Monday, August 29, 2016

How I Choose My Multimedia Paper

Most  watercolor teacher-artists will recommend Arches paper, professional watercolor paint, and perhaps a mid level brush with the encouragement that you upgrade as soon as possible.  I understand their thinking:  they don't want students struggling with a Royal Langnickel Box from their local TJ Maxx.  Here's the real secret, though: Arches is consistent.   Any brand of professional watercolors perform well on Arches paper.  Any technique is possible --  and beautiful -- on Arches paper, too.  Most brushes -- and, let's be honest, even sticks --paint well on Arches paper.  It's not hard to see why that paper has become the international standard for watercolor fine art and the preferred supply for teaching watercolor.

But there's a little-talked-about phenomenon in the watercolor multi-media world.  Lots of different papers work really well.   Brilliant, translucent, and predictable, many student grade paints are actually easier to work with than their professional grade counterparts.  Whether a brush costs $2 or $32 they both have strengths and weaknesses.  The bevy of other supplies from watercolor pencils to technical pens often peform better on paper that isn't designed specifically for watercolor.  That said, watercolor is still the main -- and most demanding -- element in our work.
A 9x12 multimedia spread

The challenge in watercolor multi-media is not to find a perfect paper, but to learn the quirks of a paper that accepts all the media you normally use.


1.  Normally, I run a basic watercolor test first.  I don't want to commit any time to a paper that doesn't permit my go-to techniques.  I generally use only one pass of watercolor over the entire inked piece, and then possibly a second pass that hits shadow shapes if necessary.

Absolute essentials: I'm watching the paper for show through, pilling, rippling (some buckling is normal), and graying in addition to being able to use these watercolor techniques.

Dry brush? Tea and milk consistency paint, water in #2 or 3 round hair brush squeezed out before picking up paint, paint metered on sponge or paper towel before touching to paper.
Light wash? Tea and milk consistency paint, water in #2 or 3 round hair brush metered before picking up paint, and paint metered before touching to paper.  I specifically test for flat and graded washes at this point.
Aquabrush?  Tea and milk consistency paint lettering and light washes done with the large Pentel Aquash waterbrush.
Dropping in color? Touching a light wash of a different color into an area that's just painted.  If paper is too absorbent, it simply creates spots instead of blending seamlessly. If the paper is too smooth, the colors completely mix.   I use this technique extensively, so this is one of my main tests.
Softening off/pulling color?  Another go-to technique of mine that I won't live without.  Some multimedia papers don't allow the paint to budge once it's down.  It's like using a marker instead of paints.  
Can I glaze small areas without lifting or muddying the work underneath?  Not a deal breaker, but definitely need-to-know. 

Nice, but not a must if the paper is very good with pencil/pen & ink:

Juicy wash? Tea and milk consistency paint in a #8 round squirrel brush, washing large areas without metering paint.  Common for skies, meadows, bodies of water.  Other techniques can be used if the paper can't take a juicy wash.
Multiple layers:  Tea consistency paint in a juicy wash over large area with #8 round squirrel.  Drying time, and then light to juicy washes with #2/3 round hair.  I rarely use multiple layers because the work is rendered in ink first.
Wet in wet? Dampening a small area before dropping in a light wash.
Scrubbing? Removing a drip or wobble.  I don't scrub multimedia paper as a rule.  I either paint around the area I wish to leave, or mask it.
Lifting? Can a barely damp brush remove color once it's placed?  Will frisket come off easily?
Glazing? What happens when a light wash is gently brushed or dropped over an area that's already painted?  On very smooth multi-media paper, the color underneath sometimes lifts or reactivates and blends. 
Watercolor Pencils/watersoluble graphite?  Is any pencil work left, or does it completely dissolve?  How far can I pull the color?

2.  Next, I test a range of micron pens and my fountain pen for smooth flow in any direction.  Paper with too much tooth catches the tip of micron and rapidograph pens.  I also evaluate drying time for the ink as well as how well watersoluble ink "pulls" with a waterbrush.

3.  Lastly, I test normal graphite with both a #2 wood pencil and a mechanical pencil.  Does it smear? Make a permanent dent in the paper?  Run when touched with water?  Can it be fully erased?

My final consideration is price:  
Can I afford to work in this book every day?  

The only way to level up skills in multi-media is to work every single day. I love tutorials, and books, and classes, and facebook groups, and new art supplies as much as the next person, but only actual practice improves my skill set.  If a book is too precious, and I put off working in it, then it's not a good book for me!

My go-to multi media paper is the inexpensive Canson XL  Multimedia 9" x 12" spiral book which performs beautifully with the equally inexpensive Pentel Aquash waterbrush.  The pricier Strathmore Vellum finish Multi-media Visual Journal or 400 series comes in a close second.   What's your favorite multi-media paper?



