Showing posts with label strathmore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label strathmore. Show all posts

Sunday 14 June 2020


Watercolour sketch page - Sarracenias

It’s been too long since I last wrote a blog post, I’m afraid life rather got in the way, but I’m back with something that’s been bothering me for a while. Grab a cuppa and maybe a biscuit, this is a long read

As well as being a Botanical Artist, I am Botanical Painting Tutor for the London Art College and have noticed how difficult starting off in Watercolour can be. There’s a saying that Watercolour is the easiest medium to pick up, but the most difficult to master and in some ways I would agree with this.

I think a lot of that is Where to Start ? When faced with an art shop full of materials and there’s so much choice, it’s really confusing.

There’s also confusion about what is the most important element of painting in Watercolour. Because it’s called Watercolour painting, you’d think that the most important element would be the paint.

But it isn’t !

As I’ve written further down the page, as long as you are purchasing decent bands of professional paint, even the modern student grades will be good. The range of colours are limited, you do have to check for single/transparent pigments, and they may not be quite as strong as the professional range, but these are minor problems when you are starting out, and are an advantage for beginners in the case of limited range of colours and the very strong Phthalo pigments.

In fact, the most important elements in order of importance is 1. Paper 2. Brushes 3. Paint.

That’s right, Paper is the most important element !

Why? Because it doesn’t matter how experienced you are, or how wonderful your brushes are, or that you have the finest paint. All this is nothing if your paper is poor or inconsistent or it doesn’t suit your way of working.


A selection of Watercolour
paper samples with tests

Even the most experienced watercolour artists can have problems when the paper becomes inconsistent and I’ve written about that here in PAPER MATTERS. Katherine Tyrrell has written about Watercolour Paper in more depth here scroll down the page to find out what happened when a previously beautiful watercolour paper changed.

More Test samples with cut sheets

So what paper to choose? This is a huge question and perhaps the best answer is to either buy sheets of the paper you want to try and cut them down to suit, or if you have no idea, order a sample pack of watercolour papers. These are packs of paper either from different manufacturers - eg different brands and different types and weights, or a sample pack from a single manufacturer with their different types and weights of watercolour paper. Just make sure the papers are for Watercolour though as anything else is a waste of money. I tend to recommend Saunders Waterford papers, because they do a nice range of student and 100% cotton papers which are reliable and stand up to the different techniques used, and they do a really nice sample pack to try out. But Art materials suppliers also do watercolour sample packs too, which gives a wider range of papers and Brands to try out. My recommendation is to try out as many papers as you can afford and keep notes on the different papers, which ones you like and why, which ones you don’t like and why, so that you can refer back to them later. Go for at least 140lbs/300gsm and you may be able to paint without the paper cockling (warping) depending on how much water you use.

Buying a single sheet and cutting it down to eg. 7½ x 5½ inches (19x14cms) will give you 16 sheets to practise on.


Sable Brushes and Synthethic brushes
with a tiny paint tin

Brushes can be a source of pleasure when painting, or a source of endless frustration. A good brush should hold paint or water and let it out in a controlled way, there should be no flood of paint or water releasing suddenly from the hairs. It should also hold its point when wet. You can test this by swishing in water and then shaking the brush with a quick flick. The hairs should form a point and the brush should look ‘clean’ with no hairs sticking out. If they don’t, or the point is split, you will struggle to control your mark making and will struggle to make fine details. This is fine if you paint very loosely, but if you want to paint in a realistic way will make things unnecessarily difficult.
Whether you use Sable or Synthetic is a personal choice, look for a brush with a nice point, that holds plenty of water/paint for its size and doesn’t dump it all at once. Whether Sable or Synthetic, look for a specialist brush manufacturer. Prices depend on size and shape. Specialist brush makers such as Rosemary & Co, DaVinci, Escoda, Raphael, Winsor & Newton etc all make both Sable and Synthetic watercolour brushes that are excellent. Be aware that brush sizes aren’t standardized, so sizes in different brands will be slightly or markedly different, there’s usually a picture on the brand’s websites showing their brushes in the different sizes.

It’s better to buy just two really good pointed round brushes of different sizes – eg #2 and #4, than to buy a large set of inferior brushes. You’ll get more use out of the good ones and will find that they help you paint rather than hinder.

