Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Painting straight lines or edges in watercolor

I just started watercolor painting. Is there an easy way to make straight lines (as when painting a structure that needs to have very straight walls etc? Thanks, Donna

Hi Donna!
It sounds like you are jumping into watercolor with both feet! GOOD FOR YOU!
I do have a few simple tips that will help with getting a clean edge when painting a building or a wall with straight edges.
  1. Use a piece of plastic tape as a guideline to help paint a straight edge. I don't recommend using standard masking tape, it can damage your watercolor paper and sometimes leaves a sticky residue when its removed, but most of all its hard to get it to seal tight enough to keep the wet paint from seeping under the edge of the tape. I prefer to use Artist Tape. It is the best I've found for sticking to the paper and not allowing the paint to "seep" under the tape. And it is easy to remove without damaging the paper's surface. Look for artist tape in most artist's supply stores locally or online. Artist tape is also an archival tape used by framers to mount paintings to mat boards. So you might find it at your local picture framer too. I jokingly call my artist tape a "ruler on a roll" and I frequently use it to clean up straight edges and create highlights after the painting is painted when I'm adding those finishing touches and polishing up the painting.
  2. Use a "stencil" simply made from a scrap piece of watercolor paper or clear transparency film to provide a clean edge and protect the area not being painted.
  3. Making fluid (there are several good brands available) can be applied to the watercolor paper to reserve the white of the paper and create a straight edge.
  4. Another way is to use a ruler or straight edge held at an angle so your brush glides along the elevated straight edge. A picture is worth a thousand words ... see photo examples.

I'll add links to examples for each of these tips this weekend.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Gear for painting outside - en plein air

QUESTION: Where should I look to find kapablock foam board. Love the idea for painting outside! Thanks SR

(This question is referring to my suggestions for painting en plein air or outdoors on location. You can read more about the kapablock by visiting my website tips for
Outdoor painting gear page 2 .... And don't miss page 1 for more tips.)
Kapablock can be found at plastic suppliers such as Tap Plastics or Calsac Plastics in my area.
It can sometimes be found where ever they sell advertising supplies. It is also used for building the partitions between display booths. Some lumber supply store may carry it.
If you can't find kapablock look for the 1/2 in gator board. It might be easier to find.

Good luck! And enjoy painting outside!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Phthalo Blue -- warm or cool?

QUESTION: Hi, I Have a question about M. Graham phthalocyanine blue 15.3.
Is it a warm or cool blue? Thank you, Debbie

Most Phthalo Blue is PB15 and lean to the the greenish side of blue. In recent years some manufacturer (including M.Graham) have added an additional Phthalo's to their line that has been altered to have a more "purple" blue look. Look for the Phthalo Blue (RS) which stands for red shade.

From the manufacturers information I find that M.Graham's Phthalo Blue PB15:3 is altered to be more of a "true blue" and is a structural variant of Phthalo Blue PB15 (that produces more greenish tones. )

Here is a link to the M.Graham site with more technical information about their watercolors.

OK........that said, let's talk about warm vs cool.

Warmer or cooler is relative. It depends on the two colors you are comparing.

Red is warm and blue is cool... and its easy to see which is which.

All blues are cool when compared to any red. But when we compare several colors of the same hue (in this case blues) Manganese blue might be cooler than Antwerp blue and Ultramarine might be warmer than Cerulean blue. You have to visually compare them to see where they fit on the color wheel.
Because warm vs cool is relative to the two colors you are comparing, I find it's much easier to describe a color by naming the secondary hue it leans toward than to try to distinguish the difference by warmer or cooler. Example: New Gamboge is a orangish yellow and Hansa Yellow is a greenish yellow.

When comparing Phthalo blue(GS) to French Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo is slightly greener than Fr. Ultramarine blue which to my eye looks slightly purplish. So I say Phthalo is cooler, because on the color wheel it is closer to the coolest hue which is blue-blue-green.

The Fr Ultramarine is on the warmer side because it has a touch of red in it thus it farther away from the coolest color and closer to the warmer hues.

