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Why Paint in Watercolor? Artists who paint in watercolor are fanatical about their medium. Watercolor seems to inspire a kind of passion—once you master it—that unites watercolorists into a kind of unofficial, worldwide "society," like people who are in love with wine or sailing or horseback riding. Ask the watercolorist to define the magic of his medium and he'll probably talk about three unique qualities: transparency, speed and spontaneity.
Transparency. As it comes from the tube, watercolor is a blend of finely powdered color, called pigment; a water-soluble adhesive called gum arabic, which will glue the pigments to the watercolor paper; and just enough water to make these ingredients form a thick paste. You squeeze a dab of this paste from the tube onto the palette, load a brush with water, touch the tip of your brush to the dab of color, and swirl the brush around on the mixing area of your palette to form a pool of liquid color. That pool is essentially tinted water, as clear and transparent as the water you drink, merely darkened by a touch of color. The color on your palette is like a sheet of colored glass. You can see right through it to the white surface of the palette. And when you brush the liquid color onto the paper, the light in your studio shines through the wash, strikes the white surface of the paper, and bounces back through the layer of color like sunlight passing through stained glass. A watercolor painting is literally filled with light. That's why watercolorists love to paint the effects of light and atmosphere in outdoor subjects such as landscapes and seascapes.
Speed. As soon as the water evaporates, a stroke or wash of watercolor is dry. But that stroke or wash actually begins to dry as soon as the liquid color hits the paper. For a minute or two—as long as the wet color remains shiny—you can push the paint around or blend in more liquid color. But as soon as the surface of the paper begins to lose its shine, the liquid color is beginning to "set up." At that stage, you'd better stop and let it dry. From that point on, you run the danger of producing unpleasant streaks or blotches if you keep working on the damp color. If you try to introduce a brushload of fresh color into that damp surface, you're most likely to produce a distinctive kind of blotch, which every watercolorist knows and dreads—called a fan because of its peculiar, ragged edge. In short, watercolor forces you to be quick. You have to plan your picture carefully: decide exactly what you want to do, work with decisive strokes, then stop. Every painting is exciting—a race against time, a challenge to your decisiveness and your control of the medium. Watercolor is for people who like speed and action.
Spontaneity. Because of this rapid drying time, you're forced to wield the brush quickly and freely. Like a general planning an attack, you must do all your thinking before you sound the charge. Once the action begins, there's no turning back. As soon as the brush touches the paper, the challenge is to get the job done with a few bold, rapid strokes. This is why a good watercolor has such a wonderfully fresh, lively, spontaneous feeling. A century after the picture was painted, the viewer can still share the artist's pleasure in the sweeping action of the brush.
Permanence. Yes, a watercolor will last a century or more, even though it's nothing more than tinted water on a fragile sheet of paper. If you work with non-fading color—such as the colors recommended in this book—and keep your painting away from moisture, that delicate veil of color on the paper will last just as long as a tough, leathery coat of oil paint on a canvas.
Wash Demonstrations. Following a brief survey of the colors, brushes, papers, and other equipment you need for watercolor painting, this book begins by demonstrating the four basic ways of applying liquid color to paper. First, you'll see how to paint a flat wash, which means a color area that's the same density from one edge to the other. Then you'll see how to paint a graded wash, which starts out dark at one edge and gradually lightens as it reaches the other edge. You'll learn the technique called drybrush, which means working with a brush that's merely dampened with water. Additionally, you'll see a demonstration of the wet-in-wet technique, which means brushing color onto a wet surface so the strokes blur and fuse.
Painting Demonstrations. These wash demonstrations are followed by a series of painting demonstrations in which Claude Croney, a master of watercolor technique, puts these four basic wash techniques to work in a series of eight complete paintings. He starts with simple, colorful still lifes of fruit, vegetables, and flowers, since still life is the easiest way to learn how to control any painting medium. Then Croney goes outdoors to paint a variety of landscapes and coastal subjects.
Special Effects. Finally, you'll learn various technical tricks such as creating lines and textures by scratching and scraping. You'll also learn how to alter a watercolor painting by the techniques called sponging, washing, scrubbing, and lifting. And you'll learn how to mat, frame, and preserve a finished picture.
Excerpted from Watercolor Painting by Wendon Blake. Copyright © 2000 Donald Holden. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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