When painting with your lovely new brushes, take care to NEVER lift paint from the pan or mix paint with them, it’s the fastest way to ruin them. Instead, use a cheap synthetic brush and keep it just for that purpose. Also, use a brush size that is suitable for the amount of paint you need, using a huge brush to lift and mix paint can lead to most of the paint ending up in the water jar.

When using your brushes, ensure you have just the right amount of water in the brush before you pick up paint. A folded soft cotton face flannel is useful for wicking water out of the brush and with experience you will know just how damp to leave it. I use white cotton flannels as they show if there is paint on them, and can be laundered to remove stains. When picking up paint from the palette, gently roll the brush to remove excess paint and form the point, this should leave you with the right amount of paint and a controlled shape to work with. A spare piece of watercolour paper can be used to test your colour and ensure the right amount of paint for your painting.


Watercolour pans and tubes showing Pigment numbers

There are so many different makes of paint, so many different colours, and if there are so many, you need them all right? Well, no.

I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying out the different brands, as many as I could find locally and a few that weren’t. And it’s my experience that provided you stick to the well established professional brands (Daler Rowney, Daniel Smith, Senellier, Schmincke, Winsor and Newton, to name just a few and in no particular order except alphabetical) even their modern student ranges will be perfectly suitable for starting off, as long as you stick to a few rules.

Get just a few tubes or pans, and stick to transparent colours.

Why transparent? Because there is less chance of mixing mud.
The main reason some colours/mixes produce mud is that opaque and/or granulating pigments have been used in the colour/mix and this can lead to very muddy looking colours. Have a look at my blog post HOW MANY COLOURS DO YOU NEED TO PAINT FLOWERS ? 
You’ll find that the answer is a lot less than you think. If you look at the images there, you can see that even with only the three colours, I haven’t made mud. This is because all the colours used are transparent. With the six colours, every colour you could possibly see can be mixed without making mud. The three or six colours you choose are really important though, as some colours are more suitable for this method than others, which is why I’ve given both the colour names and the pigment numbers – not all colours use the same pigments across the different brands so do check both colour name and pigment number to be sure.

By using transparent colours, you’ll reduce the frustration level straight away and can wait until you are confident with your paper and your watercolour techniques to try out those interesting granulating colours and opaques, but without limiting the number of colours you can make.

By using a limited number of colours, you’ve done two things,
1. You’ve saved money on paint, Watercolour goes a really long way, hence the tiny tubes and pans. You can use the dried paint on the palette and you can even use paint dried in the tubes as pans by peeling off the tube. Try doing that with oils or acrylic! Hopefully you will find using the paint you have less intimidating because you don’t have to decide which colours to use.

2. You can concentrate on learning how many colours can be made and the subtle changes you can make with just a touch of one or two of the colours in the mix. I recommend that you keep notes and swatches/charts to remind you of paint mixes, this helps because you don’t have to start from scratch every time you paint. Which means you can concentrate on techniques.

My suggestions for limited colour palettes. The numbers refer to the Pigment numbers eg Pigment Blue 15 (which is Phthalo Blue) and can be found on the label of the pan or tube. Note, these are only suggestions, you may find that these colours have different names. The colours here produce the widest range of colours when mixing.

Three colours
PY175 Lemon Yellow, PR122 Quinacridone Magenta/Quinacridone Purple, PB15 Phthalo Blue (Green shade or Red shade)

Six Colours
PY175 Lemon Yellow,
Indian Yellow or New Gamboge (whichever is transparent, both are a mix), Permanent Alizarin Crimson, PR122 Quinacridone Magenta, PB 15 Phthalo Blue (green shade), PB60 Indanthrene/Indanthrone Blue (or French Ultramarine).

More reading on colour and paper

Friday 17 June 2016

Paper Matters!

Lately, I have noticed that my favourite Watercolour paper has changed.  When I can work on it, it's jolly hard work - but without the jolly bit.   In fact, I have found myself with paintbrush in one hand and a brush full of gelatine size in the other.  I did at first think it was me.  Painting isn''t one of those things that you just sit down and do, some days it goes well, and some days you wish you were a photographer, although, I'm sure photographers have bad days too!

So it was with a heavy heart that I decided that I would look for another paper to work on.