Now to answer your specific question: It is my opinion that M Graham's Phthalo 15.3 is very near a true blue. It has been altered so it doesn't lean toward a green hue as with the Phthalo Green Shade (GS) or a purple hue as the Phthalo Red Shade (RS). So I guess I'd say it is neither warm nor cool by itself. If we compared it to another blue I could tell you if it was warmer or cooler than the other blue hue.

I hope that is sufficient. It's not a simple answer.

Thanks for asking!


Saturday, August 16, 2008

What is "glazing?"

Susie: As a beginner in watercoloring I am not familiar with glazing as referred to in the
Raindrops on Roses watercolor tip. Please let me know. Thanks so much for your info. L S

is layering thin washes of color with drying time between each layer to build up color.

In this case for the pink roses, it would be a thin or watered down puddle of pink paint.
You paint the darkest value near the center of the rose and blend off to a more diluted watered down value on the outer edge.
Blending off is moistening the area beside a stroke to soften the edge.

Look at my other rose demo for more details and info. Look at steps 4, 5 and 6.

I hope that helps!


For a more detailed lesson on painting Raindrops on Roses look for my downloadable eLesson on my website.
You will need the Adobe PDF reader to open the file. To get it free click here.

Signatures on Watercolor Paintings

Susie, how do you sign your paintings? Brush? What kind? pencil? . . . Jane

Hi Jane,
I have a couple of ways depending on what I'm signing.
For my better than average paintings I use a stylized signature - nothing like my regular handwriting. I use a synthetic brush (I think it's about a#2 or #3) that has a crooked point. It was brand new, used once or twice and got put up wet -- got crimped in my paint box and now it has a tiny 90 degree turn in it at the very tip. At first I tried to save it but could not get the crimp out. Tried it to sign my name teeny tiny on some Christmas cards and it worked! Been using it for about 15 years now....for nothing but signing my name. I'll be up a creek if I loose it or if it wears out.
For my demos I use a stylus and sign them with my cursive handwriting signature as if I were signing a check while the painting is wet. I guess I do use it the most since I do more demos than anything these days. I learned that trick from Zoltan Szabo.

On some things when I'm in a hurry or if I want the signature very clear and legible for printing etc. I will use a sharp watercolor pencil on dry paper and my or may not glaze water over it to seal it.
On my greeting cards I sometimes use archival gel pens in a metallic gold or copper or misty blue. But mostly just use the stylus ---its so easy and convenient and fool proof!

Thanks for asking!

Recommended Watercolor Brushes

QUESTION: Hi Susie, I just watched your DVD "Painting Holiday Cards in Watercolor". I really enjoyed this DVD, learned a lot. However, I would like to know what Brand & the sizes of the Round brushes that you used to paint these cards? It would also have been helpful if you could have introduced all the supplies that you used. Thanks for your help. Linda

SUSIE'S REPLY: Hello Linda,
The brushes used on the Holiday Cards DVD were all made by Daniel Smith.
The round aquarelle with the black handle is no longer available. Their replacement for this brush now has a clear handle.

Round Aquarelle
Flat aquarelle
Since I recorded the video Daniel Smith came out with another synthetic brush that has become one of my favorites it’s found on their website as the DS Platinum Series 23 Taklon Multimedia brushes.I use 23-2 round brush in #8, #10 and #12.
The smaller sizes are very good too, but I find that the tips or points of these brushes are so good I don’t need to go smaller for a sharp point to do details. They are inexpensive so I keep several within reach for blending and direct painting. I’m very abusive with my brushes and at this price I don’t mind replacing it when it does wear out or loose its point. (TIP: When it does loose its point it makes a perfect flower petal brush with a brushstroke mark much like a filbert.)
I like this 23- line of brushes in the flats and rounds and script liners (aka riggers).
When you go to the DS site if you put Series 23 in the search box you will get a page with this whole line of synthetic brushes.
The cutter brush I refer to in the video is also been upgraded to my own signature brush available from Daniel Smith.
I hope that helps to answer your brush questions.
Things change so fast in the Art Supplies that are available from year to year. I used the blank Strathmore cards with a deckled edge for all my cards but last year they changed the paper they made them with and now they will not take watercolor. So I’ve switched to the Strathmore Watercolor Cards. They have a cut straight edge but they accept the watercolor and work for painting holiday cards using my techniques. They are thicker and take longer to dry between painting steps.
My palette is filled with Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors but Windsor Newton, Holbein, Graham, American Journey, etc are also good to paint with. The color names vary depending on brand. I’ll be happy to tell you any specifics if you can point them out for me to identify.
Here is a link to my general palette and supply list
Happy Painting!
Keep those brushes wet!

