Today, I want to share a little from the theory section of the first lesson in SketchingNow Watercolour.
I believe that the more you understand your materials, the more you can use them freely because you know what to expect. When it comes to watercolour, I always anticipate the unexpected! So I’m keen to have a practical knowledge which borders on scientific at times, but the goal is always to get better results when working loosely. Tight thinking but loose sketching.
In my Watercolour course, I wanted to share my understanding of watercolour (pigments suspended in water) in a visual way, and so I created a few diagrams to explain what’s happening on the page, and then I demonstrated these concepts with paint. So this article just contains the written version of what I did on video.
Anyway, enough background… let’s just get straight into it!
What is Watercolour?
At the most basic level it’s important to understand that watercolour is not a dye i.e. it’s not colour completely dissolved into water, behaving as a homogenous liquid. Instead, watercolour is composed of particles that are suspended in water. When we put a wash on the page, the water evaporates, leaving the particles (pigments) to settle into the paper fibres.
What we’re seeing as the end result is simply pigments on paper. Note: there’s also gum arabic in the mix to hold the pigments together as paint and also help the pigment stick to the paper, but in essence when the painting is dry we’re left with just pigments.
When we mix two different pigments, such as pink and blue, we get purple. Beginners are normally only concerned about the colour aspect of mixing paint, but the special thing about watercolour is that the pigments that make up those different colours have different characteristics – eg. size and weight.
When we put this mix on the page, some of the pigments sink to the bottom and others float on the surface. This results in an amazing separation of the pigments – what I call watercolour magic. This is what makes watercolour so special. What I really want you to get out of this course, above everything else, is this idea of letting the pigments settle naturally on the page.
We can adjust a mix while it’s wet by adding a little bit more water and/or pigment, but if we start fiddling on the page – over-mixing – we destroy all of that magic because the pigments become intermixed and they’re also forced down into the paper fibres.
More watercolour magic
The other magical thing about watercolour (which I suppose some people would have expected me to have said first of all) is the fact that it’s a transparent medium. Watercolour can produce beautiful luminous paintings.
Some watercolour pigments are more opaque than others and the most opaque in my palette is Cobalt Turquoise Light. When you put a thick layer of it on the page it is opaque and you can’t see the paper underneath it. However, with enough water in the mix, this opaque paint can look transparent because there is enough water to separate the pigments, resulting in a lovely transparency from the reflected light off the paper.
Paper also affects the magic. In the first example (Stillman & Birn Beta) there is some lovely separation of pigments and a distinct pink around the edge. On rougher paper the watercolour wash is more even than on smooth paper where there are more marks. Each paper we use will produce different types of magic.
To summarise these concepts:
To achieve watercolour magic we need to develop the confidence to go for it and then leave it alone – no fiddling!
To maximise the magic we need to:
- find the pigments/pigment combinations that will produce the most magic
- control the water to pigment ratio so that we get the most magic
- find the best paper to get the results that we want.
So there you have it, a written version of the first video in Lesson 1, SketchingNow Watercolour.
We then go on to look at principles of how water behaves and water control and awareness. All essential concepts to understand when sketching with watercolour.
I hope you found this useful!
Or if you are doing/have done the course, that you don’t mind a re-cap!