I like working on Daler Rowney HP, but it only comes in 140lbs, which is ok for really small stuff, but not so good if you want to work bigger and have larger areas of paint.  It cockles.   And before someone tells me to stretch the paper first, yes, this works for some people, but I prefer to keep the sizing where it is, and anyway, that means I would have to keep several pieces ready prepared and stuck to boards, and since my studio space is tiny this really wouldn't work for me.  There's also the problem of availablility with DR HP, it being available in sheets only from one supplier which means a two hour plus round trip - and that's if I'm lucky!

So, as I was taking the trouble to test out several papers I thought it would be of interest to others and I'm putting it here, because there's quite a lot of information.

Each test was conducted with the same paints and brushes.  I tried to make sure the only variable was the paper, but the weather decided to get involved too and some of the tests were conducted on very hot dry days and some on very wet days, although I think the main problem that posed was drying speed so I haven't commented on speed of drying.

The paints - all from Sennelier -  French Ultramarine(PB29)  Sennelier Yellow Light (PY154 )  Rose Madder Lake(PV19) Sennelier Red(PR254) and Sennelier Olive (the old one PO49,PG36) I don't normally use ready mixed greens but this one is very useful as a base and is totally transparent.

Paper Tests - please click on the photos for a larger version

watercolour test on Papers from Saunders Waterford©Polly o'Leary2016
Papers from Saunders Waterford

Saunders Waterford HP 140lbs High White – New Improved 100% cotton

Fine surface, very smooth both sides.

W-in-W Paint spread on the damp surface quickly and blurred softly. Easy to soften edges.
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, no manipulation needed. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W in W spread almost too much but lovely soft result and well controlled. Subsequent dry brush work also soft.
Stem – paint spread from the edges nicely and a quick sweep of the brush down the middle created a nice ‘shine’ dry brush to edges softened nicely.
Edges clean-up ok if paint not too dry
Green paint – didn’t lift much after drying. Red paint – hardly any lifting after drying
All colours nice and bright. Reverse of paper seems easier to work on and results cleaner.
Some cockling even when dry, I would love to try this in a 200lb or 300lb version.

A lovely paper to work on, but lifting after drying is a problem.

Saunders Waterford HP 140lbs High White

Slight texture on surface. Reverse more regular pattern

W-in-W Paint spread on the damp surface quickly and blurred softly. Easy to soften edges.
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, no manipulation needed. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W in W spread almost too much but lovely soft result and well controlled. Subsequent dry brush work also soft.
Stem – paint spread from the edges nicely and a quick sweep of the brush down the middle created a nice ‘shine’ dry brush to edges softened nicely.
Edges clean-up ok if paint not too dry
Green paint – didn’t lift much after drying. Red paint – hardly any lifting after drying
All colours nice and bright. Despite texture, edges clean and fine lines clean.

Nice to work on but needed a little more water

Saunders Waterford Ultra Smooth HP 300gsm 50% cotton

Very smooth paper both sides

W-in-W paint spread nicely, needed a little extra work. Easy to soften edges. Red lifted well
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, needed a little extra work. Nice effect. Sharp clean lines
Leaf – Needed extra work for W-in-W underpainting, but dry brushing very soft effect and clean sharp edges.
Stem – Very difficult to get effect
Green paint lifted leaving lighter green line. Red paint barely lifted leaving a slightly lighter red.
Edges clean and well defined and easy to clean up.
All colours bright.

Saunders Waterford Bockingford HP 300gsm White

Very smooth paper both sides.

W-in-W paint spread nicely and easy to control. Edges easy to soften. Red lifted well.
Petal - Edge colour spread nicely, good effect. Sharp clean detail lines
Leaf – W-in-W spread well, dry brush effect soft and deep. Edges easy to clean up.
Stem – W-in-W easy to control, highlight lifted nicely .
Green paint lifted leaving a clean light green line. Red lifted leaving a red line, but not sharp.
Edges clean and easy to clean up.
Colours bright.

Watercolour paper test D-R Langton Prestige, Moulin du Roy and Strathmore Imperial 500
D-R Langton Prestige, Moulin du Roy and Strathmore Imperial 500

Langton Prestige HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Slight texture on one side and smooth on reverse. Feels very soft to the touch.