Arranging a Watercolor Palette Layout

QUESTION: Hi Susie, I have a new palette with 32 wells and I don't know where to start or how to arrange the paint in my new palette. Is there a formula or a map or a chart to help with adding colors? Also, is it OK to put more than one color in the same well? Thanks, Mary Y

SUSIE'S REPLY: Hello Mary!
Setting up a new palette can be such fun! I love to see the bright colors of the fresh watercolor paint as I fill each well. But I admit it can be a little intimidating too.
The arrangement of the watercolor paints on your palette will become a personal choice for you as you continue your artistic journey. Possibly even more important than a formula for particular placement is that the watercolor paint be in the same familiar location so you can find it easily without guessing which paint is which while you are painting.
My personal choice is to place my paint in a sort or chromatic arrangement, similar to how the colors fall on the color wheel.
My suggested palette layouts can be found on my web site.
Basic Palette Layout & Expanded Palette Layout

Happy Painting!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Green is Green is Green

QUESTION: Susie, I am having the hardest time painting leaves. Green is green is green. I never seem to get enough contrast and my leaves never come to "LIFE". Can you help? Do you have a video on painting flowers and LEAVES? Shirley

SUSIE'S REPLY: Shirley, the DVD titled Painting Sentimental Roses goes into painting leaves on the stem of a rose. And I do mention adding some variety to the green leaves by dropping in more blue or yellow into a wet area.
But let's just take a few minutes to talk about greens and how to alter them.
First of all don't let yourself get into a habit of relying on tube greens. That green hue (such as Sap Green) may be beautiful straight out of the tube but it can be so "boring." Instead of using tube greens, try mixing your greens using the blues and yellows on your palette. Each blue will make a different hue of green when you add it to each of your yellows.
Experiment by making a little color chart or grid of greens and see the variations you have available to you without dipping into a tube green.


Then make another chart for each tube green and see how you can adjust the hue of the tube color by adding those same blues to the green from the tube and then another chart by adding the yellows to the tube green(s). WOW! And think of how many more you can make if you combined the tube greens with any number of mixed greens from your first chart of just blues and yellows. (Shown in my example are Sap and Viridian mixed with six colors of a split primary palette.)


So far we've been thinking about mixing wet colors. Now let's think about glazing or layering blue over yellow or green over pink or green over orange. You can get an endless variety of greens that are alive and exciting.
Dropping wet color into another wet color is called "charging." When the blue and yellow are allowed to "mingle" on your paper rather than being premixed on your palette the color will often be more exciting and have more punch to it.

Thanks for asking a question that so many of us need to deal with. I hope you will find out that with some practice with mixing and mingling your greens will become your friend and not your enemy.

Happy Painting!

Painting Rainbows in Watercolor

QUESTION: Hi Susie! I have a beautiful photo of a rainbow that I've been trying to paint but I've had problems with keeping the colors of the rainbow vibrant and fresh without the colors running into each other and getting muddy. Do you have a simple step by step advice for rainbows? Maybe this would be in your watercolor skies DVD? Any chance that you'll be visiting Hawaii so I can take one of your workshops? Melissa/Hawaii

SUSIE'S REPLY: Hi Melissa! First of all let me tell you I would love to come to Hawaii to paint and teach a workshop! I don't have anything planned yet, but it could happen! I'm ready!
Now to answer your question....Painting rainbows in watercolor does present some unique challenges. When we visualize a rainbow we think of evenly blended vibrant colors with soft edges.
One way to keep our colors from mingling into a muddy mess is to apply one color (on dampened paper,) let it dry, then re-dampen and glaze the second color on next to it. The slight overlapping of these two colors will naturally create the secondary color between them. Let the colors dry again. Then add the next color. You may have to repeat the process several time and build up layers to achieve the intensity you are striving for so be patient. Its been my experience that using only red yellow and blue to paint a rainbow wasn't enough I had to mix up a purple and orange to fill in where I wanted more vibrant color hues.

