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Materials Required For Watercolor Painting

Oct 31, 2007
My attitude toward materials may be summed up by paraphrasing the old adage that just as you can't be a good carpenter without good tools, so you can't be a good watercolorist without good materials.

Even the beginner, who must spoil and throw away a lot of paper, should not start off with too cheap a grade of paper. Adequate machine-made rag-content papers are available for practice. However, as soon as possible, the beginner should switch to a good handmade paper. Such paper not only takes paint better but shows up whiter at those times when the paper becomes an integral part of the design, such as when painting snow scenes.

It also pays to be consistent in the grade of paper you choose. This makes it possible to evaluate your work as you progress. After you've learned to achieve a certain effect on one grade of paper and find that it doesn't work on another grade, you'll understand the importance of this point. By using the same grade, you can, under ideal conditions, achieve the same effect rather consistently.

In the beginning you may want to use a lightweight unmounted paper, say 72 pounds. However, you will soon discover that it will tend to buckle when heavy washes are applied. The resulting wrinkles can be most disconcerting when you are trying to paint reasonably straight objects such as telephone poles, fence posts, and piles. I have found the 300-pound weight to be nearly wrinkle-proof.

In choosing paper you must also consider its texture. Surfaces from very smooth to rough are available. Selection is usually based on the technique employed by the artist. I use the rough paper almost exclusively because I find it of great help in softening edges, creating textures, etc. I prefer the 300-pound d'Arches rough or the 300-pound AWS rough. The d'Arches has a slightly yellowish tint, whereas the AWS is pure white. Both are handmade and of the same high quality.

Sandpaper it used chiefly for scratching off paint in areas where more white is needed.

Masking tape is used to cover those areas of a painting that you wish either to leave as white paper or to paint later on. Maskoid serves the same purpose for small areas.

Butter knives are very useful as tools and, because of their blunt edges, are particularly handy for scraping off paint softly for textural effects.

Although there are many colors of fine quality available, I find that for my work Rembrandt colors are the most satisfactory I use the following watercolor brushes: 2-1/2 inch second grade camel hair and 1-inch Grumbacher aquarelle which are flat; 1-inch, 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch short-hair flat bristle brushes, made for oil painting; numbers 12, 8, 5, and 2 red sable Winsor & Newton or Grumbacher round watercolor brushes.

Additional equipment needed by the watercolorist are a soft cosmetic sponge (fine-textured and natural - not rubber) ; a water container; paint rags; hand mirror ; a low sketching stool; kneaded and sand erasers; HB, 2B, and 6B pencils; drawing board; tube of rubber cement; paint-box and mat knife.

A 5-inch by 7-inch sketch pad is another useful adjunct to the sketching trip for thumbnail sketches preliminary to working on the main picture or for pictures to be finished back in the studio. This also serves as a record of the amount of work you have done during the year.

Now it only remains to begin painting!
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