W-in-W - Paint dispersed nicely and edges softened nicely. Red paint lifted almost clean away.
Petal – edge paint bled nicely, little or no manipulation. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W-in-W spread nicely, well controlled. Dry brush soft effect.
Stem – Edges pread nicely and easy to lift shine in the middle. Darker edging easy to soften.
Edges clean up easy
Green paint hardly lifted. Red paint both first and second layer lifted slightly.
All colours nice and bright. Texture didn’t affect clean edges or sharp details.

Lovely paper to work on.

Strathmore Imperial 500 HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Much heavier texture than most HP papers. Random texture on front and noticeable pattern on reverse.

W-inW inactive paint didn’t spread much. Difficult to soften edges. Red paint lifted almost clean.
Petal – Edge colour needed persuasion to soften. Fine lines needed more than one sweep.
Leaf - W-in-W spread far too much, soft effect but lacked control – maybe over compensation after first three attempts? Dry brush ok, not too harsh.
Stem – Took longer to persuade paint to spread, several attempts needed. Highlight present but mechanical looking.
Green paint lifted a little. Red paint sat on top of paper, but clean lines when lifted but not to white.
Paper cockled badly when wet but dried flat.

I found this a more difficult paper to work on.

Canson Moulin du Roy HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Very smooth paper, felt it was very like Arches.
W-inW paint spread well, but curiously when dried the colours seem faded. Difficult to soften edges and it shows! Lifting of the red unsuccessful.
Petal – Edge colour didn’t spread in and not successful. Colour when dried very feint.
Leaf – W-in-W spread well but colours feint and needed more than one wash. Dry brushing also needed more work. Effect soft.
Stem – W-in-W needed a lot of work. Doesn’t look as effective as others.
Green paint lifted well. Red paint sat on surface but lifted well, lines clear and defined, but not white.

Didn’t like working on this, and wasn’t impressed that the wash colours looked so faded

Watercolour paper Test Fabriano Artistico 640gsm (old)
Fabriano Artistico 640gsm (old)

Fabriano Artistico HP 640gsm (old) 100% cotton

This paper is a few years old. It’s difficult to tell which side is which even with a strong magnifying glass. Both sides are very smooth and I painted on both sides too.

W-in-W paint spread out nicely leaving a soft effect. Edges were easy to soften. Lifting of red was mostly successful.
Petal – Edge colour spread inwards beautifully and gave exactly the right effect. Sharp lines nicely defined.
Leaf – W-in-W spread nicely, easy to control. Dry brushing gave nice deep colour and very soft effect. Edges very sharp
Stem – W-in-W easy to control and highlight easy to lift leaving a convincing shine.
Edges cleaned up well
Green paint lifted leaving a slight colour. Red paint was lifted leaving lighter red.
Colours not quite as bright as Saunders Waterford and Strathmore, but well defined and clean.
Lovely paper to work on.

Watercolour Paper Test Fabriano Artistico 300gsm (old)
Fabriano Artistico 300gsm (old)

Fabriano Artistico HP 300gsm (old) 100% cotton

This paper is also a few years old, Both sides very smooth and difficult to tell back from front even with strong magnification.
W-in-W paint spread nicely, easily controlled. Soft effect. Edges easy to soften.
Petal – Edge colour spread inwards nicely, giving the effect wanted. Fine lines sharp and clean.
Leaf - W-in-W easily controlled spread. Dry brushing soft effect, no harsh lines/
Stem – W-in-W easy to control and highlight easy to lift.
Edges cleaned up well
Green paint lifted easily leaving lighter green. Red paint lifted leaving sharp lines of lighter red.
Colours not as bright as Saunders W and Strathmore but well defined and clean.
Lovely paper to work on but slight cockling.

50% cotton - SW Bockinford HP 140lbs and Fabriano Classico HP 140lbs
50% cotton - SW Bockingford HP 140lbs and Fabriano Classico HP 140lbs

Fabriano Classico HP (old)

W-in-W paint spreads nicely, soft edges easy to achieve.
Green (Senn. Olive), Red (PR254), Rose (PV19) Blue (PB29) All lifted similarly leaving a very light clean line

Smooth paper

SW Bockingford HP 140lbs  - this is from a large sheet.

I often use this paper if I want to try out different things, or just for sketching.  It's a lovely smooth paper which takes a wash nicely and also dry brushing.  It's also very consistent and reliable which is very useful if you're sketching, as you can concentrate on what you're doing, rather on coping with variable paper.