I've tried painting the rainbow first then painting the landscape/sky around it, and I've painted the landscape/sky first and added the rainbow. Both methods worked as long as I took my time and didn't rush things. As is the case with most new watercolor techniques, it will take some practice and possibly several pieces of good paper to get the feel for what you are doing. Hang in there and don't give up. It can be done! Good luck!

PS. Let me emphasize.... using good paper will be critical ...even when practicing...use good paper!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Technique - Pouring Watercolor Paint

Hi Susie,
I'm very new at WC so I will enjoy reading all the Q&A's here. Can you please explain how to do the "poured" technique? I've seen this talked about but I have no idea how to do it and I love to experiment with all the techniques I read about. Thank you, Nancy

Hi Nancy - Pouring watercolor paints is an indirect method of painting and quite a detour from the more traditional direct painting methods. Due the variables involved it is often thought of as an experimental technique. Those artists who do master it come up with very beautiful luminous watercolor paintings. Two of the most proficient artists using variations of pouring techniques are Nita Engle and Roland Roycroft.

I'll share what I know about pouring watercolors, which I must admit was a lot of fun to do for a change of pace but didn't quite suite my style as my preferred method for painting. I do still piddle with pouring paint every now and then just for fun and to see what I get.
The basic idea is to pour paint diluted with water over the surface of your watercolor paper creating beautiful blends of sparkling color. Depending on the results you are striving for, you can pour each color separately allowing the surface to dry between each color (which would be considered a form of glazing) or you can allow the colors to mingle on the wet paper without drying between "pours".
Basic techniques for pouring watercolors:
  • After you have transferred your drawing to watercolor paper mounted on a support of some sort, use a liquid masking fluid or maskit to carefully reserve any whites and light to middle values. Let the masking dry.
  • Squeeze the paint you plan to use from the tubes into saucers or containers (such as a empty plastic butter tubs) and using a spray bottle add water to dilute the watercolor to the desired intensity. Use a clean brush to dissolve and clumps of thick paint. Don't add too much water, you can always use the mister to add more water to your paper as needed. Remember the more water you use with the paint the lighter it will be when it dries.
  • When the masking is completed and totally dry you are ready to pour. Have a receptacle ready to catch the paint as it runs off your paper. (If you only add one color at a time the run-off and be reused for additional poured layers. )
  • Using clear water lightly mist the paper.
  • Pour a small amount of the diluted watercolor paint on your paper. You can even use an eye dropper for more control when adding the paint.
  • Use sprayer or mister to add more water as you work from dark to light in both value or intensity and to move the paint where you want it to go.
  • Tilting your board back and forth will also allow the paint to run and mingle some if you are working with more than one color.
  • Pour off excess paint being careful to watch for puddles of paint collecting in pockets caused by the masking fluid. If you find a collection of paint use the tip of a paper towel or a thirsty brush to soak up the excess.
  • DRY and repeat as needed to get the desired effect. DRY AGAIN.
  • Use a rubber cement pick-up or a piece of tape to rub off the masking.
  • Next, remask only the lightest areas, leaving the middle values unmasked. When the masking is dry repeat the pouring process. Glazing over the already painted areas will make them darker and in the area previously reserved by the masking now add color. These steps can be repeated as many times as necessary until you build up the contrast and mood you desire.
  • Remove the masking from the lightest areas and highlights. You can now use a brush to add or bring out any of the finer details.

This is a very simplified explanation of how to produce a painting using poured paints but it should give you an idea of what is involved. For more details I'll refer you to these books by the experts.

Clicking on the titles will take you to my recommended watercolor books powered by Look for the Abstract and Experimental catagory.

And while you're looking take a peek at the new book Watercolor The Spirit Of Spontaneity by Karlyn Holman. She covers pouring plus many more fun techniques.

Thanks for your question!
I hope this inspires you to explore poured painting further!