I never had this problem before.
I sent a mail to D&R about the problem but no reply yet. It's been 11 months since I bought it so the dealer refused to replace it. .
Tried to stretch it. I didn't sock it for 10 minutes but sprayed some water until it's fully wait then wiped it and taped it to the board. Didn't work at all. Is there any other way?
Colombo, Sri Lanka
SUSIE'S REPLY: Thanks for writing.
You say you haven’t experienced this problem before, have you always used this same type of paper? Or is this a different paper brand?
Just because it is 140# CP doesn’t mean it will work the same or is equal to other 140# CP brands.
I’m not as familiar with the 140# Langston block as I am Arches 140# papers but perhaps I can offer you some suggestions.
Please forgive me if these points sound basic or over simplified but since I have no way of knowing how much you know I’ll approach these hints as if you were a beginner minimal experience.
·When watercolor paper is wet the fibers expand and if the paper is tacked down or sealed around the edges it will wrinkle or buckle.
Many artists soak and stretch their watercolor paper as a way of dealing with this issue.
·Watercolor Blocks are designed to paint on without stretching the paper. Watercolor Blocks are sealed with a glue around the edges and are designed to paint on without stretching the paper. Because there is no allowance for expansion when the paper is wet (causing buckling) blocks work best when using dry brush techniques which require less moisture thus less expansion/buckling.
·For best results for painting on watercolor blocks (by any paper manufacturer) use techniques requiring less water.
The traditional recommendation would be: If you will be working wet in wet, remove the paper from the block, fully soak the paper by submerging it in water then stretch it by tacking and taping the edges so it dries taunt.
My personal choice: I don’t stretch my paper, I prefer to keep it loose so I can rotate it as I paint and I do work wet in wet without buckling. When the paper is loose it can expand and contract at will. If it is tacked down (without being stretched-including glued edges as in the wc block) it doesn’t have room to expand when you wet it. I might use a clip or tack to hold the paper in place if needed.
I’m not sure I helped with the buckling issue you experienced when working wet in wet. I do believe you can use the paper if you use less water and more dry brush techniques.
Every type of paper, every brand of paper, has different traits and personalities. Not every type/brand is suited for every painting style.
I hope that helps.
Keep on painting!
PS. Joan asked: Concerning the buckling problem, couldn't she iron the one she is concerned about? Since she can't fix it any other way. I would use a towel maybe dampened a bit to try and get it to lay flat.
Thanks Joan! Yes, a medium warm iron will help to flatten the buckles. I usually dampen the back of the entire painting using a damp paper towel, making sure I also get the edges damp not just the middle where the wavy area might be more obvious, allow the paper time to expand. The wc paper will be limp and a little floppy. Then protect the wc paper with a layer of paper such as a brown paper bag torn open to a single layer when you start to iron the wc paper. The heat from the iron will help the fibers shrink back into place evenly. Using gentle pressure helps the process too.
QUESTION: Hello, I am trying to do a somewhat abstract painting with watercolors. I am using 140 lb. canson watercolor paper. I am pre wetting areas and then applying the color so it will spread randomly. However, I don't even have that much water on the paper but It fuzzes up and starts falling apart. Would bumping up to 300 lb. watercolor paper help? Colin
SUSIE'S REPLY: Hi Colin, You might want to try another brand of paper. Just because the weight of the paper is 140# does not mean they share the same equality. Bumping up to 300# Canson will not guarantee a better outcome. The sizing and cotton pulp is the same in the 140# and the 300# of Canson. Try Arches 140# CP or Stephen Quiller 140# CP by Richeson Both of theses papers will hold up when soaked in multiple applications. I hope this helps! SUSIE
QUESTION: I received two new 37ml tubes of Winsor-Newton watercolor paint -- squeezing the tube I do not get paint initially but an oily fluid -- is this paint at the bottom of the tube usable. Cad Red and Cerulean Blue - Ray T
SUSIE'S REPLY: Hi Ray! The amber oily looking fluid is gum arabic. All brands of tube watercolors include water soluble gum arabic as a binder. Sedimentary pigments do settle and separate somewhat in the tube when they sit on a shelf or in your paint box for a while. When you first open a tube of paint and see the gum arabic at the top put the lid back on the tube and shake or knead it a little to mix it back into the pigments. Using a toothpick or straightened paper clip to stir the paint in the tube has also worked for me to mix it back into the paint. The pigments remaining in the tube are not harmed by having less gum arabic but they may solidify and harden in the tube if they are not used for a while. Cadmium Red and Cerulean Blue are both sedimentary pigments so I would expect to see some settling in the tubes. I like painting with dry paint rather that freshly squeezed paint so this is no longer an issue for me. I prefer to squeeze the whole tube of paint into my palette well, stir it up to reintegrate the gum arabic and allow the paint to dry in the well before I paint with it. It works very well for my style of painting. Thanks for your question! Happy Painting! Susie