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Painting with Middle Values

Original Article:  The Elegance & Power of Middle Values in Painting by David Rankin

Summary:  Rankin uses 18th century master works to demonstrate the skillful use of middle values to create the illusion of depth.  He includes explanations of how to translate these skills to your own work.  Limiting the use of deep darks and whites and isolating them to a single plane is emphasized.

This viewfinder is made of middle value material with included instructions on how to use it as a value finding tool.  I like mine because its very sturdy and multifunctional.



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Erasing with Blue-Tack instead of Kneadable Eraser

Original article: Using Blu-Tack in place of kneadable eraser

Summary:  Blue-Tack is superior to kneadable eraser because it will not transfer graphite back onto the paper.  Demonstrations for lightening tone, complete erasure, and spot/shape erasure are included in the article.



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Friday, April 29, 2016

The Power of One

A recent decision to get fully invested in watercolor (gulp) left me scrambling after reviews and samples for the better part of a month.  Because here's the thing:  

I work best with limitations.

When I have too many choices, I get over-caffeinated ferret brain and produce nothing.  When I am limited, my creativity blooms.  I call it "The Power of One."  I've been developing skills and preferences for the better part of two years.  I've tested dozens of products, and know which ones are worth the cash, and which ones are a little posh for my work and skill set.  I chose to downsize to ONE Studio Bag (The canvas Harbor Freight rigger's bag) and fill it with...



Paper:  Kiliminjaro 140#  natural white watercolor, 12 x 9"(3:4 ratio)

Proper paper is my passion and priority.  For now I am focused on working in a spiral journal format, so I purchased the 12 x 9" 140# Natural White Kiliminjaro with interleaved sketch paper because it is the closest journal on the market to what I anticipate creating*.  Will the Kiliminjaro always fit my needs perfectly?  No.  But I know that consistently working on the same size/aspect and kind of paper will help my composition and painting skill level soar.  I've already created 3"x 4" and 6"x 8" stencils. that allow me to quickly subdivide the page keeping the same aspect ratio.  No more paper compromises!

*I am currently testing 9 different types of watercolor paper to determine my favorite "workhorse" paper.  By the roll even expensive papers are fairly reasonably priced.

Paint:  Da Vinci, Low Intensity Triad influenced gamut 

What does "one" mean with paint?  One color?  One brand?  I decided on one gamut housed in one palette box. Learning the difference between a limited palette and gamut masking from James Gurney's website made the decision to limit gamut instead of palette an easy one.   I've been drawn to Low Intensity Triads since I started painting two years ago, and understand now how a pigment way outside a triad can easily be manipulated into that triad's gamut.  I have a marked preference for Da Vinci paint, and a soft spot for Daniel Smith's mineral pigments.  

Brushes: 1 Mottler, 1 Flat (Aquarelle), 1 Mop, 1 Round, 1 Rigger

Again, how did I want to define one?  One brush?  One brand?  I chose one good quality brush of each type of brush I commonly use in a single small zippered case.  My most expensive purchase, the da Vinci Series 36 round, was about $35.  I already owned the mop and rigger, and purchased the mottler and aquarelle during the April art site sales for a song.  My budget would have allowed top of the line or multiple sizes, but my brain intervened.  If I get desperate, I have whole sets of synthetics in every imaginable size packed away in a teaching tote.

Pen & Ink: One of each type of pen I use, sepia ink.

This was WAY hard. I have a long standing love affair with pens and ink. After debating an upgrade to a TWSBI mini, I chose to keep my Pilot Metropolitan Fine nib (which works brilliantly!) and purchased the Tachikawa T-40 Holder with the Nikko G Nib to replace my gronky plastic holders.  I purchased Noodler's #41 brown to use with both, and the Nikko G works with watercolor paint as well. I bought one sepia Pitt Artist technical pen, and  packed away all of the other pen multitudes with either my office or stationery supplies.  The Tachikawa will be my main weapon but there are times when a fountain or technical pen is simply more practical.
I've been using black ink for a couple of years, and I'm ready to take the linework down a notch.  I like the look of both sepia and gray, so I'll start with sepia and work from there.

Extras:  One of each, quality determined by frequency of use.

Yup, I did it!   One mechanical pencil instead of a pencil case full. 1 pencil sharpener.  1 (divided)water cup. One triangle straight edge. One razor knife. One magnifying lens.  Guess what?  It feels wonderful!!!!

Working from a single studio bag with high quality, familiar tools has freed me.  I'm excited about moving forward with my journals producing sketches and studies, my favorite work.  Will I ever produce studio pieces?  I honestly don't know.  Right now, studio work holds little appeal for me, but if I ever do decide to pursue watercolor as art, I have a wealth of material to work from!

How about you?  What sparks your creativity?  Do you function best on the Power of One or soar when you have a wealth of material to explore and play with?  Do you have other ways in which you limit yourself in order to free